THE SHADOW knows what evil lurks in the heart of men, and Shout! Factory's new Blu-ray gives viewers a chance to reevaluate this nineties superhero film.
Debonair socialite Lamont Cranston (Alec Baldwin, MALICE) returns to New York after a seven year absence following the First World War. A wealthy man of no employment and no hobbies, his secretive nature hides not only the alter ego of Tibetan opium despot Ying-Ko, but also "The Shadow", a superhero with the power to cloud men's minds (born out of Ying-Ko's redemption by high priest Tulku [Brady Tsurutani, COME SEE THE PARADISE]). Under the nose of his police commissioner uncle Wainwright (Jonathan Winters, MOON OVER PARADOR), Cranston foils foes and recruits agents from those whose lives he saves including his regular cab driver Moe (Peter Boyle, YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN) and, more recently, physics professor Dr. Tam (Sab Shimono, TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES III). Cranston is troubled when he makes the acquaintance of bombshell Margo Lane (Penelope Ann Miller, THE RELIC), who has the unwanted ability to read minds, and vows not to see her again. It seems their meeting was fated however when Shiwan Khan (John Lone, M. BUTTERFLY, THE LAST EMPEROR) – last descendent of Genghis Kahn (in whose coffin he shipped himself stateside while absorbing his ancestor's energy) – arrives in New York with the goal of conquering the world and needs the implosive device being developed by Margo's father (Ian McKellan, X-MEN) to create an atomic bomb.
I had no interest in seeing THE SHADOW when it came out back in 1994, and it's no masterpiece now; however, it is a thoroughly entertaining and strikingly beautiful film that leaves one both nostalgic for classic Hollywood filmmaking – thanks to Stephen H. Burum's (BODY DOUBLE) lighting which treats close-ups of Baldwin and Lone just as lovingly as those of Miller – as well as the early nineties when the period backdrops and buildings on view here were achieved with matte paintings and hyper-detailed miniatures rather than digital mock-ups. (the CGI on display here also looks considerably less cartoonish than more recent films of this budget level). Joseph Nemec's art deco production design is thoroughly dazzling, as are the costumes of Bob Ringwood (who was also outfitting Warner's first three BATMAN movies). Jerry Goldsmith's sweeping orchestral score is a bit more derivative of Danny Elfman's BATMAN, while Taylor Dayne's theme song "Original Sin" over the end credits is nice in its own respect but clashes with everything that came before.
Baldwin looks and sounds the part – although his Shadow persona is augmented with hook nose (courtesy of BRAM STOKER'S DRACULA's Greg Cannom) and a more theatrical vocal delivery – although it's kind of hard to separate Baldwin in general from his self-parodying 30 ROCK Jack Donaghy persona after seven years of that show. Lone is even better in a super villain so thinly scripted. Miller looks gorgeous and the camera loves her but she's otherwise miscast, seeming too modern despite her wardrobe and hairstyle (her character's psychic angle is underdeveloped beyond her connection to Cranston). McKellan has little to do as the absent-minded professor, while the usually entertaining Tim Curry (CLUE) is stand-out awful first as a letch, then as a power-mad turncoat, and finally as a frothing maniac. James Hong pops up in the Tibet scenes with his BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA henchman Al Leong (here as Ying-Ko's hatchet man) while ALF's Max Wright plays a beleaguered Museum of Natural History employee who takes receipt of Genghis Khan's sarcophagus.
Shout Factory's disc follows up Universal's own 2013 barebones 1.85:1 VC-1-encoded Blu-ray (and a 2011 German Blu-ray with a number of vintage featurettes). I haven't seen the Universal disc, but Shout!'s 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.78:1 Blu-ray – a brand new transfer according to Shout! – sports gorgeous colors and strong close-ups. Long shots are more variable, but it is not always easy to tell if some of the model photography and matte shots were meant to be sharper. Audio options include a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 – the film was originally released theatrically with a DTS mix (with Dolby SR prints for non-compatible theaters) – and a stereo downmix, and both deliver the goods. Optional English subtitles are also included.
Besides the film's trailer (1:56) and photo gallery, the only other extra is the featurette "Looking Back at THE SHADOW" (23:44) includes contributions from director Russell Mulcahy (HIGHLANDER), writer David Koepp (JURASSIC PARK), and actors Baldwin and Miller, production designer Nemec (whose name is misspelled here), and cinematographer Burum. Koepp discusses the backstory conceived to explain Cranston's "intimate acquaintance with evil" while Mulcahy, Nemec, and Burum discuss realizing the period noir setting. They discuss how Baldwin was perfectly suited for the character, while Miller likens Baldwin's known dark side with that of The Shadow. Baldwin himself is more complementary of the crew and castmates, as is Koepp who describes them as a "murderer's row of great character actors" (all of the participants are particularly admiring of Lone, who reportedly stayed in character between takes). Burum discusses his lighting of the actors and his use of on-set shadows rather than lighting effects for the scenes where Cranston mesmerizes characters. Burum also states that he would have liked to have shot the film in black-and-white and scope but the studio wanted color and the digital visual effects artists felt it would be more difficult to do the effects in scope. (Eric Cotenas)
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