Daily Archives: February 19, 2023

Exorcist: The Beginning (2004)

*. I went over the story behind the production of this film already, in my notes on Dominion, but just to recap: originally the film was to be directed by John Frankenheimer but he died so Paul Schrader stepped in. The studio, Morgan Creek, didn’t like what Schrader did so they hired Renny Harlin to do some re-shoots. Harlin’s re-shoots, however, turned into a complete do-over. Then Exorcist: The Beginning was panned so Schrader was asked to finish up his film, which was released as Dominion.
*. So what we have here is what I think is a nearly unique instance of the same project being filmed twice, back-to-back, and released as two different movies. The outlines of the script are the same, as are the sets and most of the cast. And yet they’re clearly very different movies.
*. Most critics prefer Schrader’s film. William Peter Blatty (author of The Exorcist) had a particularly extreme responds, judging Dominion a good film while considering The Beginning to be his “most humiliating professional experience.” On balance, however, I think The Beginning is clearly better entertainment. Schrader wanted to go off in his own direction, which didn’t include trying to be scary, while Harlin (given a task few would envy) knew what was expected and delivered. I don’t think The Beginning is a good movie by any stretch of the imagination, but as popcorn horror flicks go it’s not a washout.
*. Some of the script should have been dropped. I was puzzled by a line in Dominion about the church being built at some point after the Byzantine Empire “adopted Christianity.” This made no sense, as the Byzantine Empire was always Christian. This bit of dialogue is expanded on here in an early scene where the antiquities collector hiring Father Merrin (a scruffier looking Stellan SkarsgĂ„rd) says the recently discovered church was built “circa. 5 A.D.” To which Merrin responds that this is impossible since “the Byzantine Empire had adopted Christianity at that time [!] but they never got that far south.”
*. This is obviously wrong, as the Byzantine Empire didn’t exist in the year 5 A.D. In fact, it wasn’t even known as the Byzantine Empire until after it fell (it was the Roman Empire up till the end). Obviously someone knew this was wrong, as it’s later said that the church is 1500 years old and that it was built during the reign of the emperor Justinian (r. 527-565). These dates at least make some sense, though Merrin’s point that the empire never got so far south still stands. So obviously they were aware of the mistake in the 5 A.D. line and probably the bit about the Byzantine Empire adopting Christianity, but they still left that part in.

*. Sticking with the matter of a clumsy script, do you think when they said that Bession was in a sanitarium that they meant a sanitarium/sanatorium, or (what I think was meant) an asylum? I seem to remember this being a mistake that pops up when Tony Montana comes to America in Scarface. I don’t think Monsieur Bessoin is suffering from tuberculosis.
*. As I’ve said, Harlin took on this job with a basic understanding of what the job demanded and I think he did his best to make something out of a dog of a script and a cast that didn’t seem very enthused about the project the first time around. I can’t imagine how bored they were with having to go through it all over again. But there are some jump scares and you get to see the lady doctor go nearly-full Linda Blair at the end before Merrin finds his faith and rids her of the demon. There are some scenes that are even a bit spooky.
*. The effects are just as bad as in Dominion. As I’ve noted before (The Possession, The Haunting of Sharon Tate), CGI does not do swarms of insects well and I wish they’d just give up trying. The hyenas are back and they’re silly, but quick editing and only showing them at night helps. Some of the gore looks pretty good. I wanted someone to ask how all those birds were found to be living in the church after it was uncovered but I guess given the other goofs this has to be taken in stride.
*. Elizabeth II was Queen of England for a long time. When the British officer says that the natives will “have to answer to the might of his majesty King George” I did a double take before twigging to the fact that he was referring to George VI, he of the speech made by Colin Firth. The film is set in 1949.
*. This is a dumb bit of trash that would probably have passed without notice if not for its name. As it is, even with being part of the Exorcist franchise I think it is now almost completely forgotten. I didn’t even know of its existence until I came across it by accident. Still, I think it’s better than Dominion for being aware of the fact that it’s only meant to be trash, and Harlin tricks it out so that it looks pretty slick given all of the limitations he faced. I don’t think it’s worth anyone bothering with today though.