I’ve been spoiled here lately at Why So Blu? I’ve gotten to cover and write about all the Friday the 13th movies, Norman Bates, Halloween, Romero Zombies and John Carpenter films. Now, oh…nothing real big, just THE FREAKIN’ EXORCIST! Warner Bros is putting out another edition of one of horror’s greatest achievements and a masterpiece in filmmaking in time to celebrate its 40th anniversary. Didn’t they just release something more than substantial not too long ago? Yes. What more could they have done to make this a “must have” release. Well, sadly, the answer to that question is “not much”. There was word from William Friedkin himself that there would be a new transfer of the film for an upcoming Blu-ray release that he said was even better than the amazing one already available. However, this release does not carry said transfer. It’s the exact same two discs they’ve given us before with new packaging. If you read on, I’ll explain.
The Exorcist revolves around the possession of the young girl Reagan MacNeil. Reagan is the daughter of an actress and the two are staying temporarily in Georgetown while she shoots a movie. Before the exorcism and events take place we are also introduced and brought into the lives of 2 priests. Father Merrin, whom we meet on an archaeological dig in Iraq. There he discovers an amulet and a statue that signifies old demons he once had thought to have done away with may have returned. The other priest, Father Karras, is a man dealing with the poor health and sanity of his mother while it appears he has lost faith in the church. Once Reagan becomes possessed, all the parties come together to face not only this demon, but the their own personal demons as well.
Like this little Blu-ray set, what more can be said for this film that hasn’t been already? It’s a brilliant piece of work that transcends horror beyond genre and into the “great film” category. It comes complete with the richest of characters and the deepest of thematics. The film will have you thinking about it for days afterward. And not just because you were scared, but because there’s a lot of running themes about faith, personal struggles and issues that go beyond just the terror. Not only is the film tense and creepy, it’s a gripping drama that has you pulling for and wanting the best possible outcome for its cast of characters. And while the end has resolve, it can’t help but leave the viewer saddened and with dirty feeling in their stomach. The final conflict might display one of the greatest acts of heroic sacrifices on film, but it still hurts to see such an fascinating character meet their end in such fashion.
William Friedkin is a director that I didn’t fully appreciate til I was an older age. With The Exorcist, he delivers one of the best directing jobs for film in general, let alone a horror movie. The true test of that is that the film still manages to be just as scary and effective now as it was back in 1973. The effects are still haunting, gross and real feeling. He didn’t keep anything that wasn’t working or appears dated. Another testament is that he managed to capture what would become iconic imagery all of the place with this movie. Just about something from every scene is almost good enough to stick with you forever. While he’s not fully responsible, I’d like to mention that the score to this thing is terrific as well. From the moment you first hear it, you’ll be playing it in your head for the remainder of your life. It’s a gothic, haunting piece of music, placing as one of horror’s finest achievements and the inspiration for so many more movies to come.
With this release, both versions are provided. The theatrical and the “Version You’ve Never Seen” which is now referred to as the Extended Director’s Cut. Personally I prefer the theatrical. It’s the versions that IS the classic film that shocked the world back in 1973 and for many decades after. I like some of the things in the extended cut (I must admit the spider walk is super chilling), but some of it isn’t needed and putting the CG demon faces in random spots is a bit much. I do appreciate that this extended version was given a theatrical release back in 1999, which gave me an opportunity to actually see the film on the big screen (which was oddly, to an empty theater on the opening Friday night). Friedkin now says he prefers the extended, but I prefer the leaner, meaner cut of the film that the reputation was built on.
The 1080p VC-1 transfer on both cuts of the film is gorgeous. Of course, I shouldn’t have to tell you that, because this is the exact same transfer as the previous release. As a matter of fact, the discs are identical too. But, since you asked. Everything here is dandy. The sharpness, the details all look terrific. This is likely as close to the look of the original theatrical presentation as we’re going to get. Friedkin talked earlier this year that the new Blu-ray would contain an even newer transfer of the film that he said was much better than this. He claimed it was akin to him looking through the viewfinder during shooting. Many question how much better it could possibly be. Well, that didn’t come to any fruition, so we still don’t know. And, I’m not sweating it, this film looks marvelous. As was before, no complaints.
You will be possessed by the 5.1 DTS-HD MA 5.1 provided. Both films feature pretty equal tracks. If you have the previous release of the film, you’ve heard this. It’s a very creepy track as it gets it right with finding good channels to display the unnerving disturbing nature of the film. Also it has a perfect volume level, able to keep things loud, clear and able to ramp up the volume to provide some spooks. The dialogue is nice, crisp and clear. Some of the possessed Reagan dialogue feels like its ADR natured sound, but that’s in the mix and has always been present. It’s a fine track, the film’s best presentation and really no need to do much further tinkering with it.
Additional Audio Tracks For Extended Director’s Cut: French Dolby Digital 5.1, French (Quebec) Dolby Digital 5.1, German Dolby Digital 5.1, Italian Dolby Digital 5.1, Spanish (Castellano) Dolby Digital 5.1, Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0, Hungarian Dolby Digital 2.0, Polish Dolby Digital 2.0, Portuguese Dolby Digital 2.0, Russian Dolby Digital 2.0
Additional Mono tracks for the Theatrical Cut: French, German, Italian, Castellano, Spanish and Portuguese
In addition to the extras, the film comes in a normal Blu-ray case within a hard case. Also in that case is a hard cover book featuring the section on The Exorcist from William Friedkin’s autobiography. The only difference disc-wise between this release and the previous is Disc 3. Also, a newer letter of approval from Friedkin is included. An UltraViolet copy of the extended director’s cut is provided with the film as well.
Commentary By William Friedkin – A very in depth commentary going over the film scene by scene. Friedkin dabbles over the additions and changes he made to this version of the film. If you haven’t checked this one out yet, it’s a must.
Raising Hell: Filming The Exorcist (HD, 30:03) – This great featurette goes over character motivations and Friedkin bringing things from book to screen. It also talks about his rogue shooting style. The best part of this is the rare behind the scenes footage, auditions and effects test interspersed within.
The Exorcist Locations: Georgetown Then & Now (HD, 8:30) – Footage of the shooting locations then and now are shown with interviews and commentary from Friedkin and Owen Roizman mixed in.
Faces Of Evil: The Different Versions Of The Exorcist (HD, 9:52) – Covers every release of the film and their differences. From the workprint to the Blu-ray.
- The Version You’ve Never Seen (HD, 2:01)
- Our Deepest Fears (HD, 1:37)
- Most Electrifying (HD, :17)
- Scariest Ever (HD, 1:32)
- Returns (HD, :33)
- The Devil Himself (1:04)
- Our Deepest Fears (:35)
Introduction By William Friedkin (HD, 2:15) – Exactly what the title says it is.
Commentary By William Friedkin – An older scripted commentary. He goes over topics such as religion, his cast’s performance, the differences in the novel and more.
Commentary By William Peter Blatty With Sound Effects Test – A highly intriguing commentary that covers the book’s subject matter more. It discusses themes and what brought him to write The Exorcist.
Sketches & Storyboards (HD, 2:45) – Preproduction art and storyboards.
Interview Gallery With William Friedkin And William Peter Blatty
- The Original Cut (HD, :55) – Blatty recalls his first screening of the film.
- Stairway To Heaven (HD, 5:37) – Blatty and Friedkin debate their opinions on the cuts made and the original ending.
- The Final Reckoning (HD, 2:29) – Friedkin gives an analogy of his feelings on going back and tinkering with the film.
- Original Ending (HD, 1:42) – The raw footage (features the director’s instruction) of the original end scene where Lt. Kinderman and Father Dyer look to be carrying on his friendship with Father Karras.
- The Fear Of God (HD, 1:17:09) – A 1998 television special featuring interviews and discussion on the film and its legacy.
- Nobody Expected It (HD, 1:44)
- Beyond Comprehension (HD, :30)
- Flash Image (HD, 1:40)
- Beyond Comprehension (HD, :34)
- You Too Can See The Exorcist (HD, :32)
- Between Science & Superstition (HD, 1:02)
- The Movie You’ve Been Waiting For (HD, 1:02)
This disc accounts as the only real new material for this disc. An annoyance, after playing the first featurette (which I’m sure most will go to first), all the title and warning cards play. And if you’re familiar with Warner Bros releases, you know this is A) lengthy and B) a pain in the ass.
Beyond Comprehension: William Peter Blatty’s ‘The Exorcist’ (HD, 27:49) – William Peter Blatty reads some of his favorite passages from the novel. He reads them from a stand with scenes from the movie intercut. Blatty also revisits the small house in which he wrote the book. The bulk of this is an interview with Blatty just recounting his thoughts, state of mind, theme and depth of his book. This does get pretty personal as he discusses the death of his own son.
Talk Of The Devil (HD, 19:50) – Archived interviews with Father Gallagher, the priest who worked the case that inspired the novel The Exorcist, following the release of the film back in 1973.
Let me explain why I’ve scored this thing twice. This release has some cool packaging. It’s a really nice case, that I do like a lot. Both cuts of the film have beyond fantastic visual and audio presentation. There is an assload of extras and commentaries spanning 3 discs. In addition, it comes with a small hardcover book. If there’s anything that says definitive, it’s that. There’s not much more you can ask for here. It’s got everything. If you are a huge fan and for some reason you DON’T have The Exorcist or haven’t replaced your DVD/VHS copy yet, you may want to consider this one. But honestly, while this thing is rather definitive and pretty great, it’s really a double-edged sword here when reviewing it. It’s impossible for me to ignore the outside factor that is the previously released digibook edition of the film in 2011. And I know most fans and collectors will already have that version.
So, I can’t in good conscience justify telling you to spend $34.99-49.99 on this set if you have the previous digibook release (which currently is running at $20). There isn’t that much more to quantify this very slight upgrade. If you have that, you have the 2 most important quintessential discs in the history of the film. You also have a little booklet of its own, displaying comparably cool packaging as well. All you are missing is disc 3 which has stuff you may or may not care about and the Friedkin excerpt which you can pick the full thing up for $12 on your Kindle. A new transfer of the film might have warranted consideration, but I must stress – these are the EXACT same discs used in the previous release. From the disc art to the menus, everything is the same. It’s like they had a bunch of extras lying around and needed to find a way to get rid of them.
I understand The Exorcist has turned 40 this year and you wanted to do something special to commemorate it. How about another theatrical rerelease? Or here’s my suggestion. The sequels/prequels in the franchise have yet to see the light of day on Blu-ray. I get that some may view them as diminishing returns or quality or whatnot, but there is a fanbase for them. Whether they are those loving ironically entertaining films (Exorcist II-The Heretic) or albeit the forgotten unappreciated gem that is The Exorcist III, these films deserve some attention. If you are going to release the exact same discs in a release, why not for the 40th, put the entire franchise in a nice box set, making them all available for the first time, while still including those discs for the first one. Release to us movies that HAVEN’T been put out yet, Warner Bros. You guys are holding back on a lot of movies that people would love to own, yet continually putting out the same versions of some movies over and over again. This release you have here currently is nice, but its completely unnecessary and nothing really rewarding for fans of the series. Don’t get me wrong, this release IS awesome, but I can’t help but feel like I already own 95% of this entire thing.