The Exorcist appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this Blu-Ray Disc. For the purposes of the review, I went with the 1973 theatrical version. While it definitely showed its age, I felt very pleased with the transfer.
One should expect a certain level of erratic visuals, though, as some scenes looked objectively great while others were considerably messier, and this affected most aspects of the movie, including sharpness. At times, the movie boasted excellent clarity and delineation, but other elements came across as looser and less concise. Overall definition was very good, however, and I never felt distracted by any of the softer shots.
No issues with jagged edges or shimmering occurred, and I also failed to discern edge enhancement or artifacts. I certainly couldn’t find any digital noise reduction, as the movie featured consistent – and sometimes heavy – grain. Source flaws were a non-factor; the flick lacked any signs of specks, marks or other concerns.
A film with a generally chilly palette, Exorcist kept most of the colors subdued. We found occasional instances of blood red tones, and the pea green vomit stood out, but the other gues tended to be low-key. They were appropriate and fit the production design.
Blacks were usually solid. They occasionally seemed a bit inky, but they normally came across as dark and deep. Shadows were also strong most of the time; a few slightly dense shots occurred, but most displayed good clarity.
I debated my letter grade for Exorcist because objectively, the image came with more than a few somewhat murky shots. Nonetheless, I went with a “B+” because so much of it looked very good, and the uglier elements appeared to accurately represent the source material. I doubt the film’s looked better, and I felt satisfied with the presentation.
Unfortunately, the Blu-ray lacked the movie’s original monaural soundtrack; instead, it opted for a mediocre DTS-HD MA 5.1 remix. I’m not sure of the mono audio has ever appeared on DVD; I never saw the 1997 release, but the 1998 25th Anniversary Edition provided only a 5.1 remix.
As far as multichannel remixes go, I’ve heard better than Exorcist and I’ve heard worse. On the positive side, the track’s creators didn’t go nuts with the soundscape. Much of the audio remained essentially monaural, as mostly ambience spread to the side and rear channels. Exceptions did occur, as some vehicles panned across the front, and the bigger scare scenes used the back speakers to add some information, such as when the possessed Regan moved furniture around the room. The film’s spare score didn’t seem to provide actual stereo imaging, as the music simply appeared to spread mildly across the front. Given the infrequent use of score, however, this wasn't a problem.
Audio quality was the weaker link here, as the stems showed their age. Speech was intelligible but tended to be reedy and thin, without a lot of naturalness on display. Effects boasted only minor thump at times and usually came across as somewhat weak. Music felt about the same, as the occasional score elements were clear enough but not especially full. At times the mix could seem a bit harsh and shrill; it wasn’t a track I wanted to crank up to a loud level. Overall, this was an acceptable remix but not one that impressed.
The Blu-ray mixed extras from the theatrical and “Version You’ve Never Seen” DVDs along with some new materials. I’ll note 2010 exclusives with special blue print.
We get three audio commentaries. The first two accompany the theatrical cut. One comes from director William Friedkin, as he offers a running, screen-specific look at the film. Friedkin covers how he came onto the project, working with Blatty and adapting the novel, story/character issues, makeup and effects, sets and locations, editing, cast and performances, music, audio and other elements.
In other commentaries, Friedkin has proven to be a dull participant – heck, you won’t have to look far in this review to find evidence of that. Happily, Boring Bill remains absent during this consistently informative chat. The director covers a wide variety of useful topics here, and he does so in a clear, involving manner. We learn a ton about the movie and enjoy ourselves along the way.
For the second chat, we hear from writer William Peter Blatty. He tells us what drew him to the subject and then gets into writing the novel, adapting it into a film, and various thoughts about the flick. Blatty provides a good complement to Friedkin and covers his side of the production in a fine manner. We get honest thoughts about his areas and learn quite a lot here.
Note that Blatty doesn’t offer a full two-hour commentary. Instead, he chats for about 57 minutes, so he gives us more of an “audio essay”. After his notes end, we get various sound effects tests, most of which concentrate on attempts to develop Regan’s “demon voice”. They become a moderately interesting extra.
Over on the “Director’s Expanded Cut” disc, we find an additional commentary from director William Friedkin. This is another running, screen-specific chat – very screen-specific, in fact. When I first reviewed this track, I said this: “Although Friedkin very occasionally offers an interesting tidbit about the film, for the most part he simply describes the action that we see. He does so in a fairly engaging manner, but I got the feeling he thought he was recording a
‘books on tape’ version of The Exorcist. Friedkin adds a little interpretation of the film, but not much, and I found this track to be quite dull as a whole.”
10 years later, I wondered if I’d been too hard on Friedkin, so I listened to the commentary again. If anything, I wasn’t hard enough on the track, as it really offers almost literally nothing other than mildly interpretive narration. We get maybe two minutes of actual filmmaking information, and even when those notes appear – such as when Friedkin discusses shooting in Iraq – the same details already appear on the old commentary. I can think of literally no logical reason to listen to this track, as it tells us virtually nothing about the movie’s creation. It’s a total waste of two-plus hours; just stick with the original commentary and skip this stinker.
More supplements spread across the two platters. On the “Director’s Expanded Cut” disc, we find a three-part documentary. It breaks into Raising Hell: Filming The Exorcist (30:03), The Exorcist Locations: Georgetown Then and Now (8:30) and Faces of Evil: The Different Versions of The Exorcist (9:52). Across these, we hear from Friedkin, Blatty, director of photography Owen Roizman, and actor Linda Blair. The featurettes look at the flick’s development, photography and effects, makeup, performances, sets and locations, and variations among different cuts of the film.
Of the three pieces, “Hell” definitely works the best. It includes a lot of nice footage from the set, and we get good details about the different elements. I do like the “before-after” comparison of Georgetown in the early 70s to Georgetown now, but “Versions” feels like another attempt to rewrite history and convince us that the Extended cut is the superior one.
This disc also throws in a collection of ads. We get two trailers, three TV Spots and two Radio Spots. As one might expect, all of these advertise the 2000 re-issue.
With that, we head to the materials found on the theatrical cut’s platter. In addition to the already mentioned commentaries, the key attraction comes from The Fear of God, a 1998 documentary. In this one-hour, 17-minute and nine-second program, we hear from Friedkin, Blatty, Blair, Roizman, technical advisor Fr. Thomas Bermingham, assistant director Terence Donnelly, production designer Bill Malley, publicist Joe Hyams, special effects artist Marcel Vercoutere, make-up artist Dick Smith, sound recordist Chris Newman, editor Bud Smith, dubbing mixer Buzz Knudsen, special sound effects creator Ron Nagel, and actors Ellen Burstyn, Fr. William O’Malley, Max Von Sydow, and Jason Miller.
“Fear” offers a standard overview, as it covers the film’s origins, development, and the same kinds of production details discussed elsewhere. While this makes “Fear” redundant at times, that doesn’t mean the program wastes your time. Instead, it complements the other elements and adds different perspectives. Heck, if you just screen this along with the Blatty and original cut Friedkin commentaries, you’d know pretty much everything you need to know about the film. It’s a very good documentary.
Director Friedkin pops up again for an Introduction. In this two-minute, 15-second clip, he gives us a little background about the story and the film. Nothing here is essential – and you’ll hear virtually all of it elsewhere – but this is a decent lead-up to the movie.
More info shows up via an Interview Gallery with William Friedkin and William Peter Blatty. It provides three segments: “The Original Cut” (0:55), “Stairway to Heaven” (5:37) and “The Final Reckoning” (2:29). Both men sit together as they chat about aspects of the movie, most of which revolve around their differences of opinion. It’s amusing to see how in 1998, Friedkin embraced the original cut, but two years later, he suddenly decided he’d been wrong for 25 years! I agree with 1998 Friedkin; I’ve always assumed he “changed his mind” just because everyone figured a recut Exorcist would make money.
Under Sketches and Storyboards, we locate a running montage. It lasts two minutes, 45 seconds, as it shows a selection of storyboards and concept art. I’d prefer a stillframe presentation, but we still see some interesting items here.
Also found integrated into the Director’s Cut, the Original Ending lasts one minute, 42 seconds. This scene tries to put a semi-happy tag on the film. It doesn’t work and its unnecessary; the movie suffers for its inclusion.
Finally, this disc provides more ads. We get three trailers as well as four TV Spots. To complement the promos on the other platter, these advertise the 1973 release.
Some non-disc-based materials appear as well. A one-page Personal Message from William Friedkin gives us another intro to the film; like the one on Disc Two, it’s inconsequential but pleasant.
We also get a hardcover book. This comes as part of the package; open up the disc’s casing and the book appears on the left half. It features a mix of components. We discover essays about the production, exorcisms, and the film’s impact as well as cast/crew biographies, trivia and photos. The book finishes a very good set on a positive note.
Is The Exorcist the greatest horror film of all-time? Probably. 37 years after its initial release, the movie has lost none of its ability to scare, as it remains nearly timeless. The Blu-ray provides very good picture, mediocre audio, and a stellar set of supplements. My only criticism here comes from the absence of the film’s original monaural soundtrack; otherwise, this is a thoroughly terrific release. Even without the 1973 audio, I heartily recommend the Blu-ray; it’s easily the best release of The Exorcist to date.