Monday, April 30, 2012

The Raven: A Review

I had composed a very critical review of “The Raven” that I had planned to share with everyone, but then absentmindedly flushed the toilet.  I was going to leave it at that, further consideration of the film being unworthy of my valuable time, but then remembered that I am long dead and time has ceased to exist for me.  The clamor of my legions of fans to know my thoughts on the film shall not go unanswered. 
Here There Be Spoilers!!! If you’ve not yet seen “The Raven”, don’t.  If you do not intend to heed this advice, read on at your own peril. 

I recently attended the cinema to see that great steaming pile of disappointed donkey droppings, “The Raven”.  I spent eleven dollars and nearly two hours of my afterlife for the privilege of sitting in stunned silence amongst fewer than three dozen other movie-goers, all of whose enjoyment of the movie was at first spoilt by some creep hurling obscenities at the on-screen Poe… Until at length the usher told me to quiet down or I would be escorted out of the theater.  In the opinion of this reviewer this movie is classic ‘straight to video’ fare, not even worthy of a theatrical release.

Named for the poem for which Poe is best known (despite the fact that Poe’s ‘Raven’ was but a barely altered plagiarism of ‘The Magpie’ (1826) by Jefferson Tiberius Faulkmore (1799-1828), a forgotten minor poet so obscure that even I never anthologized his work), the absurdly contemptible premise of the film is that in Edgar Allan Poe’s last days he is enlisted by a Baltimore detective to aid in the apprehension of a serial killer who is using the tales of the wretched poet as inspiration for his grisly crimes.  Most of the tales referenced in this way are done so in a very shallow manner showing little respect for Poe’s original inventions, presenting the superficial and bloody details of Poe’s work unencumbered by plot, atmosphere or psychological depth.  

For the most part Poe’s stories (or at least fragments of them) are simply used as throw away clues to propel the dissipated poet-turned-detective in the direction of the tedious film’s easily anticipated conclusion.  The most prominent of the tales staged by the murderer (who “went a little nuts” (pauses for groans) as a result of Poe’s diminished literary output) are “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” and “The Pit and the Pendulum”, the former being the most reminiscent of its original source material in the entire film.  The recreation of the “Pit and the Pendulum”, however, is a disgrace (and not just because I meet my maker in that scene).  There is no pit, and the scene entirely omits the real horror of the tales predicament: that of the maddeningly slow descent of the blade.  The victim barely has time to anticipate his fate before he his cleaved in two in a poorly executed letting of computer generated blood.  

Later in the film “The Premature Burial” is referenced, and I almost allowed myself to enjoy the stifling claustrophobia of the scene until the killer utters his first line, the laughable: “Shut your mouth or I’ll shut it for you.”  Pathetic!  Atrocious lines of dialogue abound, many of which spoken by Poe, making it difficult to regard the film as seriously as it so desperately wants to be regarded.  Shakespeare (Hannah, not William) and Ben Livingston, the “writers” of the film of whom the less said the better, should be pursued out of Hollywood by a torch-wielding mob for the profound ignorance regarding Poe’s wit and demeanor exhibited by their script.

The entire cast was mediocre at best, but John Cusack’s performance as Poe left much to be desired.  I recognized not a single measure of Poe in Cusack’s flat, expressionless countenance.  The lazy music of Poe's voice, the supra-mortal eloquence possessed by the scribe in his better moments, his gentlemanly manner; they were all absent.  The fact that his ridiculous goatee makes him look less like a Southern gentleman & more like a depressed magician did nothing to help convince me that he was somehow conjuring the spirit of Poe as he seemed to believe he was in his arrogant and embarrassing comments to the entertainment press.

I’ve no complaint regarding the film’s portrayal of Poe as a drunk, a drug addict, a madman & a litterbug; I am in fact pleased to see that my posthumous characterization of the Poet Inebriate is alive and well! It was pleasantly nostalgic to recall to mind Poe’s suffering in his latter days when a friendless outcast.  I thank everyone involved in the production of “The Raven” for further congealing the bile in which I memorialized Poe.  I am compelled to mention, however, that the degraded wordsmith could not have functioned nearly as well under the influence of alcohol as is suggested by the film.  When in his cups Poe could barely stagger home or lift a second drink to his lips, let alone competently ride a horse or operate a firearm.

Both Cusack and James McTeigue (the director) have repeatedly commented that “The Raven” was never meant to be an accurate depiction of Poe’s life but a ‘dream of Poe’, a fantasy that mashes up elements of Poe’s life and work.  I can accept that, but feel the film could have been ever so slightly improved by setting this fantasy against a backdrop of reality.  Had they done a little research they would have known that “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” was not printed in Poe’s “Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque”.  They would have known that the doctor who presided over Poe’s final hours was named Dr. Moran, not Dr. Morgan.  The filmmakers must have anticipated the scrutiny of Poe fanatics and detractors alike and could have avoided some ill-feeling directed at them by actually researching Poe and featuring real people from his life in the story.  

This brings me to one of the most personally disturbing elements of the movie: Why is it that the dramatis personae includes no one other than Poe and my good self (unless you count a passing mention of Longfellow that was almost amusing) that actually existed in reality?  Could not ‘Henry Maddox’ of the ‘Baltimore Patriot’ have been discarded and George Graham used instead?  Why make “Emily Hamilton” Poe’s love interest instead of Sarah Elmira Royster?  Why omit Poe’s cat Catterina in favor of a raccoon named Karl?  Why?

I’ll tell you why.  I believe this to be an intentional effort on the part of those who wish me ill to make those unfamiliar with Poe’s circle believe that Rufus Griswold is merely another fictional character created for the film, thereby further diminishing my literary influence.  I am not highly regarded by devotees of Poe and this is a deliberate insult, as is casting John Warnaby to portray me on camera.  Seriously, if Brad Pitt had a prior commitment then production on “The Raven” should most definitely have been postponed until he was available.  Come on!  At the very least ‘Rufus Griswold’ should have been permitted some dialogue other than screams and pleas for his life.

I am secure enough in my literary and moral superiority to dismiss this Griswold revenge fantasy with but a simple thought for those so gleefully rejoicing in my cinematic demise.  I trust you are all aware that during the period in which the movie is set I had yet to commit my greatest crime against Poe, that obviously being my libelous memoir of the depraved author (seemingly the prime source of biographical information for this script); and in the apparently parallel universe in which “The Raven” takes place I will never be able to do so.  In the absence of my making a scandal of his life and character, his works, I truly believe, will never achieve such a level of posthumous fame and the genius Edgar Allan Poe will be just another anonymous inhabitant in my ‘graveyard of poets’.  What say you now regarding this ‘dream of Poe’?

The film was not even a little frightening.  The moment that scared me the most was when Ivan “Reynolds” (a lame attempt at solving the Reynolds mystery to be sure) announced that he was planning a jaunt to Paris to become a murderous fan-boy of Jules Verne, opening the door to a possible sequel.  Fortunately, this is not to be and I’ve lost no sleep to nightmares of “Journey to the Center of Jules Verne”. 

The Raven is so excruciatingly dull (even the unremarkable and somnolent score perfectly complements the monotonous action of the film) that it will put people off of the works of the wretch Edgar Allan Poe for years to come, and its inevitable failure at the box office will make Hollywood bigwigs think twice before they green light another Poe related movie.  I suppose the thrifty and uninspired hacks in the motion picture industry will have to pluck ideas from another deceased writer whose work is now relegated to the public domain and then execute those ideas poorly.  Alternatively, if any future aspirant for cinematic achievement should attempt an adaptation in honor of a literary life or work (or both), as doubtless there shall be, I would recommend to him a course governed by familiarity and respect for both the author and his craft.


  1. Great stuff, Rumpus, seriously. Think of it as a public service (God knows your karma needs all the good deeds possible.) We wasted our time and money watching this drivel, so the rest of the world won't have to.

  2. By the way, I had no idea donkey droppings were disappointed.

  3. Mr. Griswold, I am pondering what could bring you out into the open, and write a script based on the truth about the untimely demise of Edgar Allan Poe, and forthermore whom Reynolds was. Please let us know.