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the two Exorcist prequels


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#1 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 24 November 2007 - 01:38 AM

Not very often that the same DP has to shoot the same scene twice for two different directors. There is a simple dialogue scene in an office early on, lit for sunset by Storaro. It's interesting to see the differences.

First off, the DVD (and brief theatrical run by a print made off of the HD-D5 home video master) of "Dominion" (original Paul Schrader version) is an odd aspect ratio -- I guess it's supposed to be the full-frame transfer of the 3-perf Univisium frame, but it's something like 1.9 : 1, not 2:1. Close enough I guess.

The Renny Harlin version, shot second, was released in 2.40, and the DVD is letterboxed likewise. It was digitally-timed by Storaro actually (his first D.I. I think), with Harlin's input, and has a slightly "ENR" look added, and an overall mustard-yellow patina to many scenes.

I don't know who timed the "Dominion" version but it's a bit low-contrast at times.

The staging & dialogue of the two versions are slightly different, with everyone remaining standing in the Harlin staging. Here are some examples from the two versions:

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The "Dominion" set was shot on location (real palm trees in the distance, and in another angle, a sunny porch in the background) whereas I think the "Exorcist: The Beginning" room was recreated on a soundstage, judging from the whited-out background with plants dressed in front of it.
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#2 Jonathan Bowerbank

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Posted 24 November 2007 - 02:22 AM

I'd seen "Dominion" and really liked it, except for the very weak ending, IMO. Would you recommend giving "The Beginning" a look?

Not sure if I'm a fan of the ENR look in this instance, and that green is quite sickly, not something you would expect from Storaro. Is it AT ALL possible that the studio encouraged this look to go along with current glossy horror film conventions?
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#3 Satsuki Murashige

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Posted 24 November 2007 - 05:33 AM

... the DVD (and brief theatrical run by a print made off of the HD-D5 home video master) of "Dominion" (original Paul Schrader version) is an odd aspect ratio -- I guess it's supposed to be the full-frame transfer of the 3-perf Univisium frame, but it's something like 1.9 : 1, not 2:1. Close enough I guess.

The "Dominion" frames have a bit of extra headroom, no? It looks like the ceiling fans in frames #1 and #5 were meant to be cropped out -- as is, they're just on the edge of the frame which is kinda weird.

Does Univisium have a specific gate dimension as well, or does Storaro have the lab/telecine colorist crop the 3 perf frame to 2:1? All kinds of possibilities for things to go wrong in the latter, though I guess using the same lab people for every project over the years would mitigate that.

Of the four series of frames, I prefer the composition and lighting of the "Renny Harlin" frames in series #1 and #2, and the "Dominion" frames in series #3 and #4. The Renny Harlin version seems more slick, using a much wider range of focal lengths and colors, both in distracting ways. In series #4, the Harlin frame is significantly more off-axis than Shrader's frame, which makes me think that it was shot with two cameras. I think this leads to a more conventional look by today's standards. The Shrader version looks like an older film, more conservative lens selection, harder, more-sidey lighting (almost theatrical in series #3), slightly looser framing -- my mind thinks "Apocalypse Now" (not surprising, I guess!). It's hard for me to explain why, but it feels like there's some soul there. By comparison, the Harlin frames look like they could have come from the latest "X-Men" film.

Edited by Satsuki Murashige, 24 November 2007 - 05:38 AM.

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#4 Michael Most

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Posted 24 November 2007 - 11:29 AM

The staging & dialogue of the two versions are slightly different, with everyone remaining standing in the Harlin staging. Here are some examples from the two versions:
The "Dominion" set was shot on location (real palm trees in the distance, and in another angle, a sunny porch in the background) whereas I think the "Exorcist: The Beginning" room was recreated on a soundstage, judging from the whited-out background with plants dressed in front of it.


Well, as David knows, I'm pretty knowledgeable about the Schrader picture (I was the original VFX supervisor), a bit less so about the Harlin version (Ariel Shaw did that one, but we're friends, so I'm pretty familiar with what went on).

For the Schrader movie (released as "Dominion," although the original working title was "Exorcist: The Beginning"), the scene pictured was indeed shot on location in Morocco. All of the Harlin picture was shot in Rome, primarily on stages. The framing (intended to be, as David mentioned, 2:1) and timing of "Dominion" were done by Morgan Creek without Vittorio's input (at least to my knowledge, and I would have been told) and was done via a physical assembly of the 3 perf negative and a telecine transfer to 24p HD video. The film release was a tape to film transfer from the video master. Timing differences are, I think, fairly indicative of the value of having the original creative team in place for that step, particularly when dealing with a very stylistic visualist like Vittorio. The Harlin picture was finished via a DI done at Technicolor in Burbank with Vittorio's supervision, and thus the harsher contrast and less reddish tone of the scene is not surprising, at least to me. It is also indicative of the tendency of video colorists to attempt to hold all detail in the image, even at the expense of a flatter image - where most good DI colorists, having worked more directly with cinematographers as well as working in a darker room with a larger screen, tend to not be afraid of contrast and even the possible loss of detail which might not be important to the overall image.

As far as shooting style, Paul wanted his movie to have a period picture feel, so there was generally less camera movement and wider lenses. This is particularly noticeable in the location footage, which has a number of "epic" type compositions, and long, flowing crane moves. The color pallette was something that was worked up by Paul and Vittorio in preproduction, and was very specific in its progression, especially towards the end of the picture. I don't think the final transfer really plays it quite as intended, though, at least not the copies I've seen.
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#5 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 24 November 2007 - 12:17 PM

I didn't post them, but the Harlin version also has more "chocker" close-ups in it. I think in general, it was going for more of a conventional "horror" feeling, almost more like a "Seven". The directing is more modern, i.e. more cuts, more close-ups. You can say that the Schrader style is either more conventional or more classical, depending on your tastes.

The major difference in timing comes in the flashback to the Nazi executions in the village, the Harlin version extremely desaturated for a nearly b&w skip-bleach look. The Schrader version is timed normally. Again, this may be due to a lack of supervision by Storaro.

There are things to like about both versions and things to dislike. The Harlin version has a lot more visual effects and some of them give the movie a somewhat stylized "The Mummy" feeling (matte paintings, etc.) There are more traditional "scares" in the Harlin version.

I always assumed that Storaro had 2:1 gates installed in his 3-perf cameras, but now, considering the problems that would cause with hairs in the gate, etc. if your gate was exactly the same area as the projected image area, I'm wondering if either he just has a normal 3-perf full aperture gate (1.78 : 1) with a 2:1 groundglass, or has a slightly smaller 2:1 GG frame inside of a 2:1 gate.

It's interesting that Storaro worked with Harlin to time that version, yet he couldn't convince Harlin I guess to compose and release it in 2:1.
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#6 Tim Partridge

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Posted 24 November 2007 - 12:33 PM

Fascinating stuff.

I don't know which I prefer cinematography wise, though neither is particularly sloppy, let's face it! I don't care for the mustard yellow in the Harlin sequence, but the contrast is very exciting.

The art direction of the two pieces are kind of polar opposites too. I kind of feel that the Harlin stuff benefits from having total studio-bound control of everything in the frame, especially in the first Harlin image. It hleps the expressionist lighting approach. The sets/art direction in the Schrader images look more functional, as though they have dressed an already exisiting building interior, but the money shots don't seem to be apparent unless a window is in frame. You also don't get that wonderful proxemic distance between the desk and the window in the Schrader master that you do in the Harlin master. www.imdb.com lists John Graysmark as the designer of the Scharder movie, renowned for his resourcefulness concerning big location shoots.

Michael,

Having been present throughout production of the Schrader movie, do you think Mr. Storaro had intended his footage for this version of the movie to have it's contrast heightened (DI ENR) in post? There is an ever so slight feeling of this photography being unfinished, especially as, like you have stated, Mr. Storaro is such a well known visual stylist. It doesn't convince as naturalistic and it's not bold like the Harlin shots.

There's something very reminiscent of the Boorman/Fraker shot EXORCIST 2 in the Harlin images.
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#7 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 24 November 2007 - 12:52 PM

Having sat through the whole "Dominion" movie in a theater in that print made from the HD-D5 home video master, it's clear that Storaro intended the movie to have more contrast.

In fact, Caleb Deschanel was brought in by Storaro & Schrader at the last minute to see if he could make the print any better at a Los Angeles lab and he tested something like ENR and said he got some reasonably rich blacks & contrast that way, but Morgan Creek opted to not spend the money. The decision to make the movie available on DVD and on a print was sort of last-minute on their part and I think they wanted to keep their costs to a minimum.

I actually had to make the blacks slightly blacker in my frame grabs from "Dominion" because the DVD is on the light & low-con side, which sort of kills the horror mood.

Now on the other hand, the 2K D.I. on the Harlin version wasn't that great either (technically) and I'm not surprised Storaro opted to go back to an optical printer blow-up for "Caravaggio".

The Schrader version feels a bit lower in budget, as if Harlin was given extra money to expand scenes. But the Schrader version also has a nicer feeling for the desert location, nice late afternoon shots, a more natural feeling, whereas the Harlin version has a stylized soundstagey feeling.

I expected to like the Schrader version more... but there is a somewhat "lazy" feeling to the directing, it's hard to describe, a certain lack of vigor and intensity that Harlin brings to the movie, even though it gets more cartoonish as a result. I can see why Morgan Creek was disappointed by the Schrader version but the real problem was the script, which had interesting ideas but was under-developed and not a satisfying movie experience, so Harlin's attempt ultimately wasn't much better.
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#8 Dan Goulder

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Posted 24 November 2007 - 04:05 PM

I wouldn't overlook the difference in degree of audio post between the two movies. The sound design was given minimal treatment in the Schraeder version, while no expense was spared when it came to the Harlin version. Audio can be every bit as important as picture when it comes to overall impact.
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#9 Michael Most

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Posted 26 November 2007 - 02:42 PM

www.imdb.com lists John Graysmark as the designer of the Scharder movie, renowned for his resourcefulness concerning big location shoots.


John took ill shortly after the production moved to Rome (following the Morocco location work) and did not really finish the picture, although all of the sets were his designs.

Having been present throughout production of the Schrader movie, do you think Mr. Storaro had intended his footage for this version of the movie to have it's contrast heightened (DI ENR) in post? There is an ever so slight feeling of this photography being unfinished, especially as, like you have stated, Mr. Storaro is such a well known visual stylist. It doesn't convince as naturalistic and it's not bold like the Harlin shots.


In a word, yes. In fact, the dailies, done at Technicolor Rome with Vittorio's timer providing some degree of supervision, at least for the PAL version we looked at each night, had considerably more contrast, to my recollection. As did the video tap during shooting.
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#10 Michael Most

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Posted 26 November 2007 - 02:52 PM

The Schrader version feels a bit lower in budget, as if Harlin was given extra money to expand scenes. But the Schrader version also has a nicer feeling for the desert location, nice late afternoon shots, a more natural feeling, whereas the Harlin version has a stylized soundstagey feeling.


It was a lower budget. About $15 miilion as I recall, but not all of that was production. The VFX budget, for instance, went from about $1 million for Paul's version to over $5 million for Renny's.

I expected to like the Schrader version more... but there is a somewhat "lazy" feeling to the directing, it's hard to describe, a certain lack of vigor and intensity that Harlin brings to the movie, even though it gets more cartoonish as a result. I can see why Morgan Creek was disappointed by the Schrader version but the real problem was the script, which had interesting ideas but was under-developed and not a satisfying movie experience, so Harlin's attempt ultimately wasn't much better.


As much as I personally happen to like and respect Paul Schrader - and I do (he's one of the smartest men I've ever met) - I wouldn't necessarily disagree with you on either count (hope Paul's not reading this.....). Although as I mentioned before, the "lazy" feeling you mention was largely by design, a kind of against the grain approach to the horror genre's "normal" conventions. So though it was intentional, whether it works or not is another issue entirely.
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#11 Tim Partridge

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Posted 26 November 2007 - 03:07 PM

Michael,

Many thanks for the information about the timing and also Mr. Graysmark's contributions to the movie. Thanks to David too!

After the reputation Mr. Schraeder gained as a "horror director" on CAT PEOPLE, I find it amazing that we actually got to see his Exorcist prequel in a somewhat completed form. Still, I'll take the work of a good writer playing uninspired director over a Renny Harlin cartoon (imagine an Exorcist movie scored by Trevor Rabin, yeesh)...
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