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Controversial and popular from the moment it opened, The Exorcist endures as a defining classic that influenced movies afterward and still shocks and haunts today. The frightening and realistic tale of an innocent girl inhabited by a terrifying entity, her mother’s frantic resolve to save her and two priests – one doubt-ridden, the other a rock of faith – joined in battling ultimate evil always leaves viewers breathless.
For more about The Exorcist and the The Exorcist Blu-ray release, see the The Exorcist Blu-ray Review published by Kenneth Brown on October 5, 2010 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.5 out of 5.
Starring: Ellen Burstyn, Max von Sydow, Linda Blair, Lee J. Cobb, Jason Miller, Kitty Winn
Director: William Friedkin
» See full cast & crew
The Exorcist Blu-ray Review
Warner is plotting to take over the world, one magnificent catalog release at a time...
Reviewed by Kenneth Brown, October 5, 2010
If the greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn't exist, the greatest trick The Exorcist ever pulled was convincing audiences he just might. Can any film that's risen in its wake say the same? It never ceases to amaze me that some thirty-seven years after its original theatrical release, horror filmmakers are still desperately chasing director William Friedkin and writer William Peter Blatty's legacy, each one failing to deliver a more startling depiction of evil incarnate. Many have tried. To their credit, a small but frightening handful have even brushed greatness. But while these scant few have chipped away at The Exorcist in one regard or another -- be it storytelling, special effects, atmosphere, shock value or any one of the elusive elements that transform a horror film into a horror classic -- it's tough to name a single standout from the last four decades that bests Friedkin and Blatty's macabre masterpiece on every front. Owen Roizman's deceptively simple, utterly haunting cinematography. Steve Boeddeker's unnerving score. The film's unexpected yet flawless casting. Jason Miller's raw but restrained performance. Sweet, little Linda Blair's mangled, unholy face. Ellen Burstyn's unhinged terror. Blatty's searing screenplay. Pazuzu and its ungodly mindgames. Friedkin's sharp eye and steady hand at the helm. Ten Academy Award nominations... make no mistake, The Exorcist may just be a perfect genre storm.
It all begins with one of the classiest, creepiest openings to ever launch a horror film. Archaeologist and veteran Catholic priest, Father Lankester Merrin (Max von Sydow), examines a small stone carving in Iraq before locking eyes with a larger statue; a sneering, animalistic totem whose insidious face all but taunts the aging man. Dissonant music ascends to a feverish pitch, ravenous dogs battle to the death and The Exorcist, without much pomp or circumstance, announces its arrival. Elsewhere, in Georgetown, an actress named Chris MacNeil (Ellen Burstyn) grows increasingly concerned as her twelve-year-old daughter Regan (Linda Blair) undergoes a series of strange behavioral changes. Seizures, outbursts and inhuman developments leave the girl's doctors and psychiatrists baffled, unable to provide her mother with a viable physical or psychological diagnosis. When a personal friend, a grown man no less, is found dead outside of their home, Chris seeks advice from a dramatically different source: a nearby church. Its priest, Father Damien Karras (Jason Miller), agrees to visit the MacNeil household and observe Regan. What he finds though -- a disheveled girl tortured by mysterious forces, claiming to be Satan himself -- leaves Karras reeling in doubt. Soon thereafter, the church orders an exorcism, Father Merrin flies in to perform the ritual, Karras struggles to reconcile his beleaguered faith and a showdown of the cinematic ages ensues.
But how does one begin to dissect the many, many elements that make The Exorcist everything it is? Why does it continue to resonate all these years later? How, in an age of CG-magic and seamless practical effects, can a horror flick from the early '70s leave such lasting scars? From the birth of Blatty's vicious soul-bender to the culmination of Friedkin's disturbing, stomach-churning vision, it really all comes down to one thing: the film's methodical approach to what might otherwise be a derivative, schlocky tale of good versus evil. Blatty taps into the mundane aspects of everyday life and, like every great horror maestro before and after him, places a small group of flawed but relatable protagonists into truly terrifying circumstances; unspeakable horrors that bend and break anyone and everyone unfortunate enough to be caught in Evil's snare. His story isn't just about a distraught mother and her possessed child; it's about a man struggling with a crisis of faith, a wise sage's willingness to reenter the veritable lion's den and the inexplicable victimization of an innocent. Blatty takes the time to examine Chris's unyielding love and powerless desperation, Karras's dance with his own personal devils and Merrin's exhaustion at the end of a long and eventful career. Each emotion is terribly familiar, each reaction genuine; each development organic, each revelation a shock to the system. All the while, Blatty pits mother, daughter and men of the cloth against an ancient entity so awful, so immoral, so unabashedly obscene that it seems unstoppable. Blatty didn't just create one of cinema's most vile villains, he pitted his bristling beastie against believable human beings.
Friedkin, in turn, presents The Exorcist without unnecessary flash or spectacle. Regan's rotating head and projectile vomit may stick in audiences' minds, but the film's gory details are in short supply compared to its study of Miller and Burstyn's authentic reactions to the girl's torment. His camera lingers on their faces far more than it does on Regan's physical torment; his eye is drawn to the quaint conversations and meaningful bonds that connect Blatty's characters to the real world rather than the pulpy nature of the horrors that await them; his actors are given leave to dig as deep as they can and serve up their souls for all to see. The result? Miller, Burstyn, von Sydow and Blair invest every fiber of their being into their performances, making The Exorcist a nuanced multi-character study, a heart-wrenching drama, an intense supernatural thriller and a gruesome, altogether grim horror film. Those who believe in demons and their hellish ilk will find Friedkin's classic to be more paralyzing than they probably care to admit. Even those who scoff at the mere mention of fallen angels will feel the hair on the back of their necks creeping across their skin. Faith isn't required, it's rattled; suspension of disbelief isn't necessary, it's inevitable. Modern filmfans may be yanked out of the experience from time to time -- not every special effect that slithers into view is as petrifying in 2010 as it was to trembling cinephiles in 1973 -- but Friedkin nevertheless proves himself a timeless talent and The Exorcist proves itself a timeless tour de force.
High definition enthusiasts who pick up the Blu-ray edition of The Exorcist will be treated to two versions of the film: a 132-minute Extended Director's Cut and Friedkin's 122-minute Original Theatrical Cut (each one presented on its own BD-50 disc). Both are exceptional as far as I'm concerned, but the original still stands as the definitive version in my eyes. The extended cut features a number of notable changes -- some worthwhile, some less inspired -- but the bulk of the additions and extensions are more distracting than anything else. Only one reintegrated scene (involving a conversation between Karras and Merrick outside of Regan's bedroom) elevates the film, and even then, it only shoves an already underlying theme into the spotlight. But I'm sure there are plenty of people who adore Friedkin's more recent cut for equally valid reasons. Regardless of which version of The Exorcist you prefer, Warner's 2-disc Blu-ray release is a godsend. Two versions of the film, two incredible AV presentations and a slew of special features. I have a feeling we won't be seeing many complaints about this one popping up in the forum.
The Exorcist Blu-ray, Video Quality
My gratitude to Warner Home Video for presenting this high definition Blu-ray, which was color-timed by the cinematographer Owen Roizman and myself and represents the very best print ever made of 'The Exorcist.' Enjoy!
So writes William Friedkin in a gushing insert included with Warner's striking Blu-ray release of The Exorcist. Presented via two separate, comparably restored and remastered 1080p/VC-1 transfers (each version of the film has been granted its own BD-50 disc), Friedkin and Blatty's horror classic, be it the director's extended or theatrical cut, has never looked better. Roizman's atmospheric photography is teeming with stunning primaries, ominous shadows, stark whites and lifelike skintones. A few faces are slightly flushed (mainly during the first twenty-five minutes of the film) and blacks succumb to minor crush and inconsistent contrast leveling during the final showdown sequence, but the whole of both cuts rise above such fleeting shortcomings to deliver a fit and faithful rendering of each. Moreover, detail is nothing short of stunning, particularly for a film rapidly approaching its fortieth birthday. Fine textures are surprisingly well resolved, edges are crisp and clean (with only a hint of intermittent ringing), many closeups and midrange shots look fantastic, and delineation, though a tad problematic at times, is true to its aging source. I can't tell you how often I shook my head in disbelief. Not at any glaring distraction, mind you, but at the near-pristine quality of the print, the clarity of some of the thirty-seven-year old scenes and the disarming beauty of the transfers' most remarkable shots. Yes, softness abounds (as it does in most any film from the era), and yes, grain-haters will be aghast at the at-times uneven, at-times aggressive grain apparent throughout both presentations. But purists and diehard videophiles will cheer. Edge enhancement has only been employed here and there, and judiciously at that; DNR clearly isn't an overriding issue; artifacting and banding rarely make an appearance (although the film's opening sunrise does suffer from faint banding and a handful of establishing shots are home to some negligible digital clutter); significant print damage has all but been eliminated; and glaring anomalies -- macroblocking, aliasing, aberrant noise and the like -- aren't a factor.
Warner delivers yet again as The Exorcist, gristly grain and all, emerges as another exceedingly faithful, lovingly restored and deftly remastered Blu-ray presentation in the studio's march toward catalog dominance.
The Exorcist Blu-ray, Audio Quality
The Exorcist also arrives with two full-fledged lossless audio mixes in tow -- a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 ES surround track on the Extended Director's Cut and a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track on the film's Original Theatrical Cut -- both of which are quite good. (Again, particularly for a thirty-seven-year old catalog title.) Dialogue, though sometimes challenged by inherent environmental noise and reasonable hiss, is clean, clear and neatly prioritized. Several lines are buried beneath the ensuing demonic chaos, sure, but it rarely affects the overall experience. The LFE channel, meanwhile, doesn't miss a single opportunity to impress, all but assaulting the soundstage with powerful thooms, room-splitting crashes and guttural groans. The rear speakers make their presence known as well, transforming Regan's possession into an all-too-convincing 360-degree nightmare. Ambience, both quiet and forceful, skitters from channel to channel, pans are unnervingly smooth, directionality is eerily precise (and often caught me off guard), acoustics are believable and Steve Boeddeker's score inhabits the entire experience. That being said, the film's smartly crafted sound effects range from tinny to hollow, muffled to muddy, effective to strong, and natural to realistic. I know, I know. Certain considerations should probably be made for a film of its age, and most of the effects are spot on, but too many misfired clangs and bangs will strike casual listeners as stagey and a bit weak-in-the-knees. By no means should that scare filmfans away -- any quote-unquote mishap present in the mixes is most likely attributable to the condition of the original elements -- as even the most hard-hearted audiophiles will be thoroughly pleased.
Editor's Note: At present, our technical specification fields are unable to list the various audio mixes and subtitle options featured on this release on a cut-by-cut basis. Until we can resolve this small issue, here is a list of the corresponding audio and subtitle tracks available for each version of the film:
English: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 ES
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
Subtitles: English SDH, French, German SDH, Italian SDH, Spanish, Spanish (Castellano), Portuguese, Portuguese (Brazil), Arabic, Croatian, Czech, Danish, Dutch, Estonian, Finnish, Greek, Hungarian, Icelandic, Norwegian, Polish, Romanian, Russian, Slovenian, Swedish and Turkish
Disc 2: The Original Theatrical Cut
English: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
French: Dolby Digital Mono
Spanish: Dolby Digital Mono
Spanish (Castellano): Dolby Digital Mono
Portuguese: Dolby Digital Mono
German: Dolby Digital Mono
Italian: Dolby Digital Mono
Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish, Spanish (Castellano), Portuguese, German SDH, Italian SDH, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, Norwegian and Swedish
The Exorcist Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
The 2-disc Blu-ray release of The Exorcist includes two full versions of the film on two separate BD-50 discs: director William Friedkin's most recent 132-minute Extended Director's Cut and his 122-minute Original Theatrical Cut. In all, the set includes three audio commentaries, three new high definition featurettes, a 1998 documentary and some notable material ported from previous DVD releases. It isn't the overwhelming supplemental package some of you may be hoping for, but it is a solid one.
Disc 1: The Extended Director's Cut
The trio of documentaries that accompany The Exorcist are, in my estimation, more akin to three well-conceived featurettes than anything else (at thirty minutes, "Raising Hell" is the only real documentary). Even so, each one proved to be well worth watching. Considering the company they keep -- specifically, Friedkin's excellent Extended Cut commentary -- I'm not itching to complain.
Disc 2: The Original Theatrical Cut
While all of the set's new content is housed on Disc One, the film's theatrical cut earns a suite of older commentaries and features all its own, many of which are worthy of your time (at least those of you who haven't already experienced them on DVD). The only real downside? All of the second disc's supplemental material is presented in standard definition.
The Exorcist Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Well-deserved hyperbole aside, The Exorcist remains one of the greatest horror films of all time and belongs in any genre aficionado's collection. Warner's 2-disc Blu-ray release is almost as impressive and represents yet another high-quality catalog release from the studio's vaults. It boasts a beautiful restoration, two full cuts of the film, two fiercely faithful video transfers, two strong DTS-HD Master Audio surround tracks and a fairly loaded supplemental package. Even Digibook detractors will find this release enticing. Minor nitpicks notwithstanding, The Exorcist's Blu-ray debut earns one of my heartier recommendations.
The Exorcist: Other Editions
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The Exorcist Blu-ray, News and Updates
• The Exorcist Announced on Blu-ray - June 21, 2010
Warner Home Video has announced The Exorcist for release on October 5, in a two-disc Digibook edition, packaged with a personal letter written by director William Friedkin inside a 40-page booklet. Both the extended director's cut and the theatrical version of ...
• The Exorcist, Logan's Run Rumored for BD in 2009 - June 26, 2009
Our friends at The Digital Bits, always in the hunt for juicy Blu-ray scoops, now have word that Warner Home Video plans to release 'Logan's Run' and 'The Exorcist: The Version You've Never Seen' in 2009, as well as the already mentioned 'Heat'. As already reported, ...
• The Exorcist Coming Next Fall - October 20, 2008
In an interview with DVD Review, director William Friedkin mentioned that, not only does he love Blu-ray, but he is also scheduled to begin work on a 'The Exorcist' Blu-ray on December 2nd. No extras were discussed, but with so much great material available for ...
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