Releasing Studio: Warner Bros.
Disc/Transfer Specifications: 1080p High Definition; 1.78:1; Region 1 (U.S.) Release
Video Codec: VC-1
Tested Audio Track: English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 (Original Theatrical Version); English DTS-HD Master Audio 6.1 (2000 Extended Director’s Cut)
Director: William Friedkin
Starring Cast: Linda Blair, Ellen Burstyn, Max Von Sydow, Jason Miller, Lee J. Cobb, Kitty Wynn
THE BELIEF IN EVIL…AND THE BELIEF THAT EVIL CAN BE CAST OUT.
What can be said about the seminal Exorcist from 1973 that has not already been said? William Friedkin, basing his masterpiece off a novel by William Peter Blatty, in creating this timeless film (routinely referred to as the “Scariest Film of All Time”) has created legions (no pun intended) of copies, rip-offs, references and a gaggle of sequels and prequels none of which have been able to even compare. As a diehard fan of this picture – probably one of my very favorite films of all time, no doubt – I have owned the various VHS incarnations of the title, and then once getting on the DVD era bandwagon, picked up Warner’s snapper case variant of the theatrical re-release of the film in 2000 bravely titled The Version You’ve Never Seen, now morphed into the Extended Director’s Cut. There is simply too much overwhelming insight with regard to Friedkin’s film all over the internet, amongst Catholic networking groups and within film critic circles to even warrant going into these elements once more, at least from my perspective; I will try to cover all the basics as best as possible, before getting to the technical elements of Warner’s long-awaited high definition release of The Exorcist. The last time I reviewed this title, it was for the aforementioned DVD release of The Version You’ve Never Seen, with its butt-kickin' Dolby Digital Surround EX remix.
Let’s begin with Warner’s decision with regard to marketing and packaging the much-celebrated Blu-ray version of this legendary horror catalog title – included in the beautiful Digibook packaging are two discs, each containing the two different cuts of the film. Controversial from the very beginning, the 2000 “Extended Director’s Cut” joins the original 1973 “Theatrical Cut” here in the Blu-ray package for fans of both versions. Both carry, of course, 1080p encodes and 1.78:1 transfers (the latter filling my screen due to RPTV overscan) and on the audio side, the original version has been equipped with a lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track apparently derived from elements that formed the 5.1 remix for the original cut some years ago when Warner released an Anniversary Edition of the title, while the 2000 director’s version carries a 6.1 MA mix apparently taken from the elements that formed the Dolby EX remix for that version on DVD. I sampled the original version last night first, as I haven’t seen that cut in many years, and both the audio and video were disappointing – I’ll definitely get to that.
Also in Warner’s Digibook Exorcist packaging is a signed introduction letter by director William Friedkin explaining the effort behind the film’s high definition release, plus the book-esque pages containing information on the background of the film plus glossy photos from varying sequences and biography information on the major stars and filmmakers. All in all, it’s a very nice package for fans; much more engaging than the single-disc snapper case package for the DVD release of The Version You’ve Never Seen. From a personal standpoint, I held off buying this title on Blu because of the way I had been burned in the past with regard to double dipping on titles I already owned on DVD – and although this was one of my favorite films, and even though I constantly bombarded Warner’s press contact office with emails about this title’s eventual release date, I still didn’t think the jump to pure 1080p in high definition would warrant me going out to replace the 2000 version’s DVD which looked absolutely stunning to me (for this film) upconverted via my BD player. Upon entering a local Best Buy two days ago to purchase Fast Five on Blu (which my wife wanted more than me) I decided to cave in and buy The Exorcist as well in celebration of this Halloween season; both titles were on sale for $20 anyway. My conclusion? As I said earlier, I’ll get into that in the technical specs area, but after viewing the 1973 original version last night, my suspicions were validated: To me, the upscaled DVD version of the 2000 cut looked about the same as the Blu-ray of the original version, if not better with less noise and film grain, and I definitely preferred the overtly aggressive Dolby EX track on the DVD compared to the somewhat lifeless (but undoubtedly genuine) DTS-HD Master Audio track on the original cut’s Blu-ray Disc. Of course, these feelings could change after I watch the 2000 Extended Director’s Cut on Blu-ray, as that’s supposed to incorporate (on the audio side) the stems and elements from the 2000 DVD’s Dolby EX remix, which I prefer; I haven’t gotten around to that disc yet. To me, the audio track of what was once known as The Version You’ve Never Seen was engaging, aggressive and allowed us to experience this legendary film with surprising amounts of surround activity and bass. Of course, purists demand watching the film with its original audio elements intact – perhaps even in mono, the way it was originally released theatrically – and I completely applaud that. In the case of The Exorcist, I felt the Dolby EX mix simply upped the fright factor for this title in more ways than I can even describe.
Next, let’s explore the tensions and controversy behind the Blatty/Friedkin disagreements that have become legendary amidst Exorcist discussion and fan groups. Blatty based his novel on a supposed real case of demonic possession that took place in the Maryland, U.S. area in the ‘40s, in which the Catholic Church reportedly was involved in attempting to free a young boy from ghoulish powers within him. The novel switched the situation to involve a young girl – Regan MacNeil – who was apparently possessed by a “demon of the air” named “Pazuzu” which was unearthed during an archeological dig in Iraq and which somehow flew all the way to the Georgetown area of Washington, D.C. to take her over. There were tremendous amounts of creative differences between William Peter Blatty and the director who signed on to helm the eventual film project, William Friedkin (responsible for legends like The French Connection), as each man saw the vision of this story in dramatically different ways. The details of these differences remain shrouded in controversy to this day, but at the turn of the millennium in 2000, Friedkin’s vision which included added footage spliced back into The Exorcist was greenlighted by Warner Bros., and a theatrical re-released was authorized, boasting the subtitle “The Version You’ve Never Seen.” Now, for the first time, fans were able to witness some wildly eye-opening cut footage such as Linda Blair’s descent down the staircase (the famous “spider walk” sequence), slight additions to the opening and closing sets, some more dialogue interaction between Father Karras (Jason Miller) and Father Merrin (Max Von Sydow) and more. Also added – to the dismay of many fans who claimed this totally killed the narrative of this film – was more modern CGI with quick graphical flashes of the Pazuzu statue, demonic faces and other elements. The audio for that version was also redone, with supposed restored audio elements which basically trickled down to additional “stinger” shocks, reworked surround material and aggressive LFE. Most diehard fans of The Exorcist – as well as the critic circuit – absolutely loathes this “Extended Director’s” vision of the film, claiming it ruins the entire feel of the narrative and injects unnecessary CGI and sound effects to make it a more “corny,” cheesy variant of a classic. For what it’s worth, as a rabid fan, I actually liked the added work put into the 2000 release – I can totally understand where purists are coming from with regard to what these changes do to the original, but at home, the DVD version of the 2000 cut was much more enjoyable, to me, technically with the reworked and more immersive audio and the added clips of Pazuzu sprinkled throughout.