Exorcist: The Beginning (2004)
(Release Date: August 20, 2004)

Pazuzu never sounded so silly!Pazuzu never sounded so silly!Pazuzu never sounded so silly!

But, can you Exorcize Mediocrity?

Zaccaria... Catholic!
J.C. Maçek III
The World's Greatest Critic!

On opening day of Exorcist: The Beginning I was right there watching and soaking the film up for all it was worth. However, I decided not to go ahead and review the film until today, August 23, 2004. The reason is... this is my 30th Birthday. So on one hand I have some more sympathy for Exorcist: The Beginning, as I too have a need to reach far into the past for something good and fulfilling. On the other hand, I probably need to concentrate on a movie like this to prove to myself that someone out there has it a butt-load worse than me. If Exorcist: The Beginning succeeds in any one thing, it's the proof that Demonic Possession is not too much fun. It may be action packed and thrilling, but it's ultimately a pretty revolting development... sort of like the GOP National Convention, only cleaner.

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Don't stab yourself with this... down there.

The Two Beginnings:

The Devil is in the Details... TWICE!

The main reason this film got made was the surprise success of the re-release of the original under the title The Exorcist: The Version You've Never Seen!
To helm this film, the capable director Paul Schrader was brought in to shoot a concept created by writer William Wisher, Jr. (with touch ups by Caleb Carr). The good news is that the film was finished and was said to have been a cerebral and creepy horror film, "more spooky than gross-out". The bad news... Morgan Creek head honcho James G. Robinson gave Schrader's film the Finger, fired his ass and brought in Renny Freaking Harlin to re-shoot certain scenes for a gorier, bloodier, more traditional horror film.
Harlin (director of [ahem] A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master) took the job, but gave the Finger to re-shooting "certain scenes" and instead obtained the go-ahead to re-shoot the whole damned thing. And, as the review here states... the result is a mixed bag! And how do the Powers that Be that make up the heroes and villains in all four Exorcist films feel about this? Well, Harlin was hit by a car during filming. Not exactly getting struck by lightening, but the idea that he had to spend most of the film on crutches sort of makes you think, doesn't it?
Will the other (original) version see the light of day? Well, Granny Macek's best boy sure hopes so! I'll take a psychological thriller over some anatomy lesson any day! That's not to say that the original version will be a hell of a lot better, but it sure might be (and if it has some cohesion to the direction it might be a hell of a lot better than Auto Focus)!
There is a push at this time to sweeten the DVD Release of Exorcist: The Beginning with both completed versions of the film, but I'd say that depends on the Box Office Numbers. Sure E: T B is the Number One Movie in America it's first week, but at just over 18 Mil, it's not exactly jerking Spidey numbers.
At a combined cost north of Ninety Million, Morgan Creek needs to be doing anything they can do recoup some cost on this thing. If the original cut was indeed a better movie, and Renny Harlin turns out to be the man who finally killed The Exorcist... well that really would be scary, wouldn't it?
(Please Note: Almost a year after the release of this film /and thus, the writing of this review/ Paul Schrader's original cut, now known as Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist, was released to what ever the opposite of fanfare is. It's not the best film in the world, but it's pretty good. Wrote a review about it, like to read it, here it go!)

-Kneumsi Explains It All!

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That said, Exorcist: The Beginning pretty well proves itself a Cash Cow for WB Subsidiary Morgan Creek, and reaches for things it can't grasp resulting in an uneven and joyless experiment in Prequel creation. Edging closer to the day when I have to give up childish things, I indeed did soak up Exorcist: The Beginning for all it's worth. And I found myself only about Half Soaked!

It's interesting to note that a lot of this film worked extremely well, and was surprisingly effective. On the down side, the good stuff is scattershot through the film and amounts to only about half. The other half ranges from mediocre to downright laughable. Makes me wonder what the original version of this film must have looked like (SEE SIDEBAR)!

Let's roll back from the original film all the way back to 1949. "Father" Merrin (Stellan Skarsgård), the original "hero" from 1973's The Exorcist, has lost his faith, and is now a globe trotting Archeologist (the dude even dresses just like Indiana Jones). Hired by a clandestine organization (consisting of who? Pazuzu only knows), Merrin journeys to Kenya to discover a Christian Church buried just a few years ago in 5 AD. Sound like a Stretch? Even Merrin takes issue with it. However, why the church was built and then buried, and what the history of this place really is happens to be the real meat of the matter in Alexi Hawley's Ocean-Choppy script.

Of course, the answer lies in the other Exorcist movies, and fans of the series will most certainly see most (though, this man admits, not all) of the surprises. Truth be told, this film is pretty damned serious about being a valid prequel, almost more than it is interested in being a good damned movie. There's the overall feel of a checklist included here with the writers, and indeed director Renny Harlin himself, taking notes on all the puzzle pieces of the original Exorcist without managing to capture any of what made the original a great, great movie. It's less claustrophobic and tries to be quite epic, but it never quite feels like what it should be, an Exorcist movie! In many respects this resembles Exorcist 2: The Heretic in so many more ways than William Peter Blatty's original work.

A further culprit in the deadening of this movie are the special effects. The 1973 The Exorcist was decidedly low-tech and effective in its realistic creepiness. While there were some out and out shocks, the success if the original was in its realistic building of the deep fear. Here, Harlin and company go for Computer Animation for their special effects, and effective they're not. Far too often the realism is sacrificed for a Cartoon-like computer effect that ultimately looks pretty rubbery. Hey, dividing funds between not one, but two full length movies (of the same name) means some areas have to suffer somewhere, and, let's face it, even Spider-Man 2 doesn't feature seamless effects transitions! Still, where subtlety once did the trick, the fear is in-your-face in 2004, like a puss filled ZIT! Ultimately this film is not too scary, as all the frights are substituted with starts, or gross outs and shock value is the word of the day. After about the fifth time the audience jumped only to find that the object of terror was some innocuous goof, that was pretty much all she wrote, and the audience began to laugh out loud. If the kids are laughing at your horror film, that's not a good thing, Homer!

Again, though, the glass is half full! The acting is pretty good, and Skarsgård is a surprisingly well-cast replacement for Maxy Von Sydow. There are some pretty effective scares once in a while, especially surrounding Remy Sweeney's Joseph and the beautiful Izabella Scorupco's Doctor Sarah. James D'Arcy's young priest named Francis also makes for a good part and a big surprise.

And, I was surprised to be surprised. I'd have thought that this film would have been as predictable as Spock ears at a Star Trek Convention, but there were a few wowing moments that I didn't see coming. Shock value or not, the surprises that do work are slimy, yet satisfying. Of course after the occasional success the film falls into the same numb routine that makes it far too top-heavy and bland for perfection.

In short, Exorcist: The Beginning might have been a great movie with some more spit and polish, but as it is, it's a Three Star out of Five motion picture. What can I say... it's better than Exorcist 2: The Heretic, but it's not quite up to the par of Exorcist III, and it isn't even in the same DVD rack as the original The Exorcist! On the other hand, the Catholic in me was consistently gratified by the triumph of faith over demon possession, and even Merrin's predictable embrace of the Cloth resulted in a fat "Huzzah" from me! So, until the Schrader version hits DVD... I'll see you in the next reel!

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Exorcist: The Beginning (2004) reviewed by J.C. Maçek III who is solely responsible for his views and his disbelief over being 30!
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