“If” is the middle word in “life” and you can always left to wonder what would’ve happened only if. I’ve gotten to the point of realizing there’s no reason to wonder what would’ve happened if something had gone one way other than it did. Sometimes if the door swings the other way, it can be just as bad. So, don’t go beating yourself up over missing that touchdown pass or not asking out that red-haired girl. Who knew what would’ve happened?
But with a lot of young celebrities who die early, we always wonder what their careers would’ve been like. James Dean, River Phoenix, Heath Ledger are just a few of the actors who all died in their 20s just when it looked like their careers were on the verge of exploding. Then, you have Julia Ann Robinson who appeared in The King of Marvin Gardens alongside Jack Nicholson, Ellen Burstyn and Bruce Dern, only to die in an apartment fire at only 24. Paul Walker had just turned 40 and while his career had stalled to only high-profile roles in The Fast and Furious movies, it left a big what if as his career could’ve turned around. Clint Eastwood had cast him as a Marine lieutenant in Flags of our Fathers. a few years before his death. Hollywood loves comebacks.
But the death of Brandon Lee, son of martial arts legend Bruce Lee, at the age of 28, was so tragic in so many way. Lee had charisma like his father. He also had the looks to look good on camera. And even though he only appeared in a few movies, he showed some good acting chops. He would probably still be alive today nearly 30 years later if several precautions had been taken.
It’s hard not to think of the death of Lee as the investigation is ongoing into what happened on the set of Rust in New Mexico in which cinematographer Halya Hutchins died from injuries from a prop gun that reportedly had a live round. The prop gun was fired by Alec Baldwin who was a producer on the movie. And reports of accidents and problems on the set prior to the fatal shooting mirror the reports on the set of The Crow.
I was hanging out for a while with a guy at Georgia Southern University who was living in Wilmington, N.C. at the time of filming. He said that they were using non-labor unions. The set had also been plagued by problems. Reportedly a fire broke out. And drug use was rampant on the set that when a cast or crew member had a sneezing fit, another person joked, “There goes $50 wasted.”
The events that led to Lee’s death are so infuriating that you just want to smack a few people upside the head. According to the investigation, the production hadn’t used dummy bullets because they were expensive. Instead they took the led tips off the live rounds, dumped out the gunpowder and fired the primers on the shells. However someone accidentally put the tip on a shell that still had a primer. When a second unit crewmember aimed the revolver at the camera for a shot, he pulled the trigger and heard a popping sound like a cap-gun discharge. Rather than check the revolver, they set it back in a storage where it stayed for about two weeks. The primer being discharged was enough force to lodge the tip into the chamber. However, no one checked it on both days it was used. So, when a blank cartridge was loaded, and actor Michael Massee aimed it at Lee and shot, the force of the blank caused the lodged bullet tip to be expelled from the chamber and strike Lee in the abdomen.
Massee later said about a decade later that Lee wasn’t supposed to be standing so close to him. There also reportedly wasn’t a weapons expert on the set to handle these matters. The death of Lee caused the production to shut down as the investigation began. I’m thinking since the movie is set around Oct. 30, aka Devil’s Night, it was originally supposed to be released around Halloween. But as the production resumed with body doubles and special effects in post-production, the release was pushed to spring of 1994. Paramount Pictures who had originally was in talks to distribute the movie pulled out its deal and Miramax put up some money to finish production and distribute it.
The Crow is a good movie, but I don’t know if the death of Lee would’ve made it as popular. I must’ve listened to the soundtrack over the summer of 1994 before finally seeing the movie on video in the fall of 1994. Massee reportedly never watched the movie as the incident affected him the rest of his life. He rarely ever spoke of it. In 2016, he died of stomach cancer. Ernie Hudson who plays Sgt. Daryl Albrecht in the movie says he has a hard time watching the movie.
The plot involves Lee playing Eric Draven, a heavy metal guitarist, who is brutally murdered on Devil’s Night, along with his fiance, Shelly Webster (Sofia Shinas), who was also sexually assaulted by four street thugs, T-Bird (David Patrick Kelly), Funboy (Massee), Skank (Angel David) and Tin Tin (Laurence Mason). Eric rises from the grave on Oct. 29 of the following year and tracks down Tin Tin, Funboy and T-Bird killing them all.
All four work for a crime boss Top Dollar (Michael Wincott) and his chief lieutenant, Grange (Tony Todd), who begin to search for answers with three of his crime associates are killed. Skank survives to tell the stories to Top Dollar and Grange, who later notices Eric’s grave has been disturbed. This leads to a final confrontation between and Top Dollar and his other crime associates. Assisting Eric is one single crow that is helping guide him to his killers.
The movie is a juxtaposition of many genres. It was based on a graphic novel and has a comic book feel, but the story of Eric seeking revenge adds some supernatural elements. There’s also a lot of gunfire and explosions so it can be considered an action movie. But at the center of the movie is Lee’s performance and you can’t help flinch a little when someone aims a gun at Eric.
I would also argue that part of the movie’s success was caused in part to Lee’s death. Prior to the fatal incident, the movie was notable for its on-set problems. So, it was hard to watch it when it first came out without feeling it was exploiting Lee’s death. Alex Proyas had to bring in body doubles for some scenes and even superimpose Lee’s face over the actors in some others. It adds a little more to the tone of the movie and look. That’s not saying the movie would’ve been a total failure had Lee lived. I think it would’ve opened some more opportunities for him other than martial arts movies.
Lee was a handsome young man and the camera loves him. There’s not much acting required for a movie like this, but Lee and others do manage to make it interesting. Wincott, Todd and the rest of the usual bad guys are pros at this. You can tell they had a lot of fun on the set, but maybe it was too much fun. A little more seriousness was needed.