Interview: James O’Barr

A frame from James' graphic novel The Crow.
A frame from James’ graphic novel The Crow.

James O’Barr is the creator of the 1989 graphic novel The Crow which famously went on to become a hit movie in 1994. We caught up with James at the London Film and Comic Con to discuss the upcoming movie remake.

As a comic, The Crow was a hard-hitting tale of supernatural revenge that saw the main character, Eric, avenging the murder of him and his fiance, by tearing through the gang responsible for it. It was a cult hit thanks to its gothic art style – and when we say gothic, we mean in the Bauhaus/The Cure eighties sense rather than a classical one – and powerful story which was inspired by the loss of O’Barr’s fiance to a drunk driver and the real-life story of a young couple murdered for a $20 engagement ring.

The popularity of The Crow led to a movie adaption in 1994, a low-budget production that went on to be a huge hit. It spawned some badly-received sequels and eventually the franchise went away but a reboot is now in the works starring Welsh actor Luke Evans and directed by F. Javier Gutiérrez.

“I am. I’m a consultant. We’re like The Three muskateers, Luke, Javier and I. We’ve all agreed we won’t do it without each other” James reveals.

James meeting fans at The London Film and Comic Con, London.
James meeting fans at The London Film and Comic Con, London.

Of course, reboots and remakes are a risky business. Sometimes it works and sometimes it is Robocop. As with all the best cover versions, sometimes you need to put your own spin on it. So how will the reboot compare with the original?

“It’s completely different.” James reveals, ” It’s from the same source material but my analogy is it’s like the Bela Lugosi Dracula versus the Francis Ford Copola Dracula. It’s definitely going to stick a lot closer to the book this time. Not that they didn’t want to last time but they didn’t have the budget. This time will be a lot easier with CGI.”

The original movie is defined by Brandon Lee’s performance. One that ultimately would end his life and cast a long shadow over the series. Over twenty years later, James believes that Luke will be able to overcome that challenge.

“Definitely. Luke brings a different sensibility to it. One of the main things is that the violence is less stylised. This will be closer to Taxi Driver. More brutal.”

Brandon’s performance was very much rooted in his Jeet Kun Do (the style devised by his famous martial artist father, Bruce Lee) upbringing. However, if the UFC has taught us anything, it’s that kung fu really hasn’t translated to real fighting.

“All the stylised violence is fine until the first bullet is fired,’ James comments. Maybe not if you’re Eric Draven. Is it going to be Eric Draven again?

“Well in the book he was just Eric. The Draven part was added by the studio but it’s the same guy.”

Brandon Lee in his iconic role as Eric Draven in the original Crow movie.
Brandon Lee in his iconic role as Eric Draven in the original Crow movie.

The comic book had heavy references to ’80s music using lyrics from bands such as The Cure and the movie also featured music very prominently with a great metal/industrial/goth soundtrack and even featured some band performances. James is looking to continue that tradition.

“The plan is to have some vintage music including some stuff we couldn’t get the rights to, Joy Division and hopefully a couple of Cure songs. And some new bands that capture that feel.”

The Crow spawned three sequels of dubious quality. “When a $10m film makes $100m, a sequel is inevitable. So my attitude was do what you want. I had no input and told them to do whatever you’ve got to do and send me the cheque. I felt like I had made my film, I had nothing left to say.”

The rot really started with the first sequel, The Crow: City of Angels. James wasn’t a fan.

“It was a fucking terrible script and if it’s not on the page, it won’t work. They had an attitude of ‘we’ll fix it later’ but when things are costing thousands of dollars per minute you just don’t have time to fix anything.”

On paper, it could have been different. Especially with Tim Pope, the director of all the good music videos The Cure ever did, in the director’s chair.

“Tim has a great visual sesne but he was used to working on four minute music videos and this was his first feature film so pacing was a big problem for him. Scenes would build and build but then fall off instead of paying off. It’s a beautiful film but it’s awkward but it really comes down to the words being on the page and that just wasn’t the case.”

So, after a two decade disassociation, how did James end up involved in the reboot?

“Javier flew over from Spain to talk to me and my intention was just to lecture him and put him right back on the plane,” he reveals “but what it came down to was that he didn’t want to remake the film, he wanted to remake the book and so I was in.”

What’s less clear is whether or not James will repeat his cameo performance (that saw him looting a TV).

“Who knows?” he tells us as he finishes off his cigarette and kindly poses for photos.

The Crow is due to start filming in Spring 2015.

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