Film Reviews

THE EXORCIST: THE BEGINNING

By • Aug 20th, 2004 •

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MPAA rating: R / Running time — 112 minutes

QUOTE: The best thing that can be said for it is that everybody got paid handsomely for killing off a franchise.

First, let’s go over the film’s history: John Frankenheimer, the first director, died during pre-production and the second director (Paul Schrader) was fired after essentially completing a movie that was unacceptable to the studio. Renny Harlin was brought in and talked the studio into a whole new $50 million movie. He kept one actor but hired three new writers. The second screenplay lacks not only a smart story, but suspense, horror, and drama. The characters are uninteresting.

Can you imagine what Schrader’s version was like is they decided to release this one?

This is the beginning only briefly seen in the original THE EXORCIST. It is the first encounter Father Merin has with Satan and demonic possession. It is 1949 and Lankester Merrin (Stellan Skarsgard), because of his guilt regarding his involvement in World War II aiding the Nazi’s in Holland, has left the priesthood and is now working as an archeologist in Cairo. He is offered a job: Steal a relic from a 1,500-year-old church that has just been discovered in a desolate region of dust-laden Kenya.

Merrin arrives to find out that there is a hospital staffed only by Dr. Sarah (Izabella Scorupco) who has a Holocaust past of her own. There are no patients in the hospital. Merrin is told that the natives are freaked out about the church under excavation and will not go inside. The only other man who went inside is now stark-raving mad and in a psychiatric hospital. Like most crazy people in movies, he draws a lot.

Computer-generated puppet hyenas roam freely and everybody gets either blood streaming from orifices or boils on their face. A small native boy named Joseph (Remy Sweeney) starts vibrating in his hospital bed. He is obviously possessed.

There was surely an exorcism coming but first there was the constant talking in the theater by the people in front and behind me. When the guy’s cell phone went off a second time, I started yelling. So the storyline about the Catholic Church knowing Satan’s Church was hidden in Kenya and concealing the facts were not heard very clearly by anybody. I understand that people seated in the top row heard the commotion. The manager was called in to settle the disturbance. He had to stand guard over the audience.

I think this is the time to name names: The story is attributed to William Wisher and Calab Carr (who should stick to novels). The screenplay is by Alexi Hawley who obviously did not bother to read anything about Satan by Jeffrey Burton Russell, Professor of History at the University of California, Santa Barbara (“Satan: The Early Christian Tradition”; “Lucifer: The Devil in the Middle Ages”; and “The Devil: Perceptions of Evil from Antiquity to Primitive Christianity”.) I have around 30 books on demonology and Satan. Couldn’t Hawley have at least googled Satan before writing the screenplay? Hawley’s Satan lacks a personality – not a good thing for a Being that has frightened mankind for thousands of years.

Because the studio wanted gore and a bloody mess, Harlin did what any ass-kissing temp employee does: He obliges. He overloaded the film with ridiculous blood spurting shots, doors creaking, and long walks in the dark aided only by a candle. The only thing scary about this movie is when Father Merrin kisses Dr. Sarah.

The story is so dumb that when the exorcism finally comes late, late into the film, the audience was laughing. Skarsgard goes to the end of the list with this one: His Merrin emotionally flip-flops through the story. When he battles Satan, nobody cares that he is redeeming his soul.


Cast:
Father Merrin: Stellan Skarsgard
Father Francis: James D’Arcy
Dr. Sarah Novack: Izabella Scorupco
Joseph: Remy Sweeney
Major Granville: Julian Wadham

Credits:
Director: Renny Harlin
Screenwriter: Alexi Hawley
Story by: William Wisher Jr., Caleb Carr
Producer: James G. Robinson
Executive producers: Guy McElwaine, David C. Robinson
Director of photography: Vittorio Storaro
Production designer: Stefano Maria Ortolani
Music: Trevor Rabin
Costume designer: Luke Reichle
Editors: Mark Goldblatt, Todd E. Miller

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