The Exorcist: Extended Director's Cut Review
The Exorcist is a work that comes from a devout Catholic via the very particular skills of the somewhat agnostic William Friedkin. The original writing and intention of Blatty advocates the existence of a supreme being by showing that its absolute opposite exists. In short, his project is to show that the world is filled with evil so "goodness" must also exist.
Friedkin approached the project as an exploration of the mystery of the spiritual. He grounds the tale of the possessed Regan in a documentary like exposition where the physical world cannot resolve her situation. With no physical explanation or solution possible, Friedkin makes the case for something else, something more than psychology or medicine or logistics.
The writing though comes from another perspective. A view which does not divide the physical and spiritual, a view where evil and good are as much one quality as the other. Where evil is not a supernatural invasion and good is not a metaphysical response to it - Blatty's perspective is that of our world seen through the eyes of belief. Where the spiritual and the physical are part of a whole and not some kind of anathema or contradiction to one another.
To my mind, this explains why the two men differed so greatly over the format of the finished film. Blatty wanted to prove the existence of God and Friedkin merely wanted to state that there are spiritual mysteries in this world. Blatty wanted the film to finish in friendship and an on-going spiritual goodness, and Friedkin wanted the audience to hold onto their unease as they re-enter their presumably physically secure existences.
I am not sure how many people have watched The Exorcist and became believers, or whether Blatty's intention was met better in any of the different cuts available. I suppose depending on your own faith that will matter less or more if you choose to enjoy a supremely crafted and careful horror film or a theosophical thriller. In a sense, Blatty's intention is probably more likely to succeed where it already has and that is the worst criticism I can make of a masterful work.
Regardless of this contradiction, The Exorcist is one of the finest acted, directed, shot and constructed horror films ever made. Thematically it is diabolical when it needs to show evil, and this outrage still hits home today despite parody and the passage of time and taste. Sonically it is a ground-breaking film in terms of the arrangement of effects and their deployment for emotional impact. And finally, The Exorcist is simply a great film whether you call it horror or philosophy or something else.
Both transfers are encoded using the VC-1 codec and have frame-rates of 23.98 per second. The two BD50s used here are region free and offer decent file sizes of 25.5 and 27GB. The interior sequences within the two transfers and the lighter exterior scenes fare best in the visual representation with warm skin tones, strong colours and excellent detail. Some of the inserts and darker scenes are far less impressive and edges are slightly emphasised at times. The overall image is very good with some scenes looking as good as many a modern film can on this format.
The sound is where the greatest improvement is gained on this format with lossless master audio mixes giving the atmospheric surround mixes more impact and ambience than ever before. Some effects benefit less from the extra definition with matching between action and sound not quite perfect, but the subtler layering of sound is much easier to appreciate here. Barring a re-mix of the surround elements I can barely imagine the film sounding better than this.
Most of the extras offered her over the two discs are ported over from previous releases which will help those wanting to give up their standard definition copies. The two commentaries are as they were before with Friedkin's annoying self-reverential style grating and endlessly pro his own changes to the director's cut. Blatty's work is much more interesting, laid back, self-deprecatory and passionate with much given away in terms of his brinkmanship in getting his man to direct. Blatty's track includes sound effects tests about half way through before returning to the film’s original soundtrack for the last hour. This creates a very odd impression when Lee J Cobb and Burstyn are having tea whilst Mercedes McCambridge is in full on devil mode.
New extras, available in 1080P, include a featurette on the filming with Blair, Blatty and Friedkin contributing. Footage showing make-up and shooting is pieced together with new interviews and this is a worthwhile addition to the myriad of extras for the film. A locations featurette follows which shows Georgetown then and now and includes Friedkin talking about getting permission to film in Iraq. The last of the new pieces is on the different cuts of the film with the director explaining that the new cut was a favour to Blatty after they made up after years of a row over the original version. Friedkin also explains why some footage could not be added and goes on to talk about how Blu-ray really allows the sound effects to come alive.
Standard definition trailers, and TV spots are included along with radio spots for both versions of the film. A storyboard reel, the Blatty/Friedkin interview from previous releases and Mark Kermode's excellent Fear of God are further additions, along with the original ending.
Bringing both versions of the film together and presenting them as well as the format might allow, this Blu-ray is a must buy for fans of the film.