The Exorcist - 4K Ultra HD Blu-rayOverview -
Starring Ellen Burstyn, Max von Sydow, Jason Miller and Linda Blair, William Friedkin's The Exorcist is that rare horror film that made an indelible cultural impact and is a horror masterpiece tackling more than a simple tale of good versus evil. Six decades later, the supernatural shocker remains one of the scariest films ever produced and has rightfully earned its place in cinema and our collective consciousness. Celebrating its 50th Anniversary, Warner Bros. unleashes Friedkin's seminal horror classic on Ultra HD Blu-ray with a stunningly beautiful 4K HDR10 video and a terrifyingly effective Dolby Atmos soundtrack. The lackluster assortment of bonus features will make most hesitant to purchase, but overall, the UHD edition is nonetheless Highly Recommended for the massive improvement in the audio and video department.
Controversial, haunting and popular from the moment it opened, William Friedkin's masterpiece The Exorcist turns 50 years old, featuring stunning 4K UHD restorations of the original 1973 Theatrical Version and the 2000 Extended Director's Cut. The terrifying and realistic tale of an innocent girl inhabited by a terrifying entity, her mother's frantic resolve to save her and two priests - one doubt-ridden, the other a rock of faith - joined to battle the ultimate evil, always leaves viewers breathless. Winner of two Academy Awards® and nominated for an additional eight including Best Picture, this greatest supernatural thriller of all time still astonishes and unsettles like no other movie.
Storyline: Our Reviewer's Take
By contemporary horror standards, particularly in the age of a A24 and brutally graphic, gory violence on screen, William Friedkin's The Exorcist can seem pretty tame, not quite as terrifying as when it originally released in 1973 and even boring for some of today's younger moviegoers. However, very few horror films have left such an indelible cultural impact as Friedkin's supernatural shocker, to the extent of consistently being honored as the scariest movie of all time or at the very least, ranking in the top three. The film is so iconic and deeply-ingrained into our collective subconscious that even people who've never seen it still know of it, still fear to watch it or still refuse to have it in their home. This was the case when I was growing up in the 1980s, which I'm sure is probably true of many reading this now, and I vividly remember being forbidden to watch it as a kid and told that it could welcome the devil into our home. Of course, creating such mystique around one film with the added sense of something sinister, prohibited and outlawed only worked at making me want to watch it more. Basically, I was possessed.
After hundreds of repeat viewings over the last four decades, I also rank the seminal horror classic as one of the scariest films ever, but I would go further to even call it a masterpiece. Not only is it Friedkin's best known work, but it is also his magnum opus, a film that tackles more than just telling a simple tale of good versus evil. Granted, the battle between Father Damien (Jason Miller), Father Merrin (Max von Sydow) and the demon possessing twelve-year-old Regan (Linda Blair) is the main draw and the central idea driving the plot. But in that same vein of good versus evil, there is another equally important battle taking place, an additional fight for the soul of an innocent child being raised by the liberal-minded, single-parent Chris (Ellen Burstyn). This is also a tale of an age-old clash between science and religion — reason versus faith, materialism versus spiritualism. When modern science fails to explain an unnatural phenomenon, religion becomes the answer at a time when the world was losing its faith, and liberal thinking was convincing everyone that everything can be explained through natural forces.
Based on William Peter Blatty's 1971 novel, Friedkin's The Exorcist is, honestly, a brilliant masterpiece that has rightfully earned its place in cinema and our collective cultural conscious.
For a more in-depth take on the film, check out Josh Zyber's 40th Anniversary Blu-ray review HERE.
Vital Disc Stats: The Ultra HD Blu-ray
Celebrating its 50th Anniversary, Warner Bros. unleashes William Friedkin's seminal horror classic The Exorcist on Ultra HD Blu-ray as a two-disc combo pack with a Digital Copy code, granting users access to both the theatrical version and the Director's Cut in 4K Dolby Vision with Dolby Atmos audio and all the legacy bonus features. One triple-layered UHD100 disc contains the 122-min theatrical version while the other triple-layered UHD100 disc contains the 132-min Director's Cut, and both sit comfortably on the opposing panels of a black, eco-vortex case with a cardboard slipcover. At startup, viewers are taken to a generic static screen with the usual options along the bottom and creepy noises playing in the background.
The iconic horror masterpiece possesses Ultra HD with a pair of wholly beautiful, shockingly first-rate HEVC H.265 encodes that while not perfect, come pretty darn close and deliver a stellar improvement over previous releases, making this the best the horror classic has ever looked on any format. The majority of what could be considered drawbacks or flaws are actually inherent to the source and related to either the condition of the elements or the photographic intentions of the filmmakers. For example, a good amount of the movie was shot with diffusion filters, giving certain segments a softer appeal, most of which are scenes involving Father Damien and the exorcism. Reportedly struck from a new restoration and remaster of the original 35mm camera negatives, the native 4K transfer nonetheless comes with significantly sharper details throughout, such as the opening sequences in Iraq and during the torturous psychological and medical tests. The fabric and stitching of the costumes is distinct, the wood grain of the house is well-defined, and the background objects decorating the house are plainly visible.
The other concern is related to William Friedkin's misplaced efforts to revise the color timing of his films, which started with the heavily controversial 2009 Blu-ray release of The French Connection. Thankfully, that does not appear to be the case here, but it is worth noting that Friedkin purportedly worked with cinematographer Owen Roizman on the restoration and color timing for the 2010 DigiBook Blu-ray release, which we are left to assume is the model used for this 4K remaster. And since we don't have access to the original elements — and any claims of remembering the original look of a movie from fifty years ago is ultimately absurd — we have to take the filmmakers at their word that this is how the film is meant to look. With that said, however, there are a few moments that raise some small suspicions, such as the reds seeming a tad amplified and over-saturated. It's nothing terribly egregious or distracting, but they tend to pop pretty loudly here and there. The rest of the palette appears accurately rendered and fuller, and facial complexions are healthier with a natural peach-rosiness around the cheeks of the cast. Also, the strong bluish hue of the exorcism sequences seen in previous releases has been toned down somewhat to a more downcast, steely tone that when combined with the diffusion photography, gives those moments an eerie, ethereal, and otherworldly feel.
And finally, the HDR10 presentation supplies the ghastly horror with a spot-on contrast balance, boasting cleaner, more vivid whites throughout. Likewise, specular highlights furnish a crisper, more narrow glow in the brightest, hottest spots, such as the various fixtures in the house and the reflection of light off wet or metallic surfaces. Granted, there are a few scenes when whites seem to bloom in some spots, but as mentioned above, such instances appear to be intentional result of the diffusion filters, like the iconic scene of Father Merrin arriving at the MacNeil house. Black levels are inkier and darker, as well, showering many scenes in rich, stygian shadows that penetrate deep into the screen while maintaining excellent detailing within the darkest, gloomiest corners, providing the 1.85:1 image with appreciable depth and a beautiful cinematic appeal. The natural film grain is present throughout, giving the video an attractive film-like quality, although it can suddenly alternate between heavily prominent and lighter even within the same scene and from shot to shot. Nevertheless, the grain structure overall appears better refined and never detracts from enjoying this marvelous 4K UHD presentation.
Switching back and forth between both versions of the film, they appear to be identical in video quality, and I didn't detect any significant differences between them, at least not enough to warrant a separate score. The overall score for both cuts is the same. (HDR10 Video Rating: 92/100)
Captain Howdy's reign of terror spreads into home theaters with a surprisingly good and terrifyingly effective Dolby Atmos soundtrack that never feels forced or artificial but amazingly complements the visuals and creates the perfect creepy atmosphere.
Much of the activity remains focused on the fronts, maintaining our attention on the on-screen action yet putting the front heights to great use with the echo of the singing, the racket of picks hitting the ground and unseen diggers yelling in the distance. From the opening moments in Iraq, this immediately creates an amazingly wide and expansive soundstage, a half-dome wall of sound that largely feels consistent and keeps the listener terrifically engaged. Other discrete effects flawlessly pan across the surrounds and overheads, minor subtle sounds, like a mysterious wind blowing through the house or the rattling noise in the ceiling, fill the entire room with an unnerving feeling and competently generate an immersive hemispheric soundfield. Although a few loud noises and sudden jump scares can come off a tad bright, the mid-range nonetheless remains clean and detailed while the low-end is plentiful and weighty, providing a few scenes with some unexpected impact. With distinct, well-prioritized vocals from start to finish, this lossless object-based remix is a great deal of fun and highly satisfying, making the seminal classic all the more terrifying to watch at home by your lonesome.
Warner Bros. also provides the original mono audio for the first time as a DTS-HD MA 2.0 track, which also makes for an excellent option for purists, but it is only made available for the original theatrical cut of the film. (Dolby Atmos Audio Rating: 88/100)
Perhaps to the shock and dismay of everyone, Warner Bros. has seen fit to celebrate the film's 50th anniversary on 4K Ultra HD with only the commentary tracks while exorcising the legacy bonus features of previous releases to the streaming heavens. So, owners of the Blu-ray editions will want to hold on to their copies a while longer while others should definitely redeem that digital code.
Theatrical Cut Disc
- Introduction (SD, 2 min) by William Friedkin
- Audio Commentary with William Friedkin
- Audio Commentary by William Peter Blatty with sound effects tests
Director's Cut Disc
- Audio Commentary with William Friedkin
By contemporary horror standards, William Friedkin's The Exorcist is arguably tame and perhaps boring for some of today's younger moviegoers. However, very few horror films have left such an indelible cultural impact as this supernatural shocker, and frankly, it is a horror masterpiece that tackles more than just a simple tale of good versus evil, rightfully earning its place in cinema and our collective consciousness. Celebrating its 50th Anniversary, Warner Bros. unleashes Friedkin's seminal horror classic on 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray with a stunningly beautiful HDR10 video and a terrifyingly effective Dolby Atmos soundtrack, making this the best the film has ever looked on any format. Although the lackluster assortment of bonus features will make most hesitant to purchase, the UHD edition is nonetheless Highly Recommended for the massive improvement in the audio and video department.
All disc reviews at High-Def Digest are completed using the best consumer HD home theater products currently on the market. More about the gear used for this review.
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