December 12, 2003

The Long and Winding Road to E:4

Sad to say, but the latest series of developments in the Exorcist: The Beginning saga have made me give up on any sort of anticipation for the fourth film in the franchise. Quite honestly, it's expecting a bit much from fans and filmmakers alike to wait through the countless name, personnel, screenwriter and production company changes this project has seen to date. Though I'm not really one of those fans that insists "they'll never make another good Exorcist film," I am approaching that conclusion of late. The movie has been renamed, reconceived and rewritten (and is now being re-shot under the droll shoot-em-up eye of Renny Harlin) to the point of losing its entire identity and raison d'etre.
On IMDb E:4 Forum: "Let's hope that Schrader-helmed footage is in a nice safe place for an eventual Director's Cut - sounds like that will be a fanbase-driven project, because there probably won't be any initial direct financial incentive to create one. What it boils down to, I think, is that fans have been expecting introspective, intellectual horror from the "The Exorcist" sequels since the original, but E2:TH and E3 never delivered to any significant extent. Hollywood remembers the long box-office lines, and chalks that up to the pea-soup and crucifix scenes - while most long-term Exorcist fans remember the deep pit-of-your-stomach-and-base-of-your-brain-stem dread the original film stirred up. We're not going to get that with a Renny Harlin redo. But it's 2003, not 1973 - and pea soup vomit just ain't the audience draw it used to be. It's a shame we fans may never get the sequel we fans deserve. I'll wait for the rental; E4 will probably go straight to video after a week in the theaters, anyway. "
Sometimes I just don't get Hollywood. I know money is the driving factor behind 99% of all filmmaking decisions, but surely some company should be farsighted enough to know that a subtler, chillier, more critically acclaimed film stands to make more money in the long run than a dumbed-down cheap-thrills gorefest that slides direct-to-video after the first week of theatrical release? Rumors abound regarding the departure/firing of E:4 director du jour Paul Schrader, but numerous reports say the film he delivered was seen as "not containing enough action scenes" and "too cerebral" by the holders of the pursestrings - hence, the new director hurriedly reshooting the film for a purported 2005 release.

[Originally Posted August 2002]
"As of this writing, late August 2002, shooting was scheduled to begin on the fourth installment of the Exorcist film saga; however, the project has been plagued with an unbelievable number of snafus and false starts - not the least of which is deciding what the film will be called. Right now, the name has been re-re-re-changed (other tentative monikers have included Exorcist IV, Exorcist 4:1, E4(!) and Exorcist: The Beginning) back to its original working title, Exorcist: Dominion.

Stellan Skarsgård is the latest thespian in line to star in the role of young Father Merrin, since Liam Neeson recently bowed out. The story is set in Africa during the exorcism of a teenage boy that nearly cost Merrin his life - you may remember this event mentioned in passing in the original film and novel, and expanded upon, albeit indirectly - in the 1977 John Boorman film Exorcist II: The Heretic. However, I'm hesitant to list any other cast members, since they seem to come and go with amazing ease.

"I don't like people playing with one of my very central characters.
It does not have my blessing. Far from it."

- author William Peter Blatty on the prequel, in a Variety interview by Jonathan Dingman

Blatty may not appreciate people playing with one of his characters, but realistically, one of the burdens of creating a story that takes on a life of its own is that the audience will continually be 'hungry for more'. Thirty years later, The Exorcist remains a major cult phenomenon, and there will probably be a large fan base for decades to come. If the original creator can't - or won't - provide more, then someone will, especially if there's money to be made. However, there is a fine line between keeping an optimal level of 'product' and glutting the market: it's possible one of the reasons The Exorcist stayed so popular is that the sequels have been few and far between.

The prequel film has a great deal of potential to either succeed or tank miserably direct-to-video. Only time will tell. One of my hopes is that the creators won't get CGI-happy and fill the screen with tons of unnecessary special effects at the expense of a decent story (I haven't read the bootlegged screenplay, which was recently posted on the Web and subsequently pulled). After all, that's what made the original the classic it is. Most fans that I talk to love the multi-layered, primal theological horror aspect of the film far more than the pea soup. We don't need a Shrek In Hell.

If the three extant Exorcist movies have one thing in common, it's their amazing inconsistency. I'd like to be optimistic and hope that this 'prequel' will be more along the lines of Exorcist III, not II. Approaching the power of the original would seem like too much to ask for."


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