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Horror buffs will surely be compelled to compare and contrastDominionwithExorcist: The Beginning, two films weirdly linked by film history. Director Paul Schrader shotDominiononly to find studio bosses underwhelmed by its horror aspects, at which point Renny Harlin was hired to direct another take on the subject with the same lead actor, setting, and similar storyline. That became the 2004 theatrical releaseExorcist: The Beginning.
As expected, the Schrader version has more tortured religiosity and visual poetry than Harlin's cheesier (but admittedly gripping) re-do. Father Merrin (Stellan Skarsgard) carries his guilt from the Nazi occupation to a remote African archaeological dig, where a mysteriously buried church has been uncovered. Strange stuff happens nearby, and a fervent young priest (good performance by Gabriel Mann) parries spiritual points with the now-doubting Merrin. Some of the ideas are strong and the sun-and-sand cinematography by the great Vittorio Storaro is often stunning. As beautiful as the film is to look at, it must be admitted that the climax is disappointingly flat, the leading lady (Clara Bellar) is a washout, and one begins to yearn for the occasional genre shock of the kind Schrader was able to conjure up in his remake ofCat People. If you're anExorcistfan, watch it for its serious treatment of Merrin's crisis, which ties in to his character in the 1973 original.--Robert Horton
A Better Beginning WARNING: possible spoilers ahead...
Every employee at Morgan Creek should be taken out into the courtyard and flogged for burying this movie and letting Renny Harlin unleash his worthless Exorcist prequel on the world in its place. There are certain ideas and concepts that are just meant to be movies, and doing a prequel to the Exorcist is one of them. I really can't understand how anyone could possibly screw up the story. Even Michael Bay should have been able to make a good Exorcist prequel. But Renny Harlin did the impossible, he made a bad Exorcist movie and all the while they had Paul Schrader's version hidden away in a closet.
Now, this is not a great movie, and it doesn't live up to its full potential, but it's not as much of a crime against nature as the version that was released theatrically. If the producers had actually supported Schrader and helped him trim this movie down a bit, we might have had the prequel we were all hoping for.
For anyone who doesn't know the saga of the Exorcist prequel, I will give you the Cliff Notes version. Warner Brothers and Morgan Creek decided to make a prequel to the Exorcist that would basically be the story of a young Father Merrin and how he came to be the Exorcist. Yes, I thought to myself when reading about this... good idea, finally. They hired Caleb Carr, a novelist best known for his book the Alienist, and Paul Schrader a director who's best known for writing Taxi Driver. Okay, now I was starting to get excited. Paul went and shot his movie, but ran into problems when he screened the movie for Morgan Creek and the big brains decided that it was too long and not scary. Caleb Carr started screaming that Schrader was destroying his words. They fired Paul Schrader and brought Renny Harlin in. Renny reshot 90% of the movie and put his hack fingerprints all over it. That was the version that was released theatrically with a pretty dismal box office response.
Meanwhile, Paul Schrader's version languished on the shelf until recently. This movie follows the same basic premise as the Renny Harlin version. Father Merrin suffers a crisis of faith after being forced to watch as Nazis massacre an entire village. He's in Africa and he discovers an entire church that has been buried in the desert. But while the plotline is basically the same, the two movies couldn't be more different. In Schrader's film, Merrin is a tortured man who's struggling with complex issues of faith. In Renny Harlin's film, Father Merrin is more of swashbuckling archeologist like Indiana Jones. That's basically the difference between the two movies. One is a drama, and one is an adventure.
The problem is that neither film is really a horror film. Schrader's film, while certainly more brooding and esoteric, is not that frightening. The possessed boy in DOMINION is nowhere near as scary as Regan was. That might be because there isn't really any identifiable threat in the movie. We all know that Father Merrin is going to survive whatever hellish experience he goes through, because he shows up in the later movie. So, since we know our main character is going to live, there's not a lot of peril in the movie. We are able to disengage from it and never really feel frightened or worried that Father Merrin might not make it out of this experience alive. This is a flaw that should have been handled in the concept stage. This is not a fault that can be pinned on Paul Schrader. In fact, I think Schrader did everything he could with the material he was given. It's still a flawed concept, and the producers obviously didn't give Schrader any money for CG because the hyenas in this movie look like they came right out of a video game. That's the only reason that I didn't give this movie a higher score, and it has nothing to do with Schrader or his direction. It has everything to do with a poorly conceived concept and a lack of care on the part of the producers.
The saddest thing about the Saga of the Exorcist Prequel is that Morgan Creek and Warner Brothers missed a great opportunity and we, the horror fans, are the ones who suffer for it. This movie is definitely worth a rental if you are a fan of the Exorcist series, and if you felt betrayed by Renny Harlin's movie. This will ease the sting just a little bit for you. I don't know if I can recommend adding this movie to your collection, because it still has some problems. Despite the fact that none of the fault can be pinned on Paul Schrader, this movie still ends up getting a C+ in my grade book. It's better than Renny Harlin's, but still not as great as it could have been if the producers had stood behind Paul Schrader from the beginning.
Awful, buy Harlin's film instead The original Exorcist was one of the greatest horror movies ever made. The reason why it is remembered so well is because the film was scary. For some reason Paul Schrader decided to make a very slow psychological thriller with no "scares" at all. The studio was 100% correct in shelving this movie as it would have grossed considerably less than the 45 million the other edition took in. Schrader forgot that people think of the Exorcist and remember being scared to death that is why they would go see another Exorcist movie. Anyone going to see this movie based on their fondness for the original would have felt ripped off (like I did when I bought this DVD).
The acting is terrible and the characters are not likable. The decisions the characters make defy logic, and the film has an overall "cheap" feel to it. Avoid this and go for Harlin's movie instead.Not what I expected. Not a good film. This film aful. It looks, sounds and edited like a T.V movie. Some of the sets look cheap, and alot of the camera angles are close-ups to hide the fact the sets are little and poorly made. The score is god aful, (they used cheesy Synthesizers instead of an orchestra) and some of the acting is really bad. All of the CGI effects are horrible and look uncomplete and are unwatchable. The film is just plain boring. The Heads at Morgan Creek were correct on dropping this film and remaking it with Reny Harlin. "Exorcist: The Begining" is a much better film then "Dominion - Prequel to the Exorcist". Skip this and get Harlins much scarier version.