This is one of the two movies that really got us all excited when we learned they were in the making, one that we expected with increasing trepidation. And it is really one of the great missed opportunities of franchise-making cinema – in a parallel universe somewhere, the Marvel Cinematic Universe doesn’t exist, and kids go crazy about the Shadowverse.
But this is not that universe.
And if I have to explain to you who and what The Shadow is, you are on the wrong blog. One of the most iconic and long-lived pulp characters, The Shadow has been a radio drama host/character, the hero of 325 novels, and has appeared in comics and films for almost a century.
When the 1994 movie was announced, the fans went in overdrive.
What makes The Shadow different from other movies in this series of posts is the fact that we are dealing with an A-list production.
The cast alone is staggering: Alec Baldwin, John Lone, Penelope Ann Miller, Ian McKellen, Jonathan Winters, Peter Boyle, Tim Curry…
Director Russell Mulcahy had directed the cult classic Razorback and the smash hit Highlander, and was given a 40-million dollar budget to bring to the screen the exploits of the character.
And the movie bombed. The film was supposed to launch a franchise complete with toys, games and even a fashion line (that would have been something), and instead killed the thing dead.
Fans still sit long nights in bars, listening to smoky jazz and drinking, and discussed how this was possible.
The three arguments I heard the most, and that to me sound more convincing are these:
- The Shadow was not a straight superhero movie – nor could it be, as the character was not a superhero in the comic book sense. And let’s not forget at the time “superhero movie” meant the Superman films or Tim Burton’s Batman.
- The Shadow suffered from an abundance of riches. The cast is spectacular, the sets and costumes are a wonder to behold, the effects are good, the music by Gerry Goldsmith is rousing and spot on… but the pieces do not click together, and the film is inferior to the sum of its parts.
- The Shadow had to go up against The Lion King and The Mask, that were a lot more accessible.
To these, I usually add the fact that often the movie doesn’t know if it’s a straight pulp adventure or a parody of the same. Certain scenes are probably supposed to be comedy relief, but they are not funny, and “relief” is not what one feels.
And yet the movie looks like a million dollars, Penelope Ann Miller is absolutely perfect, and fans of The Shadow can pick up a lot of bits and pieces taken from various novels. The opening sequence in the Hymalayan poppy fields where Kent Allard plies his trade are one of the best starts of an adventure movie ever.
It is not a bad movie at all, it’s only strangely uncertain.
A different director could have probably made a difference – Sam Raimi was at one time interested in the project (and in the end did Darkman).
The Shadow made 48 million dollars, barely recapping the costs, and then faded from memory.
I went to see it with a date, at the time. She did not share my enthusiasm for the pulps or for the movie, and when we got out of the cinema I received a scathing tongue-lashing.
I suffered it stoically, and was able to keep my disappointment with the movie under control thanks to the knowledge that, anyway, there was a second chance coming – a Phantom movie was in the works.
(to be continued)