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Renny Harlin
Stellan SkarsgŚrd, Izabella Scorupco, James D'Arcy, Remy Sweeney, Julian Wadham, Andrew French, Ralph Brown, Ben Cross, David Bradley
Writing Credits:
William Peter Blatty (movie, The Exorcist), William Wisher Jr. (story), Caleb Carr (story), Alexi Hawley

When justice is blind, it knows no fear.

Exorcist: The Beginning traces the story of Father Merrin back to his first encounter with the Devil during his missionary work in Africa.

Box Office:
$80 million. (includes both versions)
Opening Weekend
$18.054 million on 2803 screens.
Domestic Gross
$41.814 million.

Rated R

Widescreen 2.35:1/16x9
English Dolby Digital 5.1
English DTS 5.1

Runtime: 113 min.
Price: $27.95
Release Date: 3/1/2005

• Audio Commentary with Director Renny Harlin
• Behind-the-Scenes Featurette
• Trailers
• Cast and Crew


Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.


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Exorcist: The Beginning (2004)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (February 18, 2005)

Not too many recent flicks took a more difficult path to the screen than 2004ís Exorcist: The Beginning. Original director John Frankenheimer dropped out before production started, and Paul Schrader then came onboard. He filmed a completed product, but apparently the suits didnít think it was bloody enough. They vetoed it and hired Renny Harlin to reshoot the flick.

Harlinís version hit the screens in the summer of 2004 but didnít cause much excitement. A $41 million gross for a horror flick isnít bad, but itís not too hot given this oneís pedigree, and it certainly doesnít cover the costs of making two different movies. Will this lead to the official death of the Exorcist franchise? I doubt it; Exorcist III bombed in 1990 but we still got this fourth entry in the series 14 years later. Still, the poor reception accorded Beginning sure doesnít bode well for future Exorcist flicks.

Beginning takes us to Cairo in 1949. Semelier (Ben Cross) works for private collector of rare antiquities and notes the discovery in East Africa of a Christian church built circa 5 AD. Archaeologist and former priest Lancaster Merrin (Stellan Skarsgard) gets hired to find an evil icon apparently hidden inside the church. Father Francis (James DíArcy) will go with him to ensure he doesnít violate the religious side of things.

When the pair arrive in East Africa, they meet others such as Jefferies (Alan Ford), the vile racist overseer of the excavation, and sexy doctor Sarah Novak (Izabella Scorupco). The movie follows Merrinís investigation as well as many odd occurrences in the area. These become most intense when it appears that young local Joseph (Remy Sweeney) may be possessed by a demon. Other complications occur as well, and the movie also presents some flashbacks that explain why Merrin lost his faith.

Iíll say this about Exorcist: The Beginning: I like the concept that weíll learn more about Merrinís backstory, particularly in his encounters with the demon who causes so much trouble in the original movie. Thus ends the segment of the review in which I say nice things about the film. Other than its general premise, I canít find much to praise here.

Not that the flick is screamingly bad. Other relative positives come from Skarsgardís reasonably weary, haunted performance as Merrin and Harlinís generally subdued direction. Perhaps I expected him to turn the movie into Die Hard with a Demon and use non-stop hyperactive editing, but Harlin manages to hold back and keep things acceptably calm.

Maybe a little too calm, actually. As I watched this somnambulant story, I almost wished for some Michael Bay-style choppiness - anything to enliven the proceedings. The film progresses at three speeds: slow, slower, and slowest. And it doesnít do so in a taut, tense manner that draws us into the action. The original Exorcist didnít attack us with its rapid plot development, but it engrossed us because it created an intriguing world and gradually made us feel part of it.

That never happens in Beginning. The movie plods along and never goes much of anywhere as it slowly explores its muddled plot. Its thinly-drawn characters donít help matters, and the movie does little to develop them. The entirety of the exposition for Merrin comes from occasional flashbacks to his time in Nazi-occupied Europe. We see him stuck in a Sophieís Choice sort of situation where he had to choose who the Germans would kill. This depicts the reason Merrin lost his faith, but it presents nothing more than cheap emotion. I hate to see Nazi atrocities turned into nothing more than fodder for a cheesy horror movie.

Essentially, thatís all Beginning is. The picture exists as a very standard horror flick that uses religious overtones when it feels convenient. Unlike the original Exorcist, the religious elements never play an integral part in the story, and they rarely even feel very relevant. Theyíre there to create a connection to the first movie and thatís about it. Otherwise thereís exceptionally little to differentiate Beginning from any other monster story.

The movie also suffers from a cobbled-together feeling. The flick comes across like it takes bits and pieces of other horror offerings and hopes that theyíll scare somebody. This means we find The Creepy Kid - a popular component since 1999ís The Sixth Sense - as well as cheap tactics like power outages. Thereís not an original moment in this story.

Beginning canít even muster some creativity in its one-liners. Granted, the flick doesnít attempt a lot of these - it prefers a faux-somber tone - but when it does, the gags flop. For example, when the crass Jefferies makes sexual comments to Sarah, she implies he should put a muzzle on his manhood. Huh? Does that concept actually make any sense?

No, but I guess it sounds vaguely clever and biting. Thatís the best Exorcist: The Beginning has to offer, unfortunately. At no point does the movie threaten to become anything scary or involving. Instead, it bores with its cheap scares and muddled plot.

The DVD Grades: Picture A/ Audio B+/ Bonus C

Exorcist: The Beginning appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Abandon hope all ye who want to find a flawed transfer - Beginning looked terrific.

At no point did sharpness falter. If any soft segment occurred, I didnít notice them. The movie consistently demonstrated excellent definition and delineation. No issues with jagged edges or shimmering occurred, and I saw no instances of edge enhancement. In addition, the image totally lacked any form of source defects.

Beginning used a very focused palette. Gold dominated matters, as it reflected the sandy setting and spread across much of the film. Merrinís flashbacks went for a cold gray look with heavy desaturation, and shots in the doctorís office took on a green tint. Those were the three major color choices of the flick. The transfer brought them out well, as it represented the tones quite solidly. Blacks were tight and firm, while shadows consistently demonstrated good depth and clarity. I didnít like the movie, but the visuals of Beginning excelled.

In a surprising move, Exorcist: The Beginning includes both Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1 soundtracks. Very few Warner Bros. DVDs toss in DTS mixes, so itís notable when one does. In this case, the presence of the DTS audio clearly occurs because Beginning is a Morgan Creek production. When you examine other WB DVDs with DTS such as True Romance and Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, theyíre almost always Morgan Creek flicks. I detected no substantial differences between the two mixes, as they sounded very similar to me.

When it came to the audio of Exorcist: The Beginning, one issue dominated: bass! The movie poured on the low-end, and those elements played too prominent a role in the proceedings. Happily, bass stayed fairly tight and didnít pop or become distorted. The mix simply played up the low-end too strongly, and it occasionally overwhelmed the rest of the audio. I sometimes found it hard to hear anything else because my subwoofer was knocking me against the wall.

Once I got past that issue - and it wasnít a constant problem, as the bass was acceptably restrained much of the time - I found a lot to like about the audio. The soundfield helped accentuate the action. It used the surrounds with reasonable frequency to create an ominous atmosphere and to jolt us with some scares. The forward spectrum dominated and offered a smooth and natural feeling.

Except for the overcooked bass, audio quality fared well. Despite some awkward looping at times, speech remained concise and natural, with no edginess or problems related to intelligibility. Effects were tight and accurate, and music showed good breadth. The score demonstrated nice clarity and vivacity throughout the film. The mix would have worked better if the sound designers had dialed down the low-end, but it was still solid enough for a ďB+Ē.

As we move to the supplements, we find only a smattering of pieces. One disappointment comes from an omission. Rumors abounded that WB would release a Beginning set that also included the original Paul Schrader version. Hopefully such a release will eventually hit the shelves, but this isnít it.

Instead, we locate only a few basic components. The most significant extra comes from an audio commentary with director Renny Harlin. He provides a running, screen-specific chat that goes into a mix of subjects. Harlin talks about the development of the story and attempts to make it connect with the original but not just remake it. He also discusses sets and shooting at Cinecitta in Italy, casting, and cinematography and the movieís visual look.

What you wonít hear is any information about the movieís prior incarnation. Harlin alludes to a rushed production schedule but never mentions the existence of an earlier attempt to make the film or anything else connected to the Schrader version. Thatís a disappointment, especially since Harlinís chat rarely becomes anything very interesting. He covers basic production details in a fairly monotonous manner and doesnít tell us much that seems intriguing. Some dead air occurs, and he also occasionally just narrates the flick. The commentary provides a rudimentary examination of technical topics and little else, which leaves it as a pretty dull undertaking.

Next we get an eight-minute and nine-second behind the scenes featurette. It mixes movie shots, shots from the set, and interviews with Harlin, producer James G. Robinson, and actors Stellan Skarsgard, James DíArcy, and Izabella Scorupco. They offer basic story and character notes as well as generic praise for all involved. Only one interesting tidbit emerges, as Harlin tells us how he broke his leg before shooting. (Wonder why he didnít mention that in his commentary?) Otherwise thereís not a scintilla of useful information in this fluffy promotional piece.

In addition to the trailer for Beginning, we end with Cast & Crew entries. The set includes listings for Harlin, actors Stellan Skarsgard, Izabella Scorupco, James DíArcy, Remy Sweeney, Julian Wadham, Andrew French, Ben Cross, Alan Ford, Antonie Kamerling, Eddie Osei and Israel Aduramo, director of photography Vittorio Storaro, editor Marc Goldblatt, composer Trevor Rabin, and costume designer Luke Reichle. This area presents short biographies for all the crew but only the first four actors mentioned get the same treatment.

While I recognize that itís tough to create an effective follow-up to a classic like The Exorcist, surely someone could do much better than the feeble Exorcist: The Beginning. Nothing more than a standard issue horror flick with some mild religious overtones, it lacks anything to make it involving or effective.

At least the DVD presents excellent picture along with very good audio hampered only by overwhelming low-end material. As for extras, we get only a mediocre commentary and a few other basics. Unless the power of Christ compels you to own everything Exorcist-related, avoid this clunker.

Viewer Film Ratings: 2.5555 Stars Number of Votes: 9
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