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The Raven Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy Review

The Raven (2012) movie poster The Raven

Theatrical Release: April 27, 2012 / Running Time: 110 Minutes / Rating: R

Director: James McTeigue / Writers: Hannah Shakespeare, Ben Livingston

Cast: John Cusack (Edgar Allan Poe), Luke Evans (Detective Emmett Fields), Alice Eve (Emily Hamilton), Brendan Gleeson (Captain Hamilton), Kevin R. McNally (Maddux), Oliver Jackson-Cohen (PC John Cantrell), Jimmy Yuill (Captain Eldridge), Sam Hazeldine (Ivan Reynolds), Pam Ferris (Mrs. Bradley), Brendan Coyle (Reagan)

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The chance to play a historical figure on film primarily comes in prestige-seeking biopics.
But if you think that nearly thirty years of leading man status without so much as one Oscar nomination is starting to get to John Cusack, think again. His Edgar Allan Poe features in The Raven, a fictional thriller with no award ambitions or prospects beyond the genre-honoring Saturn Awards.

Cusack plays the renowned American poet and author near the end of his 40-year life. His writing success behind him, Poe is broke and struggling to have his literary criticism published in the Baltimore Patriot. He can't get a drink at the bar and he has to hide his relationship with the affluent Emily Hamilton (Alice Eve) from her gun-toting father (Brendan Gleeson), who won't give Poe the time of day.

Edgar Allan Poe (John Cusack) promises a free drink to anyone who can finish this line "Quoth the raven..."

When police detective Emmett Fields (Luke Evans) recognizes a series of elaborate murders as resembling those in Poe's horror tales, he brings the author in for questioning, briefly as a suspect and then to serve as a unique consultant to the department's investigation into these grisly serial killings. Things get even more personal for Poe when Emily is abducted and buried alive under the floorboards of an undisclosed location. The killer leaves some clues, while Poe responds with some macabre original stories in the newspaper that he hopes will inspire a break in this perplexing case.

The Raven sets up some kind of surprise ending and though it manages to be unpredictable, it also proves to be less than meaningful. Frankly, it's a large letdown, without being a cop-out or obvious twist. The most clever thing about the entire film may be that its conclusion (well, one of them, anyway) fascinatingly aligns with real historical record.

Dutiful Detective Emmett Fields (Luke Evans) leads the Baltimore police department's homicide investigation. As love interest Emily, Alice Eve spends much of the film trapped in a box, but not this scene.

The film's mystery, conceived by Loverboy scribe Hannah Shakespeare and veteran bit player turned first-time writer Ben Livingston, is adequately compelling and lends to the moody, foggy treatment that V for Vendetta director James McTeigue gives it. The film is bloodier than it needs to be (although, reliant on CGI, it's none too cringeworthy) and also less celebratory of Poe's work than you might expect.
But it holds interest as a Victorian Era procedural crime drama, a kind of cousin to Guy Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes films with a good deal less style and action.

The inaccurately goateed Cusack doesn't have quite the same relish for Poe with which Robert Downey Jr. infuses Arthur Conan Doyle's sleuth. Poe is portrayed as a mildly eccentric (he is given a pet raccoon) and sanctimonious outcast, whose creations have largely been forgotten and seem unlikely to be eclipsed by him.

After striking out with critics and losing money at the box office, where it grossed just $16 million domestically on a $26 M budget, The Raven hit stores last week from Relativity Media's home video distributor Fox on DVD and in the two-disc Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy combo pack reviewed here.

The Raven: Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy combo pack cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray & DVD Details

2.40:1 Widescreen (DVD Anamorphic)
Blu-ray: 5.1 DTS-HD MA (English); DVD: Dolby Digital 5.1 (English)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, Spanish
DVD Closed Captioned; Extras Not Subtitled
Release Date: October 9, 2012
Suggested Retail Price: $39.99
Two single-sided, dual-layered discs (BD-50 & DVD-9)
Blue Eco-Friendly Keepcase with Cardboard Slipcover
Also available on standalone DVD ($29.98 SRP)
and Amazon Instant Video

VIDEO and AUDIO

The Blu-ray delivers great picture and sound. The sharp, clean 2.40:1 transfer maintains detail and the perfect amount of fine grain in dark scenes, while the 5.1 DTS-HD master audio is appropriately immersive.

Doctor Clements (Adrian Rawlins) informs Detective Fields (Luke Evans) on his friend's death and the date in this deleted scene. The camera rolls on John Cusack, his mask placed atop his head, in "The Raven Guts: Bringing Death to Life."

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

The Blu-ray's all-HD extras begin with six deleted/extended scenes (10:41). Most of them are insignificant and unworthy of bringing the film closer to two hours, but a couple of unseen moments draw boundaries to Poe and Detective Fields' relationship.

"The Raven Guts: Bringing Death to Life" (13:32) discusses the cast, filming in Eastern Europe, and the story being told.

"The Madness, Misery, and Mystery of Edgar Allan Poe" (9:50) focuses on the real author, with biographical remarks from Poe museum curator Chris Semtner and St. Christopher's School writer in residence Ron Smith complemented by old photographs and documents, abundant clips from the film, and brief remarks from the screenwriters. It gives us a much clearer picture of the man behind this movie's fiction.

The real Edgar Allan Poe preferred a simple moustache, as this old daguerreotype from "The Madness, Misery and Mystery of Edgar Allan Poe" demonstrates. A clean shaven John Cusack and director James McTeigue have a brief chat.

Shorter featurettes follow. "Behind the Beauty and Horror" (2:18) says almost nothing, promoting the film with clips and just a few comments. "The Raven Presents John Cusack & James McTeigue" (2:45)

is a short conversation between the star and director which addresses how and why their paths crossed on this film. "Music for The Raven: The Team" (5:10) looks at the efforts of composer Lucas Vidal and his collaborators.

An audio commentary is provided by James McTeigue and producers Marc D. Evans, Trevor Macy, and Aaron Ryder. They talk about the challenges and benefits of shooting in Eastern Europe and harrowing filming conditions. They speaking consistently (largely about what's onscreen) with a sense of humor.

The extras conclude with The Raven's unusually short original theatrical trailer (1:15).

The DVD included in this combo pack differs from the one sold on its own. That one offers the commentary and deleted scenes. This one drops those (the commentary more regrettably and less forgivably) to make room for digital copies of the film in iTunes and Windows Media formats.

Both discs open with promos for House at the End of the Street, The Blu-ray Experience, and the kindred Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. To these, the Blu-ray's Sneak Peek section adds trailers for Sound of My Voice, Act of Valor, and "American Horror Story": Season 1. (The DVD's menu loses Sound of My Voice, but that disc plays it automatically after the other three.)

The menu places listings on aged paper under a standard scored montage. Oddly, the Blu-ray does not support bookmarks or resume playback.

The two uniquely labeled discs claim opposite sides of an eco-friendly Blu-ray case, which is snuggly topped by a standard slipcover. An insert supplies directions and a unique activation code for redeeming the DVD's digital copies.

Edgar Allan Poe (John Cusack) objects to his editor bumping his review in favor of Longfellow. Captain Hamilton (Brendan Gleeson) isn't much of an Edgar Allan Poe fan.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

The Raven crafts a reasonably creative and involving mystery around Edgar Allan Poe and his works. It kind of plays out like a less flashy, less visceral version of the new Sherlock Holmes movies, so if you like those and can tolerate some gore, it's in your interest to check this out. Fox's combo pack offers a terrific feature presentation and a fairly ordinary bunch of extras, standing as a typically fine release of a typically adequate thriller.

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Reviewed October 17, 2012.



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