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In an alternate future, the centuries-long war between vampires and humans has caused the Church to create specially trained assassins who could take out the bloodsuckers. Eventually, humanity wins and the vampires are left in tightly guarded reservations. With the war won, the assassins have no further use in the now Church-ruled society, and are told to keep quiet. That is, until one of the assassins named Priest (Paul Bettany) learns of his niece's kidnapping by a group of vampires. Defying Church order, Priest heads off to save his niece with a couple of companions in tow.
Well here we are again. Director Scott Stewart brought us 2010's religious action-fest LEGION starring Paul Bettany, and now Stewart has his very loose take on the Korean comic book series Priest again starring Paul Bettany. PRIEST scored a modest $14.9 million opening, debuting in fourth place but dropped out of the top ten after four weeks. Was it due to the fact that the likes of THOR, and X-MEN were swinging the hammer, or was it because folks are still into the TWILIGHT vampires? No, it's actually because the film just didn't gel together all that well.
Basically being dumped into an ocean of "me too" vampire movies, PRIEST had its work cut out for differentiating itself from the rest of the pack. Thankfully, the film combines a number of influences to create a slick-looking sci-fi horror western (yes, you read that right) with smidgens of BLADE RUNNER, ALIENS, THE SEARCHERS and others. Between the futuristic city with its snazzy motorbikes contrasted by the inhospitable blinding desert outside, there's certainly enough polish applied to making the film have the required look to separate itself from the TWILIGHTs, which is a necessary thing these days.
Acting-wise, the character of Priest seems to have a lot in common with Clint Eastwood's iconic Man With No Name (again with the nods to other films). Bettany shares the staring and monotone delivery of Leone's creation, and for me that's pretty damn cool. Granted, it's not the same as having a poncho and chewing a cigar with an unshaven face, but it gets the job done. The guy's lean physical presence also helps with the fight sequences, since it's not about the run and gun, but rather a mixture of martial arts and guns akin to THE MATRIX, which are a surefire fix for the slow-motion junkies out there. As for the antagonist of the film, Karl Urban's portrayal of Black Hat, leader of the group of vampires who kidnapped Lucy, is fun but ultimately generic-feeling. Then again, you could say the same thing about the rest of the characters.
The problems with PRIEST begin with the script. It's just not a good one: Characters aren't fleshed out as well as they should be, dialogue is clichéd, the action sequences (despite being snazzy) boil down to feeling like we really have seen them before, and ultimately the story is sacrificed for those said action sequences. Basically, we get a "good vs. evil" story that's predictable as it comes. Also, for a film about vampires, I would've expected more in the bloodshed department from the theatrical cut (the unrated cut is only on Blu-Ray). Again, it's a sign that the film was "made by committee" for the almighty dollar, snubbing fans who want their gory vampire flicks.
PRIEST is a letdown. While it boasted some great visuals and some great potential, the end result on the screen is not what you'd expect or want in this mash-up of genres. The characters needed a kick in their development asses and didn't get it, and neither did the story. The action sequences, while fun for a while, like the film itself got boring rather quickly (which is surprising given the film's 90 minute runtime). Fans of the comic will glean more enjoyment from the film than others, and action/horror fans may still enjoy it as well, but ultimately it's a case of waste that shouldn't have been.
Video: Presented in 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen, PRIEST looks quite sharp on DVD. The colours are consistent throughout the film, in spite of the blue tint. Blacks and shadows are good, with fairly good detail throughout.
Audio: The single Dolby Digital 5.1 track presents some great audio carnage while still keeping the dialogue clear and discernible. I do like the slight echoed sound of the speech in some of the more expansive areas, which helps to sell the whole thing. The score is appropriately powerful, but doesn't dominate the film.
First up is an audio commentary with director Scott Stewart, screenwriter Cory Goodman, and actors Paul Bettany and Maggie Q. This is a lively affair lead by Stewart, who seems to be pleased with what he's put on the screen. The production process is covered as well as technical challenges faced by the crew in bringing the script to life, casting, and influences on the film, as well as Stewart's struggles with the Nazi regime known as the MPAA. It`s an entertaining track, and makes up for the film's shortcomings.
Next is a set of seven deleted and extended scenes. Running about 13 minutes, these are all presented in a letterboxed 4:3 frame. In addition, the visual effects aren't included in these shots so as to present the actors "flying blind", which is fun in a weird way. Nothing really interesting other than fleshing out characters and an extended ending.
The Bloody Frontier: Creating the World of Priest is your look at the, well, look of the film. Cast and crew chime in on interviews with behind-the-scenes footage as the whole thing looks at the film's take on vampires, character designs, the sets, inspirations, shooting locations, stunts, and other visual elements.
Finally, there's Tools of the Trade: The Weapons and Vehicles. Obviously, this talks about the various vehicles and weapons found in the film with cast and crew (including bike creator Fireball Tim) once again offering up tidbits.
The Blu-Ray version of the film includes the unrated cut of the film, as well as a couple more featurettes. Strangely, the theatrical trailer isn't found on either version.
PRIEST squanders the setup and instead coasts on itself with action sequences that become ho-hum quickly, along with characters that don't get the development they require. The DVD presents some good behind-the-scenes stuff with an entertaining commentary by cast and crew, but it also makes the missed execution that much more apparent.