Thursday, August 19, 2004

"The Power of Christ Compels You!"

Imagine a being that was intelligent and good. Then imagine an evil force coming into that being's life and taking possession of them. This force changes much of what made the original being good and twists it into an unrecognizable thing that is intent to ruin the lives of others.

The plot of "The Exorcist"? Yes. But also the saga of the making of "Exorcist: The Beginning".

Recently, I wrote a review of the film "Mishima" and mentioned the talented co-writer and director Paul Schrader. Schrader was hired several years ago to write and direct a prequel to the film, "The Exorcist". Now, obviously, much of the motivation that fueled this film was by capitalizing on the popularity of the original, the popularity of horror films in general, and the novelty of the "prequel" concept.

Against my better judgment, I was intrigued. I had liked the first film and have seen it several times in the theater. Also, I thought the character of Father Merrin, played by Max Von Sydow, would be a great character to get to know more of. Tantalizing bits of his past were given in the original, and a fleshing out of it was an interesting concept. The sequels failed for, among other things, focusing on the child Reagan. However, as is pointed out in my favorite review of the original film, it is called "The Exorcist", not "The Exorcised".

So, the idea was sound and a good director/writer was attatched. What was needed next was an actor to fill Merrin's shoes. For this, they chose Stellan Skarsgard. Although he's not been the lead in many productions, he's been doing solid work and has become recognizable through major roles in "Good Will Hunting", "Ronin" and recently "King Arthur". Plus, like Sydow, he's Swedish and seems to carry the gravitas that Sydow seemed to do so well (I guess playing chess with Death will do that for you).

Wow. What was suddenly a potentially very bad idea looked to have some promise.

After Schrader had finished putting it together, he presented it to the people at Morgan Creek Productions. They, in turn, told him that there wasn't enough blood and gore in it. They expressed bewilderment despite the fact that Schrader had said in several interviews during production that it was to be more psychological and atmospheric. So, they fired Schrader and hired Renny Harlin to re-direct the film. They also brought in Alexi Hawley, who according the IMDb had never worked on a movie script before, to retool what Schrader had written. All told, the new version contains about 10% of the footage Schrader shot. They dropped characters and added new ones, such as former Bond Girl Izabella Scorupco. You'll recognize her from all those pop-up ads for the film where she holds a candle that illuminates her sweaty bare skin and parted full lips. Ugh.

It's a typical Hollywood story, isn't it? But it still breaks my heart when stuff like this happens. The only compensation to this story is that the studio, who apparently believe in "waste not, want not", will release Schrader's version separately on DVD, but not theatrically. I am torn on whether I should see the Harlin version in the theater or not. I'm very picky with my movie ticket money these days, so probably not. However, when both of these films hit blockbuster, I'll be renting them. The comparison should be very interesting, and rest assured I'll be posting that on Acrentropy sometime next year.

In the meantime, movie fans should be aware that, like "Alien vs. Predator" last week, "Exorcist: The Beginning" is not being screened ahead of time for critics. This usually means that studios have little confidence in positive reviews. Also opening tomorrow is the low budget "Open Water". It has been screened by critics and is being hailed as one of the scariest films this year. So we have these two horror films battling for the spot at the top of the box office this weekend.

I know the likely outcome, but I can dream, can't I?

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