After last year's abysmal 'Legion' and now 'Priest,' it's starting to become fairly clear director Scott Stewart has a thing for the wild-west theme. In the former supernatural thriller, we see Paul Bettany cut off his wings and battle a legion of angels in an 'Alamo'-like conflict to save humanity. This time around, filmmakers repurpose John Ford's 'The Searchers' to have Bettany don a crucifix tattooed onto his face and battle a horde of animalistic vampires to save humanity. Or maybe Stewart just has a thing for reimaging John Wayne figures as Chuck Norris types caught in apocalyptic warzones. In either case, where's our Bettany to save humanity from watching this soulless garbage?
Not to be mistaken for a movie with subtlety — or any refined craftsmanship for that matter — 'Priest' opens with an animated prologue and an unknown narrator spilling the beans. The mysterious voice soon disappears after the credits — along with most of the best talent — but not before explaining that the plot takes place in an alternate human history where vampires run rampant and the Church has an industrialized, Orwellian rule over the last remaining humans. On one level, the segment reminds audiences they're watching a sci-fi fantasy flick based on a South Korean graphic novel series. But on another and arguably more troubling level, the intro reveals filmmakers give way to methods and techniques only mediocre hack writers can appreciate. And the uninspired dialogue and generic, second-rate drama which follows only seems to support its shoddiness.
To be fair, the movie does come with some level of polish and a bit of panache, mostly by way of the dispirited, funereal photography of Don Burgess, who also worked on such features as 'Cast Away,' 'Enchanted,' and 'The Book of Eli,.' Then again, he was also involved with such disasters as 'Richie Rich,' 'Christmas with the Kranks' and 'My Super Ex-Girlfriend.' So maybe that isn't saying much either. Still, 'Priest' seems to have put most of its creative effort on its looks and design than on anything else. We even get a few shots reminiscent of an otherworldly Monument Valley just for good measure and a cool vampire villain in the conveniently-named Black Hat (Karl Urban), so it's a shame that the script from newcomer Cory Goodman doesn't quite measure up.
Bettany's unfortunate, phony performance as a poor-man's Man with No Name is matched with Cam Gigandet's even cheaper, confused portrayal of a sheriff far too young for his own britches. He's actually expected to utter lines like "I know the look a man gets when he likes killing" — or something to that ridiculous effect as if he's experienced in such matters — yet he acts like a wuss when it comes to some real fighting. Anyhow, while on the pursuit of the vampires who kidnapped Bettany's niece (Lily Collins), the two are later joined by Maggie Q as a lovelorn priest. And Bettany is inexplicably the object of her affection (that's not a spoiler as it's pretty obvious), a dramatic device so horribly tacked on that it sleazy cheapness sends more shivers down your spine than the monsters, which brings us to our next point.
In this new millennium, what has become of the mystique and seductiveness which once attracted us to vampires? It's all but nearly disappeared, if not completely ruined by a new generation of writers and fans. It is one thing to have frustrating melodramas like 'Twilight' and 'The Vampire Diaries' practically trash and castrate their appeal into impotent whiners. But here, 'Priest' proudly displays crazed, slobbering creatures of the night which require rabies shots just for looking at them. This makes the idea of familiars or anyone wanting to be turned into one of them utterly absurd. And to that extent, makes the movie as a whole into a preposterous, meager mess that's best soon forgotten and will hopefully not return from the dead as the open-ended conclusion promises.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment offers an exclusive unrated version of 'Priest' to Blu-ray 3D. The difference is a 90-second scene before the animated intro. Housed in a transparent keepcase and glossy slipcover, the Region Free, BD50 disc kicks things off with a Blu-ray promo followed by a series of skippable previews of other movies available on 3D. Afterwards, we have the standard menu selection where viewers have the option to watch in 2D.
Blessing Blu-ray shelves day-and-date with other format versions of 'Priest' is a good and generally satisfying 1080p/MVC encode (2.40:1). My thoughts on the quality of this 3D presentation remain mostly the same as those for its 2D counterpart, so I'll repeat the portions which are relevant.
The picture is deliberately washed out and drained of color for creating an atmosphere of gloom and of living in a lifeless terrain. Although the transfer displays a steely-blue tint with deep, dark shadows, primaries, mostly red, remain well-saturated and cleanly-rendered while facial complexions appear appropriate to the fictionalized arid climate. The over-exposure in the photography does little to ruin overall definition as distinct lines on the clothing of priests, the unusual architecture of the vampire hives and the interior of Black Hat's train car are plainly perceptible. The faces of actors, particularly in close-ups, reveal a great deal of lifelike texture and minor blemishes.
Now then, while a good chunk of the picture quality continues to impress, it is not without some drawbacks, most of which is due to the deliberate cinematography with very oppressive shadows. The movie was originally filmed in 2D and converted to 3D in post-production without altering much in the photography. So while wearing a pair of glasses which dim and darken the image further, nighttime and poorly-lit sequences suffer significant detail loss. The transfer seems to flatten somewhat during these moments as well, and sadly, a great deal of the movie takes place inside, dreadfully-dark interiors. Although depth remains quite perceptible, it's all for naught when much of the background info simply fades into obscurity.
The best scenes are usually the exteriors with bright lighting, of which, unfortunately, there are not too many of. Nonetheless, these sequences display a great deal of depth and dimension as foreground objects show a terrific sense of distance from the background. Crosstalk is very minimal with hardly any visible ghosting effects throughout, which is rather surprising but of course welcoming. Separation within the image, or at least when viewers can appreciate it best, is excellent, creating a great illusion of three-dimensional space. Visual gimmicks are used in several spots and work rather nicely without feeling like a cheap photography device. All in all, it's not a terrible 3D transfer, but we've definitely seen better.
The audio is the same as the 2D presentation, so my thoughts remain unchanged.
'Priest' also arrives with a highly-active DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack, full of explosive action and vampire mayhem. The rears are almost always employed with ambient effects like the sound of wind blowing or the random sounds of the walled-off city. Outside, in the desert townships, listeners continue to be immersed with the discrete clangs and rings of objects moving with the wind. Although these moments do provide a nice sense of envelopment, these atmospherics are easily localized and tend to draw attention to themselves by being overtly loud. This is made more apparent during sequences of action when the screen suddenly erupts into crazed fits of pandemonium. The soundfield is often deafening and takes a great deal away from the events in the front.
Dynamic range, however, doesn't falter or distort, providing much of that activity with strong clarity detail. Only, the upper frequencies seem rather earsplitting when listening at a reasonable volume. The low-end is aggressive and forceful, giving gunshots and explosion an authoritative presence. Dialogue is generally well delivered in the center, but there are times when conversations are difficult to make out or drowned out by activity in the rest of the lossless mix. The soundstage displays good channel separation, but again, directionality and movement fail to convince. All things considered, this is not an awful high-rez track, but it's not entirely satisfying either.
This same set of special features can also be found on the 2D releases.
From director Scott Stewart, 'Priest' is a forgettable sci-fi fantasy about an alternate human history filled with ravenous vampires and superhero priests. Paul Bettany stars in this convoluted, out-of-this-world reimaging of John Ford's 'The Searchers,' and the end product is a sadly misguided soul quest that runs as blindly rampant as the monstrous bloodsuckers it tries to portray. The 3D Blu-ray comes with a good but somewhat troubled video presentation and the audio remains unchanged. Combined supplements are entertaining and worth a watch for fans, but the overall package only makes for a good rental.
Portions of this review also appear in our coverage of Dunkirk on Blu-ray. This post features unique Vital Disc Stats, Video, and Final Thoughts sections.