Sunday, January 26, 2014

My Favorite Era: The Shadow (1994)

The Shadow (1994)

As I've stated elsewhere, I have a fondness for the B-list superheroes as opposed to the A-list guys.  While I can easily enjoy a good Superman, Batman or Avengers story, I tend to have a little more fun with guys like The Phantom or our subject today, the pulp hero from the 30's... The Shadow.

Alec Baldwin plays Lamont Cranston, your standard rich jerk who not only has a shady past in the Far East but also, as a way of repenting for said past, walks the streets at night, terrorizing criminals as the vigilante The Shadow.  So, essentially he's Batman (a precursor, in fact) only with a different backstory and considerably more of a jerk.  In 1994, we got a pretty damn good movie out of the character with a nice cast,m some good f/x and a good score from Jerry Goldsmith.  I saw this in the theater and dug it, and I still do to this day.  Let's take a closer look.
  • Now is as good a time as any to mention this, but I always loved the 1990-1997 Universal logo.  It just gets me in the mood to watch a movie.
  • Dig the opening with Lamont posing as Ying-Ko, a sadistic drug dealing warlord.  Baldwin does evil quite well (maybe it helps that he's kind of a jackass in real life) and I get a personal kick out of seeing James Hong in a small role and Al Leong in an even smaller one.  Wish both had larger parts but what can you do?
  • The thing I really appreciate about the first sequence is how quickly it moves.  Far too often in superhero movies we get at least thirty minutes of backstory, and in those cases it's usually for a hero whose story is more or less widely known.  I can dig wanting to please the die-hard fans but there is a lot to be said for lean, efficient storytelling.  There is no reason you can't deliver the background of a character in less than ten minutes.
  • The first appearance of The Shadow is a good one, though the character's look is rather cheesy and unconvincing.  The face it a little too rubbery and silly.  Still, Baldwin's voice does most of the work for the character and it sells things well enough.  It's weird because the rest of the f/x work is pretty damn good with a nice blend of practical f/x and some early CGI.  I also get a kick out the hero having his own personal spy network within the city.
  •  Odd but fun bit of casting: Comedian Jonathan Winters as Lamont's uncle who is also the police commissioner.  Winters was always funny but he's relatively good here in a more serious part.
  • Penelope Ann Miller is also pretty good in her role as the daughter of a professor who factors into the plot.  She and Baldwin have pretty good chemistry together though there isn't much for her to do.
  • The best bit of casting though is John Lone as the villain, Shiwan Khan, a descendant of Genghis Khan.  He's just the right kind of hammy pulp comic villain.  His scenes with Baldwin are especially amusing and his villainous scheme while predictable is fun as well.
  • Ian McKellen and Tim Curry are not too bad in their roles as professor and traitorous assistant respectively.  Curry is entertainingly slimy (his breakdown at the end is rather repulsive though) as usual but McKellen is sorely underused.  His character is a bit of a dope and you can sort of tell the actor wasn't really inspired.
  • Great production design here and the direction by Russell Mulcahy is solid.  The film was shot entirely on the Universal back lot which gives the film an interesting, comic book feel.  Generally it would be a distraction but in the case of this film, it works just fine.
  • Also good is "Original Sin",  the amazingly over the top theme song sung by Taylor Dane.  
If the film has a flaw, it is that it is content with being "good enough" as opposed to really aiming for the bleachers.  There are cool moments throughout but the story comes off as rather flat and arbitrary, especially in the finale where the film sort of just goes through the paces.  Also, apart from John Lone and Alec Baldwin, none of the other actors make much of an impression.  The acting is serviceable but not great.  It's not that the film lacks ambition.  It's just that it reigns in its ambition when letting loose might have been a better idea.  It's a good movie to watch on a warm summer afternoon that could have been even better.

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About Me

I've been a huge fan of action, horror and comedy for as long as I can remember.