May 2, 2005


Double Your Pleasure? Early 'Exorcist,' Take 2 (DAVE KEHR, 5/02/05, NY Times)

When "Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist," directed by Paul Schrader, opens nationally on May 20, some filmgoers may have the strange feeling they have seen it before. "Dominion" bears a not at all coincidental similarity to Renny Harlin's "Exorcist: The Beginning," a disappointment at the box office last August. [...]

Both prequels star the Swedish actor Stellan Skarsgard ("Breaking the Waves") as a young version of Father Merrin, the Roman-Catholic priest played by Max von Sydow in William Friedkin's hugely successful 1973 film based on William Peter Blatty's best-selling novel. And both tell the story of Father Merrin's first encounter with demonic possession when, working for the Vatican in the years after World War II, he investigates the discovery of a perfectly preserved Byzantine church buried in the East African desert.

How these two movies came to be made is a story as tortured and complex as any Hollywood thriller. The notion of an "Exorcist" prequel dates back several years to when Morgan Creek, the owners of the franchise, commissioned a script from William Wisher, a writer of "Terminator 2." That script was rewritten by Caleb Carr, the author of the best-selling novel "The Alienist," and attracted the attention of the Hollywood veteran John Frankenheimer. Frankenheimer signed on to direct and had begun casting the film when he died in July 2002 at 72.

Rather than abandon the project, James G. Robinson, the Morgan Creek chairman, turned the film over to Mr. Schrader. As the director of "Light Sleeper" (1992) and "Auto Focus" (2002), and the writer of "Taxi Driver" (1976) and "Raging Bull" (with Mardik Martin, 1980), Mr. Schrader possessed impeccable art-house credentials, but had not directed a mainstream genre film since "Cat People" in 1982.

Mr. Schrader shot on location in Morocco and at Cinecittà Studios in Rome. But when the rough cut was screened for Mr. Robinson, he was reportedly disappointed to find that Paul Schrader had made a Paul Schrader movie, rather than a hyperkinetic action picture filled with gore and scary effects. [...]

Using the standing sets of the church interior at Cinecittà, Mr. Harlin created an R-rated film of rapid cuts, expressionistic camera angles, extensive computer-generated imagery and a strong dose of sex and violence. Mr. Schrader's film, also R-rated, featured a demure leading lady, Clara Bellar (cast by Frankenheimer), who was replaced by the former Bond girl Izabella Scorupco. Father Merrin went from a withdrawn, tortured man suffering a crisis of faith to a sort of swashbuckling hero with a gun in his hand. The climax of Mr. Schrader's film, in which Father Merrin has a theological discussion with a preternaturally handsome demon (the pop star Billy Crawford) gave way to an apocalyptic free-for-all in Mr. Harlin's film.

Who, outside of a Hollywood boardroom, thinks that would improve a film?

Posted by Orrin Judd at May 2, 2005 6:48 AM
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