The Shadow [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - Australia - Umbrella Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: James-Masaki Ryan (12th January 2020).
The Film

"The Shadow" (1994)

Taking place in the 1930s in New York, Lamont Cranston (played by Alec Baldwin) is a wealthy playboy who has a secret life as a vigilante. Named "The Shadow", is set out to rid the world of organized crime and help the people in need, as well as recruit agents for him to be watchful eyes and accomplices, including cabdriver Shrevnitz (played by Peter Boyle) and scientist and professor Dr. Tam (played by Sab Shimono). He has amazing agility to be able to slip in and out of places unnoticed, and also has the ability to control people's minds. But when Genghis Khan's descendant Shiwan Khan (played by John Lone) appears in the city with psychic powers and an ambition to take over the world, The Shadow has met a rival that is overly more powerful than anyone he has ever encountered...

In 1930, the radio program "Detective Story Hour" was broadcast with a mysterious radio personality known as "The Shadow" to promote the Smith & Street monthly publication of the "Detective Story Magazine". With the success of the host and the storytelling, Smith & Street publishing decided to make The Shadow a serialized character with Walter B. Gibson as the main writer. Over the years the character morphed through reboots along the way. His real name was first Kent Allard and through impersonations he became Lamont Cranston among other characters in the radio show. But in print he was Lamont Cranston. In 1937 with the rebooted radio show starring Orson Welles, he was given "the power to cloud men's minds so they cannot see him" and the series ran with differing actors portraying the title role until 1954. Also in 1937 he was put to screen in the film "The Shadow Strikes", this time with the name changed to Lamont Granston. "The Shadow" continued with the feature film "International Crime" in 1938 (with his name reverted back to Lamont Cranston), a 15 episode theatrical serial in 1940, three films by Monogram pictures in 1946 (with "The Shadow Returns", "Behind the Mask", and "The Missing Lady"). In television a 2-part pilot was created but not picked up, and eventually the episodes were combined and released as the theatrical film "Invisible Avenger" in 1958. In print, the character was published by Archie Comics, Dark Horse Comics, Marvel Comics as well as DC Comics over the course of the decades. With rights moving and creative leads differing constantly, DC Comics' "The Shadow Returns!" from 1989 to 1992 was a return to the roots of the character in a noir setting. For decades the character was, pun intended, in the shadows of the mainstream and was not on screens for decades.

Universal, which acquired the rights to The Shadow hired screenwriter David Koepp for the project, and taking elements of the radio shows and the printed media to create a full reboot for a new generation. Cranston's origin of how he acquired the skills in Tibet were established as well as his powers to hypnotize and control minds, seemingly able to teleport, and given great agility in weapons and combat. The time period was kept as it was in the 1930s, and the stylized visuals were reminiscent of "Batman" (1989) and "Dick Tracy" (1990), which proved that Hollywood could adapt comics that dated back from the 1930s to a modern audience and have them critically and commercially successful. Director Russell Mulcahy , known for his stylistic music videos and films such as "Razorback" and "Highlander" was hired to direct and a $40 million budget shot at the Universal backlot, things seemed pretty bright for "The Shadow".

From a production standpoint, it was a mix of old and new, using many practical techniques like miniatures, matte paintings, constructed setpieces, while also incorporating CGI animation for certain portions. Visually it certainly is impressive, with the use of light and shade, the architecture and wardrobe of the time period, and having a film noir feel to much of the film, as well as elements of science fiction with the technology used. But only having a visually splendid look is not enough to make the film a masterpiece, as the story itself and plot is lacking in substance overall. The origin portion of Lamont having been trained in Tibet was an interesting inclusion, but it was much too short to give much for the audience. He is at the start a murderous druglord and is suddenly brought to a temple to be given training to redeem himself. No montage of training, or background into why his teacher chose him to become a disciple. As the rest of the film follows him as a hero, it is hard to side with a man that was seen as a cold leader of killers in the very opening. If the origin was kept out entirely, or if it were extended to show some of the lengthy training, such as the lengthy training in "Batman Begins" it might have made things more consistent. The plot of Khan infiltrating the city with a slew of Mongol warriors so easily is a bit unbelievable, as his men are basically loyal burly minions with little characterization. Alec Baldwin has a great voice and look for the role, but seeing his body during some of his shirtless scenes, makes it hard to believe that was from seven years of hard training. Tim Curry as Claymore is an underused villain character, seemingly an add-on rather than a co-conspirator or mastermind. To say, there are some positives with the characters. Margot Lane (played by Penelope Ann Miller) is given an overhaul in the film version, as she was a basic love interest and later turned agent in the original series, but in the film it is her connection to Lamont and adding her father Reinhardt Lane (played by Ian McKellen) as a character central to the plot to make her fully realized, as well as giving her the ability to read minds and be immune to Lamont's hypnosis.

"The Shadow" was a fairly big project for Universal, who looked to have the reboot as a new start in a franchise that included a tie-in novel and a video game. Unfortunately, the film was not the hit that Universal was hoping for, opening on July 1, 1994 at #2 at the box office and only grossing $32 million in the United States. The film was not a hit elsewhere and grossed a total of $48 million, which was barely above the film's production cost. The video game was cancelled as well as plans for further sequels.

Over the years "The Shadow" would not gain another mainstream reboot even though there were rumors of a reboot with Sam Raimi attached. The film was released on DVD with Universal giving it a lackluster treatment with no extras at all (though the German Koch Media disc did have some vintage EPK extras included). On Blu-ray the same happened with Universal giving it a barebones treatment, while the licensed German Koch Media release included some vintage extras, and Shout! Factory in the US and Mediumrare in the UK giving releasing it with a newly produced retrospective featurette with Mulcahy, Koepp, Baldwin, Miller, and others, with a new transfer. Umbrella Entertainment in Australia has released their own Blu-ray, but unfortunately it is using the older Universal HD master with no extras at all.

Note this is a region ALL Blu-ray

Video

Umbrella Entertainment presents the film in the 1.85:1 aspect ratio in 1080p AVC MPEG-4. The HD transfer comes from Universal and it is a dated one from the DVD era. Colors are not as crisp as they could be with muted an pale skin tones, film grain is inconsistent and there is some telecine wobble in sequences. Some digital sharpening is applied and ther are some very light speckles and dust that can be seen in minor occasions. On the better side, it is correctly framed at the theatrical aspect ratio and there are no major damage marks or other troubles to be seen in the transfer. It's again unfortunate that Umbrella couldn't use the newer transfer made by Shout! Factory for this release.

The film's runtime is 107:27.

Audio

English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
A basic 5.1 track is offered here in lossless form, identical to the track on the Universal release. It can get quite bombastic during explosions and other action sequences, but dialogue scenes and others in between can be a little on the light side so prepare to have the remote to raise and lower the volume at times. Dialogue is clear and without issue, and there are no damage, hiss, or other problems with the audio track.

There are no subtitles offered for the feature.

Extras

There are no extras on the disc. There are no menu screens and the film begins on start-up. The US Shout! Factory and UK Mediumrare releases had a retrospective featurette, gallery, and trailer, while the Germany Koch Media release had vintage interviews and featurettes, a music video, gallery, and trailers, so it's a little unfortunate Umbrella couldn't license any of the existing extras or create any new ones for this release.

Packaging

The coverart is reversible, with the opposite side having identical artwork except for the Australian ratings logo removed. The artwork states the disc is region B only, but it is in fact region ALL.

Overall

"The Shadow" certainly looked great and was an interesting property for a reboot, but the story lacking in substance and being fairly unmemorable just couldn't leap it into a franchise as Universal was hoping for. The Umbrella Entertainment Blu-ray is a disappointment, as it has no extras whatsoever and recycles the old HD transfer that Universal used on their lackluster Blu-ray from years ago.

The Film: C+ Video: C Audio: B- Extras: F- Overall: C-

 


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