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Studio: 20th Century Fox
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Disc/Transfer Information: High Definition 1080p; Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1; Original Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1; Region A (U.S.) Release Tested
Video Codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Tested Audio Track: English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
Director: James McTeique
Starring Cast: John Cusack, Alice Eve, Luke Evans, Brendan Gleeson

PLOT ANALYSIS:


Let’s take the somewhat odd choice of casting none other than John Cusack in the lead role in a story about legendary writer Edgar Allan Poe’s last days out of the equation – The Raven sure did feel a lot like the Johnny Depp thriller about England’s infamous Jack the Ripper, From Hell. Yet James McTeique’s The Raven definitely played better and was more memorable to me, for factors still somewhat unclear. This was a very interesting period piece, which begins with a text opening describing how the famous writer/poet was found, at the end of his life, on a park bench in Baltimore, Maryland on the east coast of the United States. The final sequence of the film will return back to that opening frame, to suggest Poe’s death amidst attempting to save the love of his life from the clutches of a killer who seems to be mimicking the deaths in Poe’s own stories…legendary stories such as the Pit & The Pendulum and The Cask of Amontillado. And therein lies the basis of The Raven.

The main issue I had with Cusack playing Poe – and I’m normally a Cusack fan – was that you cannot help but sense that typical dialogue delivery he gives in nearly every role he plays nor could he hide his obvious vocal distinctions even through attempting very hard to portray the somewhat eccentric writer during that time period…it was almost as if you are watching his, say, Michael Enslin character from 1408 yet set to the backdrop of turn-of-the-century Baltimore. That took me very much out of the story. The plot is actually straightforward, suggesting someone in the Baltimore area is committing brutal murders that seem to be lifted straight out of Poe’s aforementioned legendary horror stories – amongst others – as this immediately sets up the “psycho obsessed fan” subplot; indeed, Poe has some kind of sick, deranged fan out there, but the irony here is that local people of the Baltimore scene, including the father of the gorgeous socialite he wishes to marry played by Brendan Gleeson, see Poe as the cause for this mayhem and murder and consider him nearly as dangerous because of the stories he has created. Some of the standout moments of the film include a murder set up to mimic Poe’s famous Pit & The Pendulum story, in which a somewhat portly fellow is tied to a table and the killer, looming in the shadows so we cannot get a look at his face, slowly lowers a gigantic swinging blade which cuts into the guy’s torso little by little, plus a somewhat inspired take the killer prepares on Poe’s revenge-by-walling Cask of Amontillado, sure to make claustrophobics twitch in their seats. Actually, The Raven turned out to be a downright gory, blood-soaked thriller in some spots – namely the aforementioned Pit sequence – and this was surprising, because I wasn’t expecting such gore.

A subplot involving Poe’s true love and the killer’s abduction of her develops, and most of the film’s running time concentrates on Baltimore police and Poe attempting to find her. Who has been utilizing Poe’s stories as a framework for his or her murders? Is it someone close to Poe himself…or is it someone you would have never suspected? Who is finally unmasked as the killer in The Raven? Give it a rental spin and find out!

VIDEO QUALITY ANALYSIS:

This was a dark, dimly-lit film and as such, it doesn’t really benefit much from the 1080p encode prepared by 20th Century Fox – save for very rich, deep, inky black levels which were downright jaw-dropping on my rear projection display. Some shadow detail was a bit crushed – but when it was there, it was stunningly rendered, with dark alleyways and streets exhibited with clarity and believable depth. Colors, of course, were purposely muted, signifying the time period we’re dealing with here, but the overall transfer of The Raven was stunningly sharp and crisp, with no noise, aliasing, video twitching I could detect…at all. The whole presentation was stable, from beginning to end, but the biggest problem was that the transfer got really, really dark in certain spots, rendering the 2.40:1 image smaller in presentation because of this perceived “crush.”

AUDIO QUALITY ANALYSIS:

The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English track was appropriately measured and delivered, with decent dialogue delivery (in terms of sheer output intelligibility), solid sonics and believable surround movement. Gunshots were appropriately rendered for the time period – that is, they weren’t accompanied by heavy thuds of LFE but rather midrange punches to identify the classic pistols of the era – and loose bullets made their way into the surround channels in a subtle yet gratifying fashion. There was definitely a sense of space on this track, if not boasting off-the-wall dynamics of more action-oriented thrillers on Blu as of late.

SUMMARY:

Definitely worth a rental. The jury is out yet on whether this is a buy, but it will make for an entertaining viewing, especially if you’re familiar with any of Edgar Allan Poe’s works. And Cusack as Poe? I don’t know if I’m comfortable swallowing that pill yet – but this definitely wasn’t a bad film.

I will have my review of the highly-anticipated Prometheus up soon.
 
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