Lionsgate // 1999 // 82 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Gordon Sullivan // October 5th, 2010
"In October of 1994 three student filmmakers disappeared in the woods near Burkittsville, Maryland, while shooting a documentary...A year later their footage was found."
The Blair Witch Project (Blu-ray) was simply never going to be my bag because I couldn't suspend my disbelief. Barring serious injury, there's just very little chance to get seriously lost in the woods of the Eastern United States. Just pick a direction (preferably South and East so you don't end up in Canada) and start walking. Eventually, you will hit civilization, or maybe a road or a river you can follow. Spooky shenanigans or not, I simply couldn't feel anything for the obviously brain-dead protagonists of The Blair Witch Project because they managed to get lost in good weather with plenty of food by basically being jerks to one another. Combine that crappy behavior with some (to me) unspooky effects, like those little wooden doll things, and there was nothing to really keep me interested.
Let's face it, though: The Blair Witch Project is and was a cultural juggernaut, bowling over opposition like the characters kicked over those rock formations. It's pretty much been enshrined as The Exorcist of its generation, and like that film has been ripped off, parodied, and referenced in the decade since its release. A little over ten years since its first theatrical run, The Blair Witch Project is being given the hi-def treatment, with mixed results.
For those of you in hiding who somehow managed to miss hearing about this film, The Blair Witch Project purports to be a collection of footage found after a trio of filmmakers went missing. This trio went into the woods to investigate the elusive "Blair Witch." As the footage shows, strange things start happening, and the trio battles the elements, the Witch, and themselves for survival.
Say what you want about The Blair Witch Project, whether you think it's a brilliant example of indie filmmaking or a nausea-inducing pile of crap, it did get one spectacular thing right: movie marketing. The film was released in 1999, before the dot-com bubble burst, before a significant percentage of the population had Internet-enabled smart phones in their pocket, in fact before sites like Facebook had even drawn a significant portion of the population online. Leveraging a web presence that fed into a Sci-Fi Channel "documentary," the film rode the fact/fiction "is it real" line straight to box office gold. This is precisely why The Blair Witch Project succeeded where other reality horror films failed (with the exception of Paranormal Activity, which wisely also utilized a viral marketing strategy to stimulate interest in the fact/fiction question).
This marketing campaign (and the film's shaky cam stylings) had an unintended effect: The Blair Witch Project tends to be a love-it-or-hate-it sort of film. Yet time has been fairly kind to the film, especially in light of the torrent of horrible parodies. It now plays more like an interesting experiment than a horror film in the strictest sense. The Blair Witch Project almost singlehandedly created a new sub-genre that simultaneously pointed the way to other kinds of movies (like the YouTube aesthetic), while also sealing itself off by accomplishing its task so well that no one could follow the film effectively.
The film was released on DVD just as the format was really growing legs, and it's had a pretty decent run in standard def. For this Blu-ray release, we get an almost superfluous audiovisual upgrade and the same extras we've seen before. The disc includes a 1.33:1 AVC encoded transfer that definitely shows all the details in the original film, but since it was intended to look like crappy amateur footage, that's not saying much. The DTS-HD lossless stereo track is similar, in that it's a full-on hi-def upgrade of sound that was captured to sound bad. There's nothing really wrong with these elements; it's more that the film was intended to be somewhat low-tech, which is at odds with the digital sheen of Blu-ray.
Extras include the previously available director/producer commentary, a couple of featurettes on the making of the film, some "discovered" footage, and four "never-before-seen" alternate endings that continue the creepiness.
I hope I've made it clear that while I don't like the The Blair Witch Project, I respect it. For this reason, I'd love to see the film get the kind of treatment it really deserves, both as a film and as a marketing phenomenon. I have dreams of a Criterion release of the film that would include all the previously available material along with new documentaries on the film's effect on pop culture, packaged in a classy way that ties in with the film's aesthetic and use of viral marketing. Though this Blu-ray edition of the film is fine, the definitive edition of the film has yet to be released.
I'm a real heathen, one of those people who on any given day would just as soon watch Book of Shadows as the original Blair Witch film, but even I can't deny the film's impact and staying power. This Blu-ray disc probably isn't worth an upgrade for most fans, but it's a great way for a new generation to discover what the fuss was all about.
So nobody leaves little wooden effigies at my door, I'm declaring The Blair Witch Project not guilty.
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Scales of Justice
* Full Frame (1080p)
* DTS HD 2.0 Master Audio (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 82 Minutes
Release Year: 1999
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Alternate Endings