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  • Matt Linton

Adventures in Quarantining - The Shadow (1994)

If there is one constant in the age of COVID-19, it's that everyone is responding to the isolation of social-distancing, quarantine, and/or shelter-at-home orders in different ways. The inspiration for this series is my new-found obsession with revisiting adventure films (particularly those from the 90s, for some reason). So, in an effort to write something that I don't HAVE to write (as opposed to the big thing I SHOULD be writing, I thought I'd share my thoughts on the films I've revisited (in between bouts of sleeping and playing Skyrim) over the last few weeks.

The Shadow (1994)

Director: Russell Mulcahy

Starring: Alec Baldwin, Penelope Ann Miller, John Lone, Peter Boyle, Ian McKellan, and Tim Curry

The character of the Shadow is one of the original pulp heroes. In a nutshell, he's Lamont Cranston, a wealthy playboy who runs around in a fedora, trench coat, and red scarf dual-wielding pistols, and maniacally laughing and responding to the question of "Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men?" with "The Shadow knows!" Like a couple of other films on this list, The Shadow was chasing some of that sweet, sweet, Tim Burton-era Batman money, and started by casting the fan-favorite choice to play Bruce Wayne - Alec Baldwin - in the lead role. It also made two of the same mistakes other wannabe films of the sort made. First, it assumed that fans were clamoring to see Batman in movies because he was a pulp-inspired hero from the 1930s, rather than, you know, the fact that he's Batman. The second is setting the film in the period the character originated, rather than updating it for a modern audience. That it also lacked the signature style of Tim Burton at his peak, or the design genius of the late Anton Furst might have had something to do with it, as well.

All of those were the problems I had with it when I first saw The Shadow in '94. Revisiting it, however, it's not a bad movie, per se. The cast is phenomenal, for one thing, and it makes good use of them. There's also some imaginative reimagining and visualizing of the Shadow's abilities, including his ability to "cloud men's minds." Tim Curry is chewing the scenery in the way that only Tim Curry can, and his scenes are among the best in the film.

And this is a role that Baldwin was perfect for, at the time (when he's not hidden behind poorly-conceived makeup that makes him look like the Bizarro-version of his younger brother Billy). There's also effective chemistry between his Cranston and Penelope Ann Miller's Margo Lane in a very classic Hollywood sort of way.

The two issues I still have with the film, however, are some seriously dated and largely-unnecessary CGI, particularly in the final face-off between the Shadow and John Lone's Shiwan Khan, and the opening epilogue.

The Shadow, for those of you who don't know, is one of many characters at the time whose origin involves traveling to "the Far East" to gain his mystical abilities (see also: Doctor Strange and Iron Fist). The film also adds the backstory that during this time, he became a warlord called Yin-Ko who dresses like a stereotypical Yellow Peril villain. Aside from the problematic cultural elements inherent in this, it's a super-confusing way to introduce your protagonist to the audience. Imagine if you knew very little about Batman, and Batman Begins started with Bruce Wayne as a criminal in a Tibetan prison and ended the introduction with his meeting the League of Shadows. Side note: While typing that sentence I just realized that those are essentially the same mini-character arcs.

Still, I found the film super-entertaining, and was charmed by its confidence that it would obviously become a blockbuster franchise. Looking back, all of the ingredients were there, but it just didn't connect with audiences. Of the films I've revisited in this genre, though, it's the one that I could genuinely see being excited about a reboot, or wish there were a few more entries I could check out.

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