Exorcist: The Beginning
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Exorcist: The Beginning (DVD) (WS)
In the aftermath of World War II, Lankester Merrin finds himself in the remote Turkana region of Kenya. Haunted by memories of the war, he has taken a sabbatical from the priesthood and journeyed far from his native Holland. He has come to lead the archeological excavation of a mysterious Byzantine church, buried in pristine condition, as if on the day it was completed. Directly underneath the church, Merrin discovers a much more ancient crypt--and finds himself face-to-face with unspeakable Evil. Madness descends on the local villagers and the contingent of British soldiers sent to guard the excavation. Merrin watches helplessly as the atrocities of war are repeated against another innocent village--atrocities he'd hoped to never see again. The blood of innocents flows freely on the East African plain, but the horror has only just begun in Exorcist: The Beginning.]]>
The sparse special features on the DVD release of Exorcist: The Beginning are a commentary track by director Renny Harlin and a brief making-of featurette. Together they give scant insight to a movie that should have been better received in its theatrical release, if only for the pedigree of its franchise. The best thing about the movie is its ambitiously art-directed period plotline that shows Father Merrin's (Stellan Skarsgård) first brush with the demon that would bedevil the same character in William Friedkin's 1973 masterpiece, The Exorcist. Skarsgård is believable as a younger version of the older movie's Merrin, Max von Sydow, and he discusses his apprehension about filling such famous shoes in the documentary. But there are precious few behind-the-scenes details related in interview segments with Harlin and the film's producer. It's a typically run-of-the-mill DVD extra, heavy on clips and with nary a word about the infamous version filmed by Paul Schrader, then scrapped by the studio in favor of one with more gore and overt frights. (There were rumors of a DVD release containing both versions, but that plan was apparently scuttled.) Harlin's commentary is only slightly more enlightening--he talks a lot about the delights and logistics of shooting in Rome's famed Cinecitta Studios--but again, he's mum on being called in late to render an alternate prequel to one of the '70s all-time-great movies. The famous Exorcist curse did stay with him, however. He was hit by a car early on in the production and directed most of the movie on crutches. --Ted Fry
- Behind-the-scenes featurette
- Theatrical trailer
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The whole feel of this film was NOT imposing. There was no sense of horror, at all.
The actors were fair enough, they delivered their lines with enough talent.
I was overtly UN-IMPRESSED with this film, as a whole.
What I did enjoy: the commentary by Renny Harlin. I truly appreciate his attempt to RUSH this film. 10 months to pre/film/post is a daunting task, I would imagine.
I disagree with some of his choices. He goes on and on about the cinematographer, Vittorio Storaro. The look of the film was just "fake" the sets were "cheap looking" and the lighting was just awful. Admittedly, Harlin had a LOW budget and time constraints. He should have made the film WAY more simplistic in terms of script and story. In doing so, this would have simplified the setting and created a more realistic environment and feel. He should have also avoided CGI all-together.
"Lankaster Merrin" seemed like an "Indiana Jones" wanna-be with a HUGE chip on his shoulder. We get it, he's conflicted over his faith. PLEASE! This story line has been beat-to-death. Blattty's "Merrin" was written as a GREAT man of faith and this backstory just does NOT jive with the character.
Terrible film, all around.
Real demons aren't like this, either -- except at the bottom-most level ('Satan' is a TITLE meaning LEGAL ADVERSARY, and his talk in Bible, is MORAL, intellectual, cultured, erudite). The silly-level behavior, and the whole idea of some exorcism ritual, is how we see demons, based on only a few of the many demon passages in Bible. But a deeper Biblical review reveals that they are much more varied, and no amount of ritual can exorcise anything. Just as there are thugish or cultured, intellectual humans, so too there are thugish or intellectual, demons. Common sense would tell you that we are not the top of the food chain, but rather our natures reflect something higher. Thus such a story, resonates in every culture.
If you want to see such group demonism play live, just watch any gathering of Arab Muslims. How they can assemble instantly to pulverize some area in Israel, demonstrate, trash an embassy over cartoons, you-name-it. So such a story, resonates in live history you can see play live, on TV.
Common sense and Bible would also tell you that simple faith in Christ ends a possession. Repeated use of 1John1:9 lessens or ends, demon influence in a believer. No amount of canned language, and certainly no ordained priest going through an elaborate and silly set of words in costume, ever does anything to exorcise a demon. That's just human silliness. So, ignore that bit when you watch these movies. Ignore also the idea that the demon depicted, is Satan. Not his personality, at all.
Still, The Beginning has a broader historical range though smaller budget, to provide a bigger backstory than Dominion, which was shot first. So watch Dominion first; The Beginning will then have a better lead-in. The premise of both movies is false, but ignore that, too. There is such a thing as a demon 'territory', though; and every country has at least one. Again, because demons vary like people do, they fight with each other, band together, and they have their own pride, as well. The games they prey upon us are part of their own battles with each other: in a civil war which the Bible covers, beginning in Genesis 1:2. Every culture on earth tells some version of the same story: we are pawns in an invisible war, and after death we will find out how we fared; meanwhile, most of us don't take that war seriously, at our own peril. For the universe didn't get here on its own. A mindless nature doesn't know aethestics. Takes intelligence, to appreciate beauty, so intelligence created it. Nuff said.
Am grateful that Morgan Creek released both versions. Unique genre, the double-movie-release. Wish there were more movies done like this. Wish they'd stop the cheesy demonics, but that's how movies like this make money. The cheesy quality helps us rationalize demons as unreal. Too hard to deal with the fact we aren't at the top of the food chain, I guess.
DVD quality is okay, but someone should fire whoever designed the disc menu. You have to ARROW AROUND to find the different categories, when you hit 'disc menu' on your remote; the only text showing plainly on the upside-down crucifix is PLAY MOVIE; the advertised extras, don't seem to be on the disc! You find out that they are, if you CAREFULLY and SLOWLY use the arrows on your remote. The Special Features MIGHT appear at the bottom of the disc menu screen, if you are lucky enough to see it. Took me five minutes juggling with the arrows on my remote, to find it. As for the scene selection submenu, forget it. Someone was trying to be cute, and it's barely visible, where your cursor is, to select a group of scenes. Of course, as with so many silly disc menu designs, when you select the special feature of the commentary, the cursor then goes to the obscure name, 'play movie', which does NOT mean to play the movie, but to play your selection. Honestly, doesn't anyone TEST the design before manufacture?
In the Special Features, Harlin's commentary on the movie while it plays, is interesting; he explains his attempt to back up the original Exorcist movie, his main goal; he also describes the tight schedule and budget, even being hit by a car -- which could have stopped him from completing the filming. He explains his philosophy of what to show vs. what to hide, what mistakes he thought he made, etc. Worth hearing. Helps one appreciate how difficult it is, to make a movie.
In sum, Dominion is the more thoughtful movie; but The Beginning provides more range for the actors, and a larger backstory, larger action story, too. So, see Dominion first, then watch The Beginning.
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