I didn’t see this movie in the theater because it looked dull. I think I had even read something before it came out about Warner Bros. taking the movie away from Paul Schrader because the version that he had made wasn’t “scary?? enough. I later found out the studio wanted a more Scream-type movie. Honestly, I don’t know what to believe.
I will just say this...first of all, don’t mess with Paul Schrader. The man is a legend and an icon and he’s someone who if he makes a movie deserves to have his vision honored and screened in whatever release pattern makes sense. He has been around long enough, and done too many movies for someone to hire him and not know what he is going to deliver. I may not like all his movies but he does attempt to deliver every time out.
Secondly, Exorcist: The Beginning , directed by the venerable Renny Harlin is nothing like a Scream movie. This is not a diss on those movies. I saw the first two and I liked them both immensely. Exorcist: The Beginning is a very solid, well done, horror movie. I found the story to be gripping and the way it was executed to be imminently watchable. While I sometimes don’t go for movies told in distant times and places, this movie handles all of that well and it is the characterizations that really drive the story.
Quite simply, Exorcist: The Beginning is a story about a man who has lost his faith. Father Merrin, the main character from the first Exorcist movie joins a British archaeological excavation where a church has been unearthed. As the dig below continues, madness descends upon the villagers and British soldiers until the blood of innocents flows from the African plain. Father Merrin is again called to look within himself and face the most horrific kind of evil.
There isn’t too much happening here that we haven’t seen before in other movies of this kind, although I do feel we as viewers finally get more of a back story about the demon statues we have been seeing since the first Exorcist movie. In fact, the overall vibe of this film has that an weird “early?? quality to it that works(especially at the end when Father Merrin is called again to rely heavily on his faith). When watching this film I actually thought about the first movie, and(maybe this is just how good Skarsgard is) but this all seemed like a plausible precursor to the first frightfest. I would actually like to talk with others about both films because I wonder if the fact that I saw The Exorcist several years after it was released might make a difference. Had I seen it when it first came out I may look at this new installment differently.
Either way, Exorcist: The Beginning is a solidly designed horror film, which never slows and never seems to get muddled within it’s imagery.
Behind the Scenes
As this movie is a prequel it is interesting to hear the people involved talk about making a movie that is a precursor to such a legendary movie as The Exorcist . It sadly seems that these interviews were conducted when everyone was tired. At least that’s the way it seems to me. I am also thinking that the type of production this was(it was a horror film but there is a decent amount of action) might account for the players not having as much “life?? as I might hope. There is the obligatory moments where everyone talks about how great everyone was to work with, but I get a sense that there was something different about this production then other films these people have worked on. Especially for Stellan Skarsgard who seems to have done two versions of this movie. As far as “behind the scenes" companion pieces go this was an interesting “making of??(Renny Harlin got hit by car in Rome after shooting started and had to direct while wearing a cast on his leg), but overall it’s steady if not spectacular. Also, it seemed a little short to me but then again with the many production problems I have talked about that seems par for the course.
Commentary by Director Renny Harlin
There is something about Directors that makes commentary tracks my favorite part of the DVD experience. I think I almost buy DVDs because of a commentary track as opposed to the actual movie. I say this because directors like Renny Harlin just make the job of directing seem so effortless. I know that this was a hard production, there is talk that this movie was “cursed" but I think that it’s the attitude that Harlin seems to have, he never seems daunted by any of the genres he’s working in, that is what gets him through film after film without being burned out. I also like the way that he way breaks down the film and what the nuts and bolts of the production where trying to do. I also liked how he referenced the first Exorcist movie in regards to the new one that he’s created. He managed to create an epic feeling for a movie that seems quite character driven and personal. I also loved listening to him talk about how the language of film has changed from 1973(when the first Exorcist was released) to what it’s evolved into in 2005. He is man who is very well versed in cinema and it’s history. It is this reverence that is readily apparent in this film.
Presented in a “Letterbox" Widescreen Format preserving the “Scope" Aspect ratio of it’s original theatrical exhibition. Enhanced for widescreen TVs. Well, Renny Harlin and Co. must be given credit because this film looks big. It’s lush, full of great vistas and sparkling scenery. I am amazed because I know what a long arduous road it seems like this production was. Nothing about this movie seems overdone or too big. It is sort of like a much darker version of Raiders of the Lost Ark. It isn’t too terribly moody. In fact, the images on screen strike a nice balance between holding your attention and becoming boring. I am quite impressed with the craft behind the film. Harlin is obviously someone who feels comfortable in many genres(witness A Nightmare on Elm Street 4 and then The Long Kiss Goodnight), so the fact that he was able to take a movie that was seemingly meant for someone else, and execute it the way that he did is very admirable. The DVD compression and transfer is very, very sharp. It is so crisp and clean that I am actually happy that my first viewing experience was on DVD and not in the theater. And for that I have the beloved Vittorio Storaro to thank.
Dolby Digital: English: DTS Surround 5.1/English: Dolby Surround 5.1. It was great to finally a see movie that kept the music and tone within the confines of the film in which it was intended. Too many times, I will see a movie and it will update the music. It will make it sound hip along the lines of whatever the popular culture deems is “cool??. For me, all that does is take me out the reality of the movie and then it doesn’t look so cool any more. What I appreciated about this movie was that while there were those obligatory moments of underlying music(ie. when the animals attack one of the children or when Father Merrin witnesses someone kill themself), it was right for that particular scene. I have not seen any of The Exorcist’s other movies(although I have seen the first one many times), I must admit that the sound does a good job of keeping up with the tone of the original movie. There were just little things with the characters and the kids, the way they played off one another that I found really worked within the context of this movie.
This cover should satisfy followers of these films. It looks decent enough to me. There is a cross with what I assume might be Aramaic words written on it and in the lower left hand corner is someone screaming. This works as I guess the general idea is to let you know what you are in for. The back is pretty standard with some shots of the movie(with one of the younger priest that should have been left off as it makes the movie look like a low budget piece of DV work), and a general description of the plot. All in all nothing too amazing here but this is certainly the kind of film that if demand warrants it, could reap nice benefits to the creators if there were multiple editions of it unleashed(with more creative packaging, of course) on the market.
All in all I have to say that this movie really impressed me. I didn’t see it in the theater. It looked too much like one of those moody, darkly lit, scare you with sound films(see Lost Souls) that at the end of the day would most likely put me in a state of slumber. While this film is dark(and darkly lit) it is well done. I think that Renny Harlin gets a bad rap. He’s made some highly entertaining pictures(Cliffhanger) and he has also had his share of duds. The point is that Exorcist: The Beginning works. It is scary, tense and above all things interesting. I don’t think enough horror movies are anymore. I also think that Stellan Skarsgard is perfect in this role. He is such a fine actor. So believable in every role that he plays, that right away, one won’t find themselves having trouble to get “in to?? this movie.
I am happy to have finally seen this movie and I also look forward to Paul Schrader’s version that is due to be released in 2005. It is so nice after seeing so many different kinds of movies to finally see a film that you don’t expect to be good and it is. I found myself surprised through much of this movie not only with the special FX but with the acting. There is no campiness here. No winking at the audience.
Exorcist: The Beginning at it’s very core does the franchise proud.
Exorcist: The Beginning was released August 20, 2004.