Of all the films released in 1999, a truly amazing year in cinema, it's amazing to think that one of the more influential films, one that became a part of popular culture, a borderline phenomena, was only made for $60,000. In a year that saw 'The Matrix' revolutionize the way films were made, an entire genre (or subgenre) was created, taking the idea of a mockumentary and turning it into an account of horror, a genre that has since been populated with some very talked about, very successful films, most recently 'Paranormal Activity' and 'The Fourth Kind.' Two handheld cameras, three "actors," a fistful of dollars, and a clever idea, did what it could to change cinema, or, at least, how we look at cinema.
Of course, the film I'm referring to is 'The Blair Witch Project,' a film that wasn't ruined by a cash-in sequel, leaving its legacy in the future films it would inspire.
In October of 1994, three student filmmakers entered the woods of Burkittsville, Maryland, shooting a documentary on the Blair Witch. A year later, their footage was found. The trio (Heather Donahue, Joshua Leonard, Michael Williams), using their real names, had enough food, and time on their schedules, for a couple days of wandering and shooting in the woods, though through mishap or fate, they ended up capturing the very subject they were seeking. At first, they didn't believe it was real, but their opinions change soon enough.
I'll admit, I've never quite understood how this particular film became as famous and recognizable as it did. Yes, I do get the fact that the advertising and gimmick of the film were quite ingenious, but the idea that anyone was scared by what was captured on film here seems somewhat ridiculous to me. I get that the idea of this being real makes it more "scary" than it would be if one went into it knowing it were a clever hoax, but there's not one moment where my stomach leapt into my chest, or my heart plummeted to my bowels. Perhaps the main reason for this is the effectiveness of similar films in recent years, taking the ball and running with it, but I'd like to think that word of mouth, and the audience effect, are what made this film what it is.
The premise is intelligent, at the very least, and the manner in which the film is edited is quite effective. The acting? Hammy as it may be, there are moments where Heather can get a rise out of the audience, due to how very well she believes she is going to be killed. Joshua and Michael struck me as much less believable.
A fun mixture of black and white and color footage helps lend the film atmosphere, which isn't reliant on jump scares (something I truly loathe), and the way the film makes you feel like you're behind the camera is quite effective, more so than any of this film's imitators, which often leave a camera in place to capture footage. You're there with these characters, and that may be what made this film so successful. You don't have to be knowledgeable about horror films, nature, or any urban legend; you're thrown in the middle of a mess, and left to try to figure it out.
'The Blair Witch Project' may be one of the most financially successful films in history, but it's far from a truly good movie, or good horror. One could argue it has aged poorly in the eleven years since its release, but much like 'The Sixth Sense,' released the same year, one could argue that catching lightning in a bottle happens, rarely, and shouldn't be attempted again. Leave good enough alone. 'Blair Witch' fooled many in 1999, but it's very unlikely to fool anyone today, for more reasons than its success.
The Disc: Vital Stats
'The Blair Witch Project' is housed on a BD-25 disc that is reportedly Region Free (A/B/C), packaged in a standard cut-out eco-case. The disc art is no longer film specific, as Lionsgate has begun labeling discs in the same manner that Paramount has: a grey disc, with the film title and specifics in regular text. There are two pre-menu trailers, both for groupings of catalog Lionsgate titles.
This title was released five weeks early, exclusively at Best Buy stores across the country, along with seven other Lionsgate catalog titles (and a few titles from other companies). There will be no difference between releases once the actual street date hits.
Hoo boy, I don't know if I'm ready for the arguing and controversy that any score provided to 'The Blair Witch Project' will bring. This amateur-esque video is meant to look sloppy, and is limited due to the actual cameras used. Can one give it a high score due to it being true to its source, or is one stuck telling it like it is, in comparison to other Blu-ray releases?
Should one even bother upgrading to Blu-ray on 'The Blair Witch Project?' That is the question. Lionsgate gives the highly successful, hugely profitable film an AVC MPEG-4 encode at 1080p, in the theatrical 1.33:1 ratio, and presents it in as true a fashion as one could present this particular film. Grain levels are untouched, there is no apparent edge enhancement or other tinkering, and artifacts and banding are not present, which may be the key selling points to discussing this film. However, horrible chroma fringing in any color sequence, ridiculously massive stairstepping and jaggedness, to the point that straight lines truly don't exist, and camerawork so shaky that it is often tough to focus on anything keep this film in check. Contrast is flimsy, black levels are poor, and shadow detail non-existant. There are some random video mishaps, lines, blurs, that grow in number as the film progresses, but they appear to be intentional.
Yes, 'The Blair Witch Project' looks as good as it could, and yes, that still means it looks awful. I know I'm going to catch flak for any score given to the video, but what you see is what you get.
So, let's further the whole '28 Days Later' argument, as to why some films, regardless of being filmed in SD video or other poor methods, belong on Blu-ray. There's more to a release than just how it looks, and audio is equally as important to a film presentation (and the extra space can eliminate artifacting, creating a cleaner picture, let's not forget that!).
Well...'The Blair Witch Project' is given a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix that is...disappointing, perhaps, but again, it;s extremely limited by its source. The intentions of the film, to lure people into believing it is real footage, don't lend themselves to a grand audio experience, and as such, there are plenty of random mishaps to be found within. Dialogue is clear for the most part, but, logically, there are numerous lines that are muffled, too far away to be discerned clearly, and volume levels vary appropriately based off distances to each camera. Dialogue on top of dialogue, with numerous people talking at once, is actually quite clear. The audio from each respective camera holder is perfectly clear, though screams do blare awfully. There's plenty of random feedback, giving the film a cheap, amateur feel, which is a plus, but with below average separation, no bass whatsoever (yeah, the menu rocking the house is a bit of a mislead), this is one film that will never sparkles in any format, in look or sound. That doesn't mean it isn't an upgrade from previous formats, but a glass broken in half can't hold the same amount of water it used to.
'The Blair Witch Project' is an interesting film, to be sure, and it's important in the evolution of horror films. One day, it may go down as this generation's 'Night of the Living Dead.' As it stands, though, it finds itself dated amazingly fast, and dramatically outdone by those that have followed in its footsteps. The Blu-ray release will always be a curious one, as this film doesn't even have the great audio that made '28 Days Later' a huge upgrade. Yes, this is a step up from DVD quality, but don't expect much. This one's for horror fans only, who can appreciate the film for what it is.