Exorcist: The Beginning DVD Review
Written by Sham
DVD released by Warner Brothers
Directed by Renny Harlin
Written by Alexi Hawley
2004, Region 1 (NTSC), 113 minutes, Rated R
Runtime – 113 minutesDVD released on March 1st, 2005
Stellan Skarsgård as Father Lancaster Merrin
Izabella Scorupco as Sarah
James D’Arcy as Father Francis
Remy Sweeney as Joseph
Julian Wedham as Major Granville
Andrew French as Chuma
Ben Cross as Semelier
Patrick O’Kane as Bession
David Bradley as Father Gionetti
You know, the Exorcist series has a funny, tug-o’-war kind of history. It was justly started in 1973 with the original Exorcist, considered by millions, including myself, to be one of the greatest horror achievements ever filmed. It was then followed four years later by The Heretic, which was then labeled as one of the worst motion pictures of all time. And does anybody reading this even remember the second sequel, the underrated and unsuccessful Exorcist III? Oy, if not, this is gonna be harder than I thought. So, anyway, here’s the fourth film in the franchise. It comes after the original, but takes place before the first film’s events. Yep, you got it; it’s a prequel. A prequel to the one that started it all, and let’s hope after this, the door to the Exorcist franchise will be finally sealed shut — for good.
Exorcist: The Beginning opens with a punch, as a bloodied priest stumbles through the desert with his crucifix dangling from his clinched fist. He trembles as the camera pulls back, revealing thousands of dead soldiers littered upon the sandy hills. The priest finds a mythical representation of a demon in a corpse’s hand, and as the camera pans away to even more dead bodies nailed upside down on crosses, it becomes apparent that things don’t quite seem kosher.
Cut to late 1940’s Egypt, where a young ex-priest named Merrin (Stellan Skarsgård) is greeted by a man named Semelier (Ben Cross). The man tells Merrin there’s a big archaeological dig going down in East Africa, and the diggers have discovered a church that was buried in the sand over 1,500 years ago. The question is, what the heck is a church doing in East Africa, and why was it there before Christianity even existed? Merrin agrees to go after Semelier unveils some demon relic thing that was found at the site. Merrin arrives in time to see a digger go into some sort of seizure, and some threatening hyenas roaming the area.
The film can be boring at times. Everything is brought up in some way, but nobody actually discusses the topics enough to establish a full conversation. There’s talk about the dig, Christianity and the local tribe — called the Turkana — but these things feel like fillers inserted into the story for absolutely no purpose because they are never elaborated on. They are basically a form of excessive introduction just to add some length to the film’s running time. Because of these fillers, the film seems to go absolutely nowhere. But, when I least expected it, the movie got better.
And by better, I mean great.
A young kid is brutally, and I mean brutally, attacked by a horde of hyenas, tearing him to pieces onscreen; we’re practically a third party as the boy’s younger brother, Joseph (Remy Sweeney), watches as his brother is taken away screaming for help. Joseph’s eyes roll back into his skull, and he faints. Later, at the hospital, weird things seem to be going on concerning Joseph. The nurse, Sarah (Izabella Scorupco), befriends Merrin and informs him that she’s never seen anybody have these symptoms without it being just one medical condition. She later tells him that the place is cursed and something evil remains there; and Joseph is possibly possessed by a demon. The Tukana tribesmen want to kill Joseph because they don’t have time for a demon. The priests and archaeologists want to keep Joseph alive because the demon is irrelevant. Both want blood to solve their differences.
It looks like history is about to repeat itself.
I can’t say that The Beginning is a great movie, but I am confident in saying that it’s at least a good one, and, if nothing else, entertaining. What’s great about this, too, is that it’s not all mindless. Often, it’s brilliant in the way it ties in with the original. There’s even a slight hint of personality consistency in Merrin when he is offered a drink, as he states with hesitancy, “I shouldn’t, but my will is weak.” Hmmm. Why does that sound so familiar? There’s also some amazingly moving moments involving flashbacks of World War II, in which Merrin is given the choice between picking out specific people to die or letting the Nazis kill anyone they decide – including children.
The Beginning’s biggest strength is the way it shows no signs of mercy towards adults, children, and yes, even animals. The film is so brutal that, at one point, I stopped the movie during a scene and went outside just to get some fresh air. It’s effective enough to witness, but not insulting to look at, and it’s all brought to horrid life in scorched, sun-parched deserts and dark, chilling venues. There’s also some massive bloodshed, specifically during a breathlessly well-done battle between the Turkana and the soldiers assigned to protect the dig. If you like gore and disturbing images, The Beginning is a winner of the macabre.
The characters are inspired and memorable, with some great choices of actors to play their parts. Stellan Skarsgård is fantastic as Merrin, an ex-priest who is pretty much done believing in God and the religion as a whole. Who can blame him? I’m sure everyone’s faith in Christianity would alter in some way if a Nazi soldier shot a girl in the head, just before saying to you, “God is not here today.”
Merrin’s love interest, Sarah, played by the beautiful Izabella Scorupco, is quite believable as a Jewish woman who had been in a concentration camp. The other actors, worthy of a quick note, are good to an extent…
…as is the movie. As well-photographed and acted The Beginning is, it suffers from too many plot inconsistencies and a lack of unexplained characters. The script, while original and well thought out, just lacks in building character depth and explaining the result of the horribly executed climax. Renny Harlin’s work can obviously be seen in the last fifteen minutes of the movie, which is one of the worst since Exorcist II: The Heretic. Without revealing it, I will just say that it is so unbelievably stupid that, upon first viewing, I had intended to give The Beginning a negative review. However, I forgive its contrivances, only because of Skarsgård’s performance, the central idea, a few of the special effects, and most of all, its brutality. If I can enjoy The Beginning even with its flaws, there is absolutely no reason why you shouldn’t. See it now.
Video and Audio:
The Beginning is presented in a “Letterbox” widescreen format, preserving its original theatrical debut of 2:35:1. The colors are vivid and terse with the blacks dark and the blues crisp. There’s little to no grain in the night scenes, and there are no visible artifacts to mention of. The Beginning looks great.
In addition to great video quality is fantastic audio quality, presented in an optional Dolby Surround 5.1 and DTS Surround 5.1. The Beginning makes use of the backs and sides very prominently. The soundtrack never overpowers the dialogue, and the two balance out very well. The Beginning sounds awesome.
- Director’s Commentary
- Behind-the-Scenes Featurette
- Cast and Crew Information
- Theatrical Trailer
The first special feature on the disc is a commentary by director Renny Harlin. While both thoroughly informative and interesting, it often drags a little more than necessary and suffers from too many moments of repetition. It’s still a good listen if you’re interested in the production of the film and the general process of making a movie. A few of the topics that Harlin discusses is lighting, cinematography, casting, location spotting, and the complications in pleasing fans of the original movie. He also reveals the presence of Captain Howdy, the evil entity in the original film, in a few scenes that are extremely hard to spot. Once you spot ‘em, it’s pretty cool. The only major problem I had with the audio commentary is that it drops in and out a couple of times, something that such a new DVD shouldn’t suffer from.
The next special feature is an 8-minute behind-the-scenes featurette, which is a little misleading. It’s more of a character study by the cast and crew, but it’s still very intriguing if you’re interested in learning about the characters the actors play and the experiences they had when making the movie. If you want to know more about the technical aspect of the movie, listen to the commentary. It reveals more than this featurette.
The third special feature is a cast and crew biography, revealing the careers of everyone in front of, and behind, the camera. This is very informative if you’re interested in how these talents got their start in the movie business.
The final special feature is the theatrical trailer.
|Movie:||– An entertaining film, but it has its flaws.|
|Video:||– The picture looks absolutely incredible.|
|Audio:||– The audio adds an effective touch to the film’s impact. It’s great.|
|Features:||– An average amount of bonus material; it could’ve used more featurettes.|
|Overall:||– A decent release, but it definitely could’ve used more bonus material.|
The Beginning is not a good blind buy, but I definitely recommend a rental, because it may not appeal to everyone’s tastes. I enjoyed the film, and I am assuming that everyone who is a fan of the series will appreciate this installment as much as I did. If you’re looking for great gore and solid acting, The Beginning would be a great midnight flick to watch with your friends. If you’re not a fan of slow-moving horror films with a lot of clichés and plot holes, you might want to look elsewhere.