Love it or hate it, the original "Blair Witch Project" was a remarkable feat of marketing - turning a small story about three kids who get lost in the woods into one of the most successful independent features of all time. Either people loved it, or hated its dizzying visuals, but there were enough people to easily drive the film over 100 million dollars. Personally, I really liked the film a great deal. I thought the three actors were excellent and believable - even impressive for their first real roles. The mixture of black and white and rather cheap camera use also make for an effectively spooky atmosphere as the woods looked cold and ominous.
And that was all there was, except for that eerie low rumbling sound, were the sounds of the environment around them and their voices. There was no metal soundtrack and like anything, silence can sometimes be the most effective scare. Obviously, there were going to be additional "Blair Witch" films after the first one was hugely profitable. But, with the original directors working on a different project (they still serve as "producers" here), the film would be left up to documentary filmmaker Joe Berlinger.
I actually never got a chance to see this sequel in the theaters as it didn't last long enough after the critical reception was not terribly positive. The movie starts off rather enjoyably, as we see a series of interviews with the people of Burkittsville, Md, the small town that is now overrun with tourists hoping to catch a glimpse of any sort of "Witch" happenings. We're then introduced to the group of main characters, including a couple, a Wiccan and a goth girl, lead by Jeffrey Donovan, who is operating a "Blair Witch Hunt". They think that all of the "Blair Witch" stuff was just a movie (clips from various news outlets open the film). Yeah, right. They go into the woods and wake up to find their camp trashed and nothing much left besides their video tapes. They have no memory of the previous few hours and try to find out what happened to them.
Working with a larger budget, the filmmakers seemingly have attempted to make this a more mainstream feature. Where the first film made little (or no) use of music, "Book Of Shadows" offers a a more metal-ish soundtrack between an enjoyably creepy score by Carter Burwell. Similar to the first film, a group of unknown actors have been brought together for this feature and they're not as good as the trio of main actors who were involved in the first film. This might also be due to Dick Beebe (who also wrote the "House On Haunted Hill" remake) and Joe Berlinger's screenplay, which is okay, but has some not particularly great moments. The first film's mainly improvised dialogue was more believable. There's a few minorly scary moments throughout this sequel, but nothing like the "...all lights off.." scene after the characters have run from their tent in the original.
To put it simply, "Blair Witch 2" isn't as entertaining or scary as the original feature. And, at the same time, although I didn't feel it was successful (or, as good as it could have been), I ended up feeling simply dissapointed in the film rather than hating it. I simply wish that the filmmakers had continued with the style that the first film used in both plot and dialogue as well as look rather than attempting to make a slicker, more "Hollywood" film.
VIDEO: "Blair Witch 2" is very well presented by Artisan in the film's original 1.85:1 aspect ratio (although the very begining is presented in a "square", like a documentary). Sharpness and detail are generally very good, even with the film's sometimes mixed use of film styles (much of it is shot in 35mm, although some pieces of the film are shot on video).
Flaws seemed pretty minor, at most. I noticed a couple of instances of print flaws in the form of a couple of speckles, but overall, the image seemed free of such problems. Pixelation and shimmering were also not apparent in the presentation, either.
Colors were nicely presented as well, looking vibrant and bold at times without any noticable flaws. Artisan occasionally delivers a somewhat average presentation occasionally, but they often do fine work and "BW2" looks very good.
SOUND: The audio for "Blair Witch 2" is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 and with the opportunities provided, the audio generally tries to attempt to do what the filmmakers couldn't do with the limited budget of the first picture. Still, I think the minimal audio of the first film worked as well in its own way. Anyways, although there are scenes throughout "Book Of Shadows" that are mainly dialogue-driven and feature not much more, there's a number of more intense sequences throughout the film that make effective use of the surrounds for creepy noises or more agressive, haunting sound effects.
Elsewhere, Burwell's entertaining score sounds strong and full, and the uneffective metal/hard rock elements of the soundtrack sound enveloping, as well. Dialogue is clear and easily heard, with no issues in terms of sounding harsh or thin.
MENUS: As usual, Artisan provides excellent menus. An animated clip leads us into the main menu, which is animated and provides the score in the background. Sub-menus are also very nicely done.
Commentary: This is a commentary from director Joe Berlinger, who certainly had a big task trying to live up to the hype after the success of the first feature. And, as such, the majority of the commentary has the director discussing - in very interesting details - his thoughts about the process of making the film. What's most interesting to listen to though, is Berlinger talk about his vision of what the final film should have been and what the studio wanted the film to be, as well as his opinions and feelings about what actually ended up in the final cut. Berlinger seems more of the "less-is-more" school in terms of what you see where the studio wanted more. It's unfortunate, because what Berlinger talks about here is what I would have liked to have seen the film be.
As the film was the first time for the director to direct a feature film and the actors to act in a feature film, Berlinger has quite a bit to discuss as there were a lot of obstacles for him to overcome, including trying to finish the film up to only a couple of weeks before release and having to re-shoot/film additional scenes with little time left. It's a very good commentary and one of the better ones I've listened to lately, as Berlinger gives a very detailed discussion of his experiences working on the film, both positive and negative.
Commentary Two: This is a scene-specific commentary from composer Carter Burwell, who some may be familiar with from his work on many of the Coen Brothers movies. He really doesn't seem to talk too much at all throughout this track and I almost would have liked some sort of direction to skip to another chapter where the commentary would start again. I found a couple of minor bits of discussion from Burwell about his thoughts on providing the score, but the great majority of this track simply plays the film in Dolby 2.0, with no comments. It would have been nice if Artisan provided the scenes with Burwell's commentary on their own so viewers didn't have to go looking for them.
DVD_ROM: There are several DVD-ROM extras included, although according to the press-release, these features will be up and running on the DVDs street date - March 13, 2000. These features include deleted scenes, viewable comic book, never-before-seen trailer script-to-screen viewer and more.
The Secret Of Esrever: I'm sorry, and maybe I'm just of the mind-set that DVD watching shouldn't require this much work. The "Secret Of Esrever" revolves around watching a featurette that tells the viewer about hidden images that are located in the movie. Of course, Esrever is Reverse backwards, so at the end of the featurette you have to rewind the featurette and letters at the bottom of the screen make up clues when played in reverse. But, if you wait till the feature completes, it goes back to the main menu after its over so if you want to do this, then make sure you're ready with the remote as its ending.
Also: Cast and Crew bios, production notes.
CD Soundtrack: Flip over the DVD and you'll find the CD with music from the movie. It inlcudes 3 songs by Godhead (as well as a live performance from them at the end of the CD), Steaknife and Tony Iomini as well as the full "Book Of Shadows" score by Carter Burwell. I skipped through this CD in both my DVD player and portable CD player and everything seemed to work fine. There is a note though on the back that says that this may not play in all players and may cause damage to in-dash car audio systems.
Positive: Artisan provides good audio/video quality as well as a couple of solid extras. A DVD "first" with the CD soundtrack on the other side of the DVD also is great for those who enjoyed Burwell's score.
Negative: The film itself is a dissapointment, and Berlinger's commentary is informative as to maybe what may have gone wrong.
The Film * 1/2(out of ****)
Video 90/A- = (360/400 possible points)
Audio: 91/A = (364/400 possible points)
Extras: 85/B = (255/300 possible points)
Menus: 91/A = (181/200 possible points)
Value: 85/B = (255/300 possible points)
FILM GRADE: * 1/2(out of ****)
DVD GRADE: B