I’ve always had a loving relationship with Russell Mulcahy’s The Shadow. It hit theaters when I was a wee young lad of just 8 years of age and it felt like the perfect movie for me. Part of the appeal was the fact that it was an action-packed super hero movie, but I was also drawn in by the setting which felt like some fantasy land that could never possibly exist in the real world. Of course I now know that it was 1930s New York, but that doesn’t make it any less cool.
The film also opens up with our hero Lamont Cranston (Alec Baldwin) as a shitty villain that deals opium and kills those that cross him. He’s forced to get his act together when a holy man with God-like powers captures him and essentially says, “Hey, get your shit together!” Ok, well he doesn’t quite say that but he may as well. He gives Cranston a chance to turn his life around and receive redemption and become a force for good. Cranston tries to fight it but loses out to a mythical flying dagger voiced by Frank Welker. And thus begins Cranston’s journey into becoming The Shadow.
This opening setup gives way to our basic premise which is that Cranston now fights crime on the dark and gritty streets of New York. It’s your standard stuff. Baddies commit a crime, think they’re going to get away with it and boom, The Shadow shows up out of nowhere and shuts all that noise up real quick.
What sets The Shadow apart is that he forces those he saved to basically become his slaves. And by that I mean he makes them into his agents and they must drop whatever they’re doing when called upon to assist him. Small price to pay for your life being saved I suppose, but certainly not something Batman would ever do. Anyway, I dig it.
Watching The Shadow so many years later and the aesthetic pops more than ever. It’s a visually appealing moving with much of that credit owed to the wonderful work of legendary cinematographer Stephen H. Burum. The film captures the eye-popping costumes and set design, bringing to life the pulpy ’30s Art Deco beauty of New York.
Another highlight is Jerry Goldsmith’s score. The main theme is utterly epic. Throw some headphones on and listen to this bad boy while doing the most mundane actives. Taking a walk, doing the dishes, playing with your cats, all of it will so much more important and legendary. This song, along with the rest of the score, catapults you headfirst into a heroic journey. A score like that is one to be treasured.
My most recent viewing of The Shadow came courtesy of the recent Blu-ray release from Umbrella Entertainment. The film is presented in 1080P with a 1.85:1 aspect ratio and 5.1 DTS-HD audio. Given the details it appears to be the same transfer used on the old Universal release (though I haven’t physically compared the two side-by-side), which means it’s a perfectly fine picture. This isn’t one of those supped up HD transfers that will blow you away, but it looks good enough and gets the job done. The audio, however, is very good. It’s one of those rare home video releases that actually has a good mix. You don’t have to turn the volume all the way up to hear the dialogue and then pray your speakers aren’t blown out whenever there’s any sort of explosion.
As far as special features are concerned, there are none. This isn’t a dealbreaker for me by any means. I love special features, I really do, and I treasure the ones we get, but at the end of the day the release is always about the movie for me. With that said, I would’ve loved the addition of a trailer and TV spots. I’m a sucker for old TV spots. One complaint I do have is the lack of disc menu. Even when there aren’t special features, I want a disc menu. I’m not a fan of the movie playing as soon as I insert the disc. If that’s going to happen, at least tack some trailers up on the front so it’s reminiscent of the old VHS days. That would be acceptable.
The Shadow is an awesome movie that I thoroughly recommend. Whether or not you want to pick up this specific release will depend on a few details. What region of the world you live in, what you look for in a release, how much you’re looking to spend, etc. If all you care about is the film you won’t be disappointed with picking this up, and you’ll feel good knowing you’re supporting a company like Umbrella. If you’re looking for all the bells and whistles, you’re going to want to go with the Shout Factory release from a few years back.
Watching The Shadow reminded me of some of the fun things we got with the movie when it was released. For starters there was a planned SNES game that was never released for some reason. It was finished, but then just canned. You can find ROMs of it floating around online these days. I haven’t played, and by all accounts it’s a pretty bland beat ’em up, but it’s still on my must-play list. So far none of us here at TNC have written about, as far as I can tell, but don’t be surprised if that changes in the future.
The real kicker for me was the action figures. The ’90s were a great decade for toys and The Shadow ones were some of my favorites. I don’t know what made these so special exactly, but I loved them. I think it was just that pulp style again. With this, The Rocketeer, and The Phantom I was hooked. My life should be a 13-part serial.
Anyway, the toys ruled and I had many of them. My favorite three Lightning Draw Shadow, Ambush Shadow, and Shiwan Khan. Lightning Draw is great because he’s basically your classic Shadow but with two 45s so that he can lightning draw them. Ambush Shadow is special because he’s invisible, which is why he comes translucent. Sure, you can still see his cap, but that’s hardly the point! And then with Shiwan Khan you just need a villain because how else are you going to play with them, and you better believe I played with them. There’s a 100% chance I took a bath with The Shadow at some point in my life.