The Crow Chronicle: the DVD extra feature that got pulled late in the day

Brandon Lee in The Crow
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How a feature length documentary on The Crow was completed and ready for its special edition DVD, and then had the plug pulled on it.

The Crow, released in 1994, quickly became a cult classic after release, and a subsequent big hit on home formats too. Yet despite the large fan base for the film, the extras material for the DVD and Blu-ray releases that have come to market thus far has been rather light though. Yet that wasn’t always set to be the case.

In 2001, Miramax released The Crow Trilogy: Collectors’ Series on US DVD, which was designed to include enough new special features based on the original film. The usual drill: brand new extras to persuade fans to fork out again for the movie, despite owning a copy of the film on disc already. I was one of those fans.

The early press releases for the collectors set included an early screen shot of The Crow’s DVD main menu, and that in turn referenced an intriguing extra called ‘The Crow Chronicle’. It was to have been a brand new documentary about the film, and a comprehensive one at that. Unfortunately, this wasn’t available on the final DVD released to stores, and it seemingly disappeared without trace. As it turns out, this was due to a fourth film in the series, The Crow: Lazarus, that was ultimately never produced.

David J Schow, the author of The Crow’s screenplay, wrote extensively on his now defunct website about what happened to this missing documentary.

The original idea was to reissue the film with a commentary track by director Alex Proyas. Fans had waited to hear his thoughts on the film for many years and there had been nothing like this on previous releases.

The supplemental material for this new release would be handled by the company Three-Legged Cat. Founded by Mark Rance who started producing special edition laserdiscs for Criterion back in the day, Three-Legged Cat moved onto creating extra feature material for New Line DVDs. Other examples of its outstanding extras material can be found on the releases of The Exorcist, The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, Dancer In The Dark, Se7en, and Alex Proyas’ own Dark City.

Alex Proyas agreed to Mark Rance’s proposal to record a commentary track for The Crow in order to create a definitive version of the film on DVD. There was once catch: Proyas wanted full approval on all the supplementary material.

Miramax agreed and a new commentary track was duly recorded. This track was later expanded to also include participation from cinematographer Dariusz Wolski, production designer Alex McDowell, art director Simon Murton, and screenplay writer David Schow.

The footage shot for the electronic press kit during principal photography in 1993 was unearthed and re-edited to include Proyas, Schow, and most of the actors, including Brandon Lee. What began as the EPK was polished into a 22-minute documentary charting the movie’s development and production. It promised to be a must-watch for fans of the film.

Furthermore, previous VHS, laserdisc and DVD releases had included ‘Brandon Lee’s Last Interview’ as a special feature. This interview was now interpolated into the featurette, to be seen in the context originally intended in 1993. Mark Rance approached David Schow about any previously-unseen photographs to use in the gallery section of the DVD. Schow had hundreds of images that he had taken personally during production and offered them up.

Schow also shot over 16 hours of home video footage spanning from pre-production up until the accident that sadly took Brandon Lee’s life. Mark Rance suggested that they could edit this material into some kind of behind-the-scenes material, the end result was the 90 minute documentary, The Crow Chronicle.

The Crow fan site, A Boy and His Bird, was given access to The Crow Chronicle and gave it a glowing write up. Here was the chance to see scenes being staged and shot that never made the final cut, including the infamous Skull Cowboy scenes as played by Michael Berryman, a supernatural guide to the character of Eric as he avenges his death. Writing for A Boy and His Bird, reviewer L.L. Cruize summed up the documentary as “…a gem for Crow fans.”

But everything came to a halt when The Crow’s producer Jeff Most stepped in. Alex Proyas had excluded him from all the newly created supplementary material that had been created for this new DVD. And it seems that Most wasn’t best pleased about it.

Miramax now found itself in a tricky position. It had signed an agreement giving Proyas complete control over the supplements, but at the same time was in the middle of negotiations with Most in regards to a fourth entry in the Crow franchise. At the time it was entitled The Crow: Lazarus, and it was set to star rapper DMX as the first black Crow.

Jeff Most was well represented across the special features of the other Crow films, but personal hostilities prevailed in this instance and Miramax ultimately caved in his favour when it came to the Collector’s Series disc of the original. Changes were made, and big ones at that.

For instance, the Proyas/Wolski/McDowell/Murton/Schow audio commentary track was scrapped and replaced with one by Jeff Most and writer John Shirley, who originally adapted The Crow comic into film.

The Crow Chronicle documentary was dumped altogether. Proyas would have to give approval since he heavily featured on it. As you might expect, this approval would not be forthcoming, given that Miramax had sided with Jeff Most. Even the 22-minute featurette was recut in Most’s favour, with Proyas and Schow edited out, reducing the runtime down to 16 minutes. This was to be a special edition DVD that looked from the outside that it had no interest from its director.

The irony to this whole story is that just as The Crow Collector’s Series set was released, the fourth Crow film, Lazarus, developed into a different film when rapper Eminem was rumoured to be offered $4 million to star as the bad guy of the movie. Lazarus was technically no longer a Crow film and Miramax’s legal dilemma between Proyas and Most technically no longer existed. Apparently, if this had happened just a couple of weeks either way, The Crow special edition disc would’ve lived up to its name.

But fate clearly had other ideas. And as it’d turn out, the fourth film never happened anyway, and The Crow Chronicle resides somewhere, just nowhere near a DVD release..


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