Our reviews of The Exorcist: Special Edition (published January 23rd, 2000), The Exorcist (Blu-Ray) (published October 11th, 2010), and The Exorcist: The Complete Anthology (published November 6th, 2006) are also available.
The scariest movie of all time possesses you once again.
The original version of The Exorcist was the best film of 1973. In September 2000, a new longer version was successfully released to theaters. However, this new version has sparked much debate among fans and critics alike. Does this new cut have artistic merit or is it merely a money trip by the creators and studio? Is it the definitive cut or is it merely a footnote? All these questions and more will be answered.
Facts of the Case
Practically everyone is familiar with The Exorcist, but in the rare event that there is someone out there who isn't, here goes:
Regan MacNeil (Linda Blair) has been acting very strange lately. Her mother Chris (Ellen Burstyn) doesn't know what to do, so they go to the doctor for a series of tests. They cannot find anything wrong, so a psychiatrist is brought in. He cannot find any solid reason behind Regan's behavior. Eventually, strange things begin to occur. Objects move by themselves. The temperature decreases drastically in Regan's room. She begins to speak in strange tongues. Her physical appearance changes. Even though Chris doesn't believe in demons, she begins to suspect that a demon has possessed her daughter.
Desperate, Chris turns to Father Damien Karras (Jason Miller). Karras has his own doubts, but even he changes his mind. With the help of Father Merrin (Max Von Sydow), Karras is headed for the showdown of his life.
Despite some reviews saying as much, this cut of The Exorcist is not a director's cut. William Friedkin's cut was and will remain the 121-minute version that was released theatrically in 1973. If anything, it's really more of a "Producer's Cut." The changes all reflect the original vision of William Peter Blatty, who wrote and produced the film. Friedkin later said that he prepared this new version out of overdue respect to Blatty.
The changes are as follows:
• A new pre-credits sequence, beginning with a shot of the
Georgetown house where the film unfolds.
Critics were sharply divided on the additional footage. Personally, I thought the additional footage improved the film. It sticks closer to Blatty's original novel, which was both a horror tale and a theological statement. More theology represents itself in the additional scenes with Father Merrin; listen closely, as you will find new meaning in the exorcism itself. Many critics complained about the new ending, saying it disrupted the flow of the film. I couldn't disagree more. A major keystone of Blatty's work has been that the end should show life going on, even after moments of tragedy. That is true of real life, isn't it? So why shouldn't we see life returning to normal at the end of The Exorcist? Seeing Chris keep the medal is a sign of reformation; after denying God throughout the picture, she has finally accepted him; hence redemption. And the comic banter between Kinderman and Dyer helps set up the roots of The Exorcist III.
The premise seems to invite overacting, yet Friedkin and his actors don't allow themselves to be fooled by that old cliché. The acting is realistic and believable. Ellen Burstyn should have won the Oscar for her understated, powerful work in this film. She faced a challenge to keep a consistent tone in this film and she succeeds. Jason Miller was not a professional actor, but in his screen debut, he is brilliant, balancing melancholy and pathos with the best of them. Linda Blair's performance is among the best by a child actor. Max von Sydow was famous for his strong, towering performances but here, he allows us to see another emotion: frailty, both physical and emotional.
William Friedkin's direction is a triumph of subtlety and power. He knew that if he didn't take this material seriously, it would spell disaster. He gets the most out of his actors and also remains faithful to the multiple tones of Blatty's screenplay (and novel). This is the first in Blatty's "Trilogy of Faith," three films that deal directly with religion and the people who have their doubts about whether it exists. All three end with a climatic event that makes believers out of the doubtful. But all three films (which include The Ninth Configuration and The Exorcist III) are intelligent, meditative looks at humanity that transcend their genres and become something other.
The 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is the best one of the film to date. Having seen many prints of The Exorcist over the years, I have not seen one as sharp and clean as the one used here. No film artifacts (dirt, scratches, et cetera) are to be found. Whatever grain is present (very minimal) is probably due to the film stock or lighting rather than any fault in the transfer. This DVD has the benefit of being struck from a brand new print of the film, so of course, it's going to look terrific.
Two stereo surround sound mixes, both in English, are offered here. The Dolby Digital 5.1 track was used for this review. Friedkin and his sound team experimented greatly with effects, sounds, and music and the result was an Oscar. For this cut of the film, more effects and music cues were added. If you have seen The Exorcist before, either on video or theatrically, you will be stunned by the clarity and sharpness of this new sound mix.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
The extras included on this disc are all disappointments. The new commentary track by director William Friedkin is a must to avoid. Since he pretty much said everything he possibly could remember in his previous commentary, all that is left is describing what is happening on screen. The best option would have been to take the existing commentary and have Friedkin record new comments regarding the additional footage. Even sadder is the absence of a Blatty commentary track, especially since this new cut reflects his original vision.
Two theatrical trailers are included, both in anamorphic widescreen. They are well done, but both are too similar to one another. Four TV spots are included and are only for those who live for such spots on a DVD. Two radio spots are moderately interesting, but why didn't they give us a stills gallery to look through while listening?
I think this is the definitive version of The Exorcist, but I know many will disagree. Is it worth a purchase? I definitely think so. The Exorcist is a film that demands multiple viewings to capture the experience fully, and this longer cut will create newer questions to be answered. Plus the $19.99 price tag is very reasonable.
Those who prefer the original cut can still purchase the original release.
All involved with The Exorcist are acquitted of all charges.
All who laughed in the theater throughout the film deserve massive punishment. How far has society fallen that the young people of this country have to resort to laughter during one of the scariest and best films ever made? Shame on you all!
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
• Commentary by William Friedkin
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