"People once believed that when someone dies, a crow carries their soul to the land of the dead. But sometimes, something so bad happens, that a terrible sadness is carried with it and the soul can't rest. Then, sometimes, just sometimes, the crow can bring that soul back to put things right."
On May 11, "The Crow," which opens with the above ominous voice-over, will arrive in Los Angeles and New York theaters. Two days later it will open nationwide. But this Brandon Lee film, which generated more publicity than most films during production, will open with no premiere or much of the usual fanfare.
Its distributor, Miramax, known for trumpeting controversy surrounding its films, this time has tried its best to downplay the tragedy associated with this film version of James O'Barr's horror comic book, namely, the death of the 28-year-old Lee on March 31, 1993, after he was accidentally shot by a dummy slug during a climactic scene on the Wilmington, N.C., set.
Like the opening of the film, in which a crow soars through the rainy midnight urban skyline, the film's campaign began in February with a poster of a crow flying out of the film's title. Last weekend a 90-second MTV spot, overlaid with Gothic music, told the haunting tale of this avenging angel from the grave.
More TV spots are planned for this weekend; a soundtrack album, released in March, is already No. 36 on the charts. Full-page and two-page print ads, showing Lee walking through a corridor, back-lit by a halo of downcast light and framed by only his name and a line from the film, began appearing last week and will continue.
But no mention of what happened to Brandon Lee will ever be noted in this campaign. "This is very delicate," says David Dinerstein, president of marketing for Miramax. "What happened is not something we're running from. But we have to be very sensitive to Brandon's memory, his family and the film."
The $14-million film almost didn't see the light of day. Practically from the day filming began on Feb. 1, 1993, problems plagued production. There were reports of a Wilmington carpenter working on the set being severely burned when live power lines hit the crane he was working on. A disgruntled sculptor who reportedly went berserk on the back lot drove a car through the studio's plaster shop. A construction worker slipped and drove a screwdriver through his hand; a stuntman, after working nine hours straight, reportedly fell the wrong way on a roof and broke some ribs. A storm hit 17 days before Lee's shooting, destroying some of the sets.
Some problems were blamed on non-union crews' being overworked and producers' penny-pinching. But it was Lee's death that prompted the film's Australian director, Alex Proyas, to consider abandoning his first American feature, says Edward R. Pressman, who co-produced the film with Jeff Most. "Alex really felt like he couldn't go on" after Lee's death, Pressman says. The cast, crew and Lee's family and fiancee, Eliza Hutton--whom Lee had been planning to wed immediately after production wrapped--were distraught.
Lee was shot during a scene by fellow actor Michael Masee, portraying bad guy Fat Boy, who fired a .44-caliber blank pistol from 15 feet away. Without anyone's knowledge, a dummy slug had lodged in the pistol and when Masee fired, it dislodged from the gun and penetrated Lee's abdomen. The scene has been removed from the movie.
North Carolina's district attorney Jerry Spivey investigating the incident found no evidence of "willful and wanton" negligence on the part of the production company, Crowvision Inc., Masee or the crew, although North Carolina's Occupational Safety and Health Division levied a $77,000 fine against Crowvision for three workplace violations.
And Lee's mother, Linda Lee Cadwell, sued the company for negligence, settling out of court for an undisclosed amount.
After a two-month hiatus following Lee's death, production resumed on May 26, 1993. At that time, Hutton said she supported the film: "Brandon told me that he thought this film was his finest performance yet. I know he would have wanted it to be completed."
In the film, both Lee's character, rocker Eric Draven, and fiancee Shelly (Sofia Shinas) are killed Halloween Eve, the day before their wedding. It is Eric's ghost that comes back to avenge their death.
By September, the film's distributor, Paramount Pictures, decided to drop the project, saying the movie was too disturbing in light of Lee's death. Miramax then stepped in, to distribute the picture jointly under its Miramax and Dimension banners.
Cadwell, Hutton and Lee's personal manager and close friend Jan McCormack, who expressed rage over the death publicly last year, were all unavailable for comment this week.
But Pressman and Miramax say they would not have pursued finishing or releasing the picture without the blessing of Hutton and Lee's family. They say they asked for their counsel on every aspect of finishing, handling and marketing of the film.
"We are not marketing this film as a legacy to Brandon Lee," Pressman says. "We are trying to take the high road.
"Eliza is adverse to a (premiere) party, but we have talked about the idea of setting up a foundation in Brandon's name," Pressman said. "We're still grappling with what we will do and the family really isn't ready to deal with this yet. They are still grieving. But they really have been very supportive of this movie."
"We had a word-of-mouth screening in Phoenix a month ago," Dinerstein says. "People lined up around the block to get into the theater, wearing masks (like Lee's character) and dressed like crows. We were really shocked to see it. They were kids who are part of a real underground fan club, fans of the comic book, of Brandon and just action fans in general.
"You know, it is really sad what has happened with all of the circumstances surrounding this film. But we're hoping this film will send out a positive image to kids."