In 1949, Father Merrin (Stellan Skarsgård), lapsed of faith and now an archaeologist for hire,heads off to Kenya, where Byzantine church has just been uncovered in a location it doesn’tbelong. The opening of the church unleashes the evil contained therein, which, not content withpossessing a little boy, gradually puts the locals and the British military force at each other’sthroats. Merrin must regain his faith and confront the demon (cue the exorcism of the title).
More interesting than the film itself is its troubled production history. Paul Schrader hadturned in his cut of the film, only to be fired and replaced by Renny Harlin, who re-shot themovie with a new script. So there are TWO complete movies called Exorcist: TheBeginning in existence, and early reports suggested the Schrader version would be includedas an extra on this release. No such luck, so while we wait and hope to see what that morecerebral version was like, we have Harlin’s vision. Despite his early start in horror(Prison, A Nightmare on Elm Street 4), Harlin is much better suited to action, andthere’s a bit too much of that here. The film is better than it has any right to be (some good scaresand atmosphere), but that doesn’t mean it’s actually good. The CGI are laughable and massivelyoverused, and while there is some laudable and gratuitous nastiness, the climax goes hilariouslyoff the rails. As follow-ups go, this is much closer to the disastrous The Exorcist II: TheHeretic than to the compelling, if flawed The Exorcist III.
Sound has been a hallmark of the Exorcist films from the first film, which set anextraordinary high standard. If the movie itself is an unsurprising disappointment, the actualsound is fabulous, as menacingly huge and loud as one could hope for. Saying the audio mix,whether in 5.1 or DTS (and there isn’t much difference between the two), is enveloping would bea massive understatement.
The image, too, is wonderful. The colours are faithful to the theatrical experience, withexcellent contrasts and very deep blacks. The picture isn’t murky, and preserves the 2.35:1anamorphic widescreen aspect (which is absolutely crucial to catch a glimpse of Captain Howdyin a mirror at the far edge of the screen, helpfully pointed out by Harlin in his commentary). Thepicture is incredibly sharp, almost too much so, as the CGI are even more painfully obvious thanin the theatres.
Not much mention of how troubled this production was, though Harlin is quite candid in hiscommentary about such matters as his disappointment with the CG hyenas (one of the worsteffects in the film). The behind-the-scenes featurette is pure publicity. Also here is the theatricaltrailer and fairly extensive cast and crew filmographies and bios. The menu is fully animated andscored.
Great transfer, but not a huge number of extras. Does this mean we can expect a specialedition not too long from now, complete with the Paul Schrader version of the movie? One canbut hope.
Special Features List
- Director’s Commentary
- Making-of Featurette
- Theatrical Trailer
- Cast and Crew Bios and Filmographies