Top positive review
The original and - to my mind - definitive version of the prequel
on August 25, 2006
It's not often that you get the chance to watch two different versions of the same film, especially one associated with a landmark motion picture such as The Exorcist. I was a little more impressed than most with the theatrical release (Renny Harlin's version), Exorcist: The Beginning, but - once I learned of its existence - I yearned to see the first version of the prequel directed by Paul Schrader. At one point, there were rumors that both would be released together on DVD, but it turned out that we had to wait a little longer to see the prequel that the bobbing heads in Hollywood rejected. Apparently, they didn't think Schrader's film had a very strong horror aspect to it, and so it was that this original version of the prequel was buried while a new director came in and made a completely different movie using most but not all of the original actors. For the life of me, I can't figure out what the stuffed shirts in Hollywood were thinking, as I find Dominion to be clearly superior to Exorcist: The Beginning - even when it comes to the horror aspects.
Certainly, in terms of relating Father Merrin's story to the events chronicled in The Exorcist, Dominion is a much stronger film. Exorcist: The Prequel pretty much mucked up the whole Father Merrin story, in my opinion, particularly with his relationship with the female doctor at the camp site in East Africa. Dominion also deals much more forcibly with the guilt that drove Merrin away from the priesthood and all but destroyed his faith; in fact, that life-changing episode plays an integral part in the final showdown between priest and demon. And while we're talking about the demon, he's a much more forcible, impressive presence here than in the other prequel. As for the final confrontation, it may not have the supposed "scares" of Harlin's version, but it is a much more palpable, personal confrontation that frames the remainder of Father Merrin's life (culminating, of course, in The Exorcist).
The basic storyline is the same in both sequels, so Exorcist fans should definitely watch both films and make up their own minds as to which is better. I just think Dominion is a tighter, more substantial, better paced film than Exorcist: The Beginning. In Harlin's film, it seemed like we spent interminable hours pacing around in the dark shadows of the hospital. And it's not like Dominion doesn't have any frightening scenes to show you; the demon is much more impressive, the ritual murder inside the church is a clear win for Dominion, and even the human-inspired murders seem more visceral to my eyes. As far as I'm concerned, Paul Schrader's Dominion is the true prequel to The Exorcist.