June 07th, 2011

How do you ruin a film like Priest?

Review/Discussion By Dan Collacott

Few people I know went rushing to see Priest 3D when it hit the cinemas in May of this year. Quickly dismissed as ‘predictable b-movie action dross’ by most critics, the film really didn't get a fair crack of the whip.

On the surface Priest has all the elements it needed to be a successful and impressive take on the bad future horror genre. It had some really good ideas, a wealth of story to cherry pick a script from and a half decent cast. Yet the end result is pretty much a disappointing mess. There is much promise in the film's opening quarter mins but beyond the 20min mark it reverts to a poorly cut, generic paint by numbers brainless action movie. It would be all to easy to dismiss Priest as another big on budget low on substance movie purely made with the aim of making money and not impressing critics!

Bad Omens

Some would say the whole thing was doomed from the start. Priest was in production for years with numerous cast and directorial changes pushing it to the fringes of the abyss. If that wasn’t bad enough then there was the obligatory ‘why don’t we try and make more money by making it 3D’ revelation from some yea-sayer in the studio funding the project. Those efforts and last minute tinkering resulted in… well a few fairly pointless 3D scenes on motorbikes… erm thanks! (Tron Legacy this aint!

To be fair even though the 3D was shoehorned in at the end and pointless - it doesn’t really harm the film in terms of how the viewer experiences it (although I am sure others would argue that point). It is also worth pointing out that the film’s cast all do a very competent job with the material at hand, Paul Bettany (as the titular Priest in question) carries on where he left off in Legion. Karl Urban (Black Hat) makes a pretty good if slightly hammy fist of the cowboy vampire bad guy. Cam Gigandet, Maggie Q and the stellar Christopher Plummer also make up a solid supporting cast…  and yet none will be remembered for those performances.

The Comics

The film is based on a series of long established Korean comics of the same name by author Min-Woo Hyung. As you would expect the story within the comic has been watered down for sake of the film, but remnants of Hyung’s highly conceptual vision of a semi-Orwellian religion obsessed bad future remains in tact. The onscreen reimagining of what vampires are and how mankind has struggled against them historically is a selling point.

The problem is the film makers have been forced to edit the story down to just 87mins when I’m sure there would have been enough material and story to make something much more epic in time and scale. In fact there is probably several hours of footage out there that hit the cutting room floor hard in the final days of post-production.

As a result, when watching Priest you can’t help but notice the fact that the entire film has been hacked to pieces. Dialogue feels stilted, character development rushed and any back-story is glossed over. Most scenes feel short or cut down or like there was some context missing or some more compelling narrative once introducing them. For example (Priestess aside) Bettany’s fellow ass-kicking priest posse actually only feature for one major scene. His side kick for most of the picture (Hicks) talks a lot of hot air about how tough he is and what he can do - but we never really see him do any of it, in fact he makes Batman’s 1960s Robin look macho by comparison.

But it sounds like I am taking the easy route here and just slagging off the film, which is not the point of this at all. For one the film’s dark future setting is wonderful and the take on the vampires and their history is as i've already said pretty darn cool. In fact the film’s concept/angle is as interesting and refreshing as the ideas presented in ‘Day Breakers’ and ‘Nightwatch’ except the makers of those films had the conviction/balls/permission to realise their vision. In all fairness though I’m sure with Priest it was just a case of two much interference and too much time spent in development hell. I’m sure the directors and writers of Priest weren't happy with the film that was actually put out.

That hasn’t stopped the studio planning a Priest 2 or at least that’s what ‘the war is only just beginning’ quote at the end suggests. I just hope if there is a second film those who fund it show more reverence to the comic and give someone who is passionate about the source material enough free-reign to do it justice!

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