Directed By: William Friedkin
Starring: Ellen Burstyn, Max Von Sydow, Jason, Miller, Linda Blair, Lee J. Cobb
| Studio: Warner Bros. |
Year: 1973 (Original) 2000 (Extended Director's Cut)
Film Length: 122 minutes (Original) 132 minutes (2000 re-cut)
Aspect Ratio: 16:9
Subtitles: English SDH, French, German SDH, Italian SDH, Spanish (Castellano), Dutch, Spanish (Latin), Portuguese (Brazilian), Danish, Finnish, Norwegian, Swedish. Extended Director's Cut additionally includes Croatian, Czech, Estonian, Greek, Hebrew, Icelandic, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Russian, Slovenian, Thai, Turkish, Chinese,
Release Date: October 5, 2010
The Film *****In William Friedkin's adaptation of William Peter Blatty's The Exorcist, actress and mother Chris MacNeil (Burstyn), renting a house in the Georgetown neighborhood of Washington DC, becomes distressed by the increasingly disturbing behavior of her daughter Regan (Blair). After exhausting conventional psychological and medical avenues, the desperate mother turns to Father Karras (Miller), a Roman Catholic Priest at Georgetown University who has recently been coping with complex feelings associated with the death of his mother. Karras eventually is convinced that Regan is possessed by a demonic spirit, and agrees to participate in a formal exorcism in conjunction with Father Merrin, a priest with more experience who recognizes a familiar evil from his past in the demon inhabiting Regan.
While movie special and make-up effects have certainly progressed over the past 37 years, this reviewer is firmly in the camp of fans of the film who believe it has lost none of its power to shock and move audiences over that time. The film uses a masterful slow-burn set-up that grounds its increasingly extreme horrors in a very prosaic and identifiable reality. Characters not under the influence of demonic possession go about their business and make decisions in ways that feel logical rather than dictated by the necessities of the movie's plot. This approach is essential to the film's success as it draws the audience into the plight of the characters. Audiences with no grounding in the theological trappings of the film are still able to relate to Burstyn's character as a concerned Mother helpless to cure a "sick" daughter and Miller's Priest as a son dealing with grief and guilt over the death of a parent. Even as the possessed Regan's behavior gets increasingly horrific, transgressive, and outrageous, the audience's empathy for these near universal personal crises both keeps them rooting for the characters and makes them feel the impact of the demon's exploitation of them on an almost personal level.
The film's visual style also keeps the fantastical grounded in what feels like a solid reality. Similar to Friedkin's The French Connection, documentary shooting techniques and the use of several real locations make it slightly less pretty but much more "real" than typical Hollywood films. Friedkin and cinematographer Owen Roizman creating a solid sense of "place" in and around the Georgetown, New York City, and Iraqi locations. Just as impressively, they seemlessly blend the parts of the film shot on conventional sets with the surrounding location footage into a satisfying whole.
In the years since the film's original theatrical release, author William Peter Blatty was not shy (but also not rude) about expressing his disappointment with a number of scenes that were cut from the film. In particular, Blatty felt that a dialog scene between Merrin and Karras in the middle of the climactic exorcism sequence and an exchange in the film's denoument between William O'Malley's Father Dyer and Lee J. Cobb's Lieutenant Kinderman, would clarify the film's thematic content and prevent misinterpretations of its intent. Friedkin long argued that the scenes were unneccesary and the points underlined by them were already inherent to the material. Additionally, one particular deleted scene from the film involving the possessed Regan doing an upside-down "spider-walk" down a staircase to her mother's horror, was deleted at least partially because the filmmakers were not satisfied with the effects work. Twenty-seven years after the film's original release, Friedkin finally relented and created an Extended Director's Cut of the film that reinstated the spider-walk scene, the mid-exrocism dialog scene, and most of the epilogue between Dyer and Cobb (a complete restoration would have required Cobb, who died in 1976, to re-dub his lines as the live production audio was drowned out by ambient location sounds). Unfortunately, Friedkin also decided to pepper the film with various enhanced CGI effects which stick out like sore thumbs and disrupt the carefully created atmosphere that provides the bedrock for the film's second-half parade of horrors.
The Video ****Both versions of the film are presented via a VC-1 encoded 1080p transfer that approximates the film's original theatrical aspect ratio by filling the entire 16:9 enhanced frame. Despite the documentary style cinematography that adds verisimilitude to much of the film, director William Friedkin did not do anything to purposely push the grit and grain for its Blu-ray release as was the case with The French Connection. The result is a nice balance between natural film grain and fine detail giving one the pleasantly cinematic sensation that they are viewing a near-perfect print of the film. I did not do a lot of switching back and forth between the two cuts of the film, but did have the general impression that the Original Theatrical Cut was a skosh more grainy than the Extended Director's Cut, but that may be all in my head.
The Audio ****The audio on both versions of the film is courtesy of an English DTS HD MA lossless 5.1 track. This is a generally very successful updating of the film's outstanding original soundtrack to a modern surround sound expereince, although I would have much preferred if the Original Theatrical Cut had been presented with the original theatrical sound mix as an option. The scenes of the Extended Director's Cut including some of the CGI enhancements I found annoying and not as subliminal as they were supposed to be also seem to go a bit over the top with the sound mix which is a minor quibble during the slow build early sections of the film. Fidelity is outstanding and the surround field and LFE are used aggressively and creatively. For the Extended Director's Cut, alternate language dubs are presented in French (Canadian), French, German, Italian, Spanish (Castellano), Spanish (Latin), Portuguese, Hungarian, Polish, and Russian. The Original Theatrical Cut includes alternate language dubs in French, German, Italian, Spanish (Castellano), Spanish (Latin), and Portuguese .
Special Features****½The film is presented on two separate Blu-ray discs. Disc One includes the Extended Director's Cut of the film that originally appeared in theaters in the Fall of 2000. I much prefer the Original Theatrical Cut which appears on the second disc, but whichever version a viewer prefers personally, they can accept the inclusion of the other cut as an interesting extra. The Special Features are also split across the two discs, and are doen so in a fairly sensible manner. Extras specifically related to the Extended Director's Cut share space on the first disc with a trio of newly created featurettes made in the context of a world where both versions of the film have been in circulation. Vintage extras pre-dating the release of the Extended Director's Cut are presented on the second disc.
All Disc One extras are presented in VC-1 encoded 1080p video and Dolby Digital 2.0 audio unless otherwise indicated:
Under the disc menu heading of Behind the Story are the following special features
Commentary by William Friedkin (with optional Chinese subtitles) is the commentary Friedkin recorded for the DVD release of the Extended Director's Cut in 2001. Friedkin's audio commentaries tend to fall into two categories. This particular one falls into the category I refer to as "Painful Narration". The majority of his comments are little more than stating what any reasonably
Raising Hell: Filming the Exorcist (30:04) Is a new 2010 featurette that blends interview comments from Friedkin, Writer William Peter Blatty, Director of Photography Owen Roizman, and actress Linda Blair (Regan) with behind the scenes on-set footage of multiple key sequences from the film. Much of the discussion centers around how specific shots were accomplished from a technical perspective with a lot of revealing looks at practical and make-up effects.
The Exorcist Locations: Georgetown Then and Now (8:31) New 2010 Documentary that focuses on the film's locations around the Georgetown area of Washington DC. Blatty, Friedkin, Roizman, and Blair discuss the importance of the locations to the film as well as how certain locations (especially the stairs outside the home) gained in fame as a result of the film. The discussions are accompanied by split screen images of shots from the film and shots from the same angle in 2010. There is also discussion of what parts of the film were shot on location, including Iraq, New York City, and Georgetown, and what parts were shot on sets.
Faces of Evil: The Different Versions of the Exorcist (9:53) is culled from the same set of interviews as for the two previous 2010 featurettes. Friedkin, Roizman, and Blatty discuss the differences between the original theatrical cut and the Extended Director's Cut. This featurette is worth a view as it includes better quality and more complete excerpts of some deleted sequences that were partially included in the BBC Fear of God documentary on the second disc of this set.
Under the heading of Trailers, TV Spots, and Radio Spots are the following promos, identified by titles related to the voiceover narration "hook" for the advertisement:
Theatrical Trailers (VC-1 SD Letterboxed 3:39 w/Play All)
- The Version You've Never Seen (2:01)
- Our Deepest Fears (1:38)
- Most Electrifying (:17)
- Scariest Ever (:32)
- Returns (letterboxed - :33)
- The Devil Himself (1:04)
- Our Deepest Fears (:35)
All Disc Two extras are presented in VC-1 encoded 4:3 standard definition video and Dolby Digital 2.0 audio unless otherwise indicated:
Under the Heading of Behind the Story are the following special features:
Introduction by William Friedkin (16:9 video - 2:16) This is the introduction that accompanied the original DVD release of The Exorcist, although in this case, the shot on video piece has been cropped to 16:9 from its original 4:3 dimensions.
Commentary by William Friedkin, as mentioned previously, is a much better listen than the commentary Friedkin recorded for the Extended Director's Cut. He sounds prepared, engaged, and has a lot of interesting behind the scenes information and anecdotes to share. There is a lot of overlap with The Fear of God BBC documentary also included on this disc, but that is mostly because both the commentary and the documentary strive for comprehensiveness and come awfully close to achieving it. The single versus multiple perspectives between the commentary and documentary make for an interesting exercise in comparing and contrasting different views on the same events and processes related to the film's production.
Commentary by William Peter Blatty with Sound Effects Tests mixes what amounts to an in depth audio essay by Blatty on the genesis of the book and film with some interesting sound effects tests. Blatty's comments are very interesting, but are not specific to what is occuring on screen, so the viewer need not be watching the film to enjoy them.
Sketches and Storyboards (4:3 letterboxed - 2:45) is a reel of stills with occasional pans that illustrate various pieces of storyboard and production design sketches. It is brief but interesting.
Interview Gallery with William Friedkin and William Peter Blatty (4:3 letterboxed - 9:02 w/Play All) is broken up into three segments viewable individually or via a "Play All" selection. these interviews are also substantially included in the BBC Fear of God documentary also included on this disc:
- The Original Cut (:56) Blatty recalls when he first saw the film.
- Stairway to Heaven (5:37) Blatty discusses the final scene between Kinderman and Dyer and Friedkin digs him about it before going into an explanation of why he cut it as well as the dialog scene in the middle of the exorcism. Blatty counters in his gentle but firm way.
- The Final Reckoning (2:29) Friedkin discusses why he has been hesitant to alter it per Blatty's wishes. Blatty responds and Friedkin amusingly ribs him some more.
Under the heading of Additional Footage is the following special feature:
Original Ending (4:3 letterboxed - 1:43) Original ending scene between Kinderman and Dyer that is longer than the version in longer than recut with Casablanca reference
Under the heading of Extras is the following special feature:
The Fear of God (4:3 letterboxed - 1:17:10) is an outstanding BBC documentary from 1998 that is far and away the best supplement on this or any other release of The Exorcist on home video. It mixes archival and behind the scenes footage with clips from the film and talking head interview segments from various participants in the film's production and release.
The comprehensive list of topics covered include Blatty's source novel, the novel's origins in real life events, original thoughts on casting and why Blatty wanted Friedkin to direct, Burstyn's casting, Linda Blair's casting including screen and make-up tests, the casting of Jason Miller, the casting of Max Von Sydow, the casting of two real priests, a mysterious set fire, spooky production stories including film related deaths, the film's Georgetown setting inclusive of the famous steps, the signature shot of Merrin's arrival, practical special effects (and related back injuries), Friedkin's maniacal determination and on set demeanor, Dick Smith's Regan make-ups with test footage, Linda Blair's handling of her horrible character behavior and the filmmaker's reaction to it, shocking and controversial scenes and the effects used to realize them, Blair's double Aileen Dietz, set refrigeration, editorial style, the demon's voice: actress Mercedes McCambridge, sound mixing and effects, Lalo Schifrin's rejected score and the decision to use Mike Oldfield's "Tubular Bells", the editorial process and deleted scenes, conflicts between Friedkin and Blatty over specific cut scenes (including much of the same footage contained in the "interview gallery" feature included on this disc), strong reactions to early screenings and previews by executives and audiences, the popular phenomenon the film became after its release, Blatty's disappointment with Billy Graham's condemnation of the film, and views on the film's message by the filmmakers.
Hosted/presented by Mark Kermode who narrates from various locations related to the film, it feaures a broad cross-section of interview participants including Ellen Burstyn (Chris MacNeil), Father William O'Malley (Dyer), Friedkin, Max Von Sydow (Father Merrin), Linda Blair (Regan MacNeil), Blatty, Technical Advisor Father Tom Birmingham, Jason Miller (Father Karras), Assistant Director Terence Donnelly, Production Designer Bill Malley, Publicist Joe Hyams, Special Effects Artist Marcel Vercouttere, Roizman, Sound Recordist Chris Newman, make up artist Dick Smith, Editor Bud Smith, Dubbing Mixer Buzz Knudson, and special sound effects artist Ron Nagle.
Under the disc menu heading of Trailers and TV Spots are the following collections of vintage promos for the original cut of the film:
Theatrical Trailers (16:9 video - 3:54 w/Play All)
- Nobody Expected It (1:44)
- Beyond Comprehension (:30)
- Flash Image (1:40)
- Beyond Comprehension (:34)
- You Too Can See The Exorcist (:32)
- Between Science & Superstition (1:02)
- The Movie You've Been Waiting For (1:02)
As mentioned previously, each cut of the film appears on a separate Blu-ray disc. The two discs are held in a Warner Deluxe "Book" package with a classy looking cover that appears to have some kind of foil enhancement. The 40 page book integral to the Blu-ray packaging includes the following contents presented with high quality reporductions of vintage photos:
- A Personal Message from William Friedkin is a single page loose insert (why!) with general introductory comments from Friedkin expressing appreciation and enthusiasm for the Blu-ray presentation of the film.
- A The Scariest Film of All Time introductory essay from an unidentified author.
- One to two page Profiles of:
[*] A Page of Trivia [*] Details on the steps involved in The Roman Ritual of exorcism [*] In depth What an Excellent Day for an Exorcism: Ancient Evil and a Horror Classic essay from an unidentified author.
- Ellen Burstyn
- Linda Blair
- Jason Miller
- Max Von Sydow
- William Peter Blatty
- William Friedkin
Capsule/Summary*****Warner's Blu-ray release of William Friedkin's uncannily effective tale of demonic possession provides excellent A/V, both the original and extended cuts of the film on separate discs, all of the best special features from previous home video releases of the film, and a few new extras including some high quality on-set footage previously unavailable to the public. The contents are all held together in attractive "Blu-ray Book" packaging with well-produced stills and text information contained in a 40 page booklet integral to the case. Fans of cinematic horror should consider this release without hesitation.