When this film focuses on the characters it shows a director at the height of his game.
Mired in horribly done effects and suspenseful scenes that lack suspense, it is easy to see why Warner Bros. remade this movie outright.
With all due respect to Paul Schrader and Renny Harlin, the story behind the movies Exorcist: The Beginning (directed by Renny Harlin) and Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist (helmed by Mr. Schrader) are a lot more interesting than the actual films. As you may or may not know, Schrader’s film was made first. The studio deemed that it wasn’t scary enough (which it isn’t) and they remade the entire film (with much of the same cast) and had Renny Harlin at the wheel. The biggest problem with having Schrader do a straight up horror/suspense movie is that he has never been that kind of director. The horror that he presents so well is rooted in the everyday. He shows us the many sides of reality in films like Auto-Focus and Hardcore, and it is in these worlds that Schrader can be truly shocking.
Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist is just not scary. The FX look bad and the action and scares don’t work. Now, in the moments when Father Merrin is struggling with his own faith (a constant theme in Schrader’s work due to his Dutch Calvinist upbringing), or trying to work with the British while appeasing the East African tribespeople, this film is as good as anything out there. Sadly, this isn’t The Constant Gardener, and that is why Harlin was called in the clean up the mess. Although lets be really honest, the only “Exorcist” film you really need to see is the first one.
Commentary by Paul Schrader, Still Gallery and Additional Scenes
If I wasn’t such a fan of Paul Schrader I don’t know that I would have made it through the commentary track. It’s not that it’s bad (I personally love hearing his stories and anecdotes about filmmaking) but he speaks in such a way that makes him hard to listen to. It is slow and sometimes ponderous but I think he knows that this is a movie for the “film school” set, so he doesn’t have to try to impress too much. People like myself are already along for the ride and if others choose to join that is okay too. The sparse “Still Gallery” is mixture of “on set” and behind the scenes shots. While none of these pictures jumped out at me, it was nice to see that Warner Bros. didn’t just dump this release on DVD shelves with just the movie on the disc and a bunch theatrical trailers for their other films. The “Additional Scenes” here have titles like “On the March,” “Cigarette,” “Classroom Song” and “Church in Ruins.” A lot of the scenes are just quick snippets that really have no point other than bolstering the “special features” of this disc. To make matters worse the picture and sound quality of the excised scenes is pretty poor.
Widescreen Version presented in a “matted” widescreen format preserving the aspect ratio of it’s original theatrical exhibition. Enhanced for Widescreen TVs. This movie looks great. The colors and imagery seem to suggest that Schrader certainly knew what he wanted to do. Unfortunately, I think that this was really a case of him making one movie while the studio wanted another. As a result, they had a “mixture” of both kinds of films, and while that can sometimes work, it just doesn’t here. The action scenes and the scary parts are not good. I can’t really explain why but this film doesn’t pull off the scary moments at all. Maybe it’s because I know that it’s supposed to be scary, but I do thank Paul Schrader for not making a film that tried to “jolt” me every 15 seconds.
Dolby Digital. English: Dolby Surround 5.1. On the commentary track, Schrader tells an interesting story about the soundtrack and how he divided it in half between a composer and an actual group. Perhaps the sound is the big problem with this movie? I only say this because one needs both of these to work in order for the “thrills and chills” to be put across. When the sound was subtle, seeming to play on what the characters were going through, I felt that Schrader achieved what he and the studio wanted. Sadly, there were just too many moments of missed opportunities and I found myself wondering what was going on.
I am assuming that this cover is a silhouette of Father Merrin kissing a cross. This is actually a pretty well used piece of imagery. The back features some shots from the movie, a misleading description of what Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist is about, a “Special Features” listing, a credits list and technical specs. On the front cover is a quote by Roger Ebert that says, ”A milestone in movie history... A strong, true and intelligent film that kept me fascinated and fearful from beginning to end.” Now, either Ebert is like me and he can’t understand how Schrader could get lost with this material, or, he is just in denial. Something tells me that like this film itself, the answer lies somewhere between the two answers.
Paul Schrader has never been the kind of director that makes “big” movies. Not that his films don’t do well, but as a director on films like Blue Collar, his work can best be appreciated by how focused the films are in telling the stories of the characters. Even the action scenes in this movie just don’t work. He seems almost lost when Father Merrin and Satan are confronting one another. Maybe it’s me? Perhaps I have seen too many movies, but I just think this film could have worked a lot better if Schrader would have played more to his own strengths.
While certainly worth a look for fans (and to see why Warner Bros. spent $40 million twice to make essentially the same film), Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist was really best suited coming out as a straight to DVD release. Honestly, they may have been able to get more mileage out of it if they would have waited a bit longer and let the lore behind this movie grow.
Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist was released May 20, 2005.