Priest 3D Movie Review

There has always been Man.   There has always been Vampires.  The two races warred for centuries until the Church trained and sent Warrior Priests against the Vampires.  The humans won, now with most of humanity living in walled, pollution plagued theocratic cities and the rest eking out a living in the desert.  The vampires have been corralled to reservations, the vampire menace over…or is it?

That sums up the setting of the world of Priest; part science fiction, part steam-punk future-western, part horror, and some action thrown in.  The city sequences have the unmistakable mark of Blade Runner (then again what dystopian movie nowadays doesn’t?) while the wastelands have a certain mix of Sergio Leone and a dash of John Ford.

I’ve never read the original Korean comics by Min-Wood Hyung so I can’t judge to the accuracy to the source material.

Priest marks the second collaboration for actor Paul Bettany and director Scott Stewart (this is also his second feature).  Considering this is their second film and along with their first (Legion) also being in the religious/action/horror vein, I wonder if there will be a third…a Bettany Religi-Action Trilogy.

While I did list Stewart’s previous feature Legion as one of my 5 Worst films of 2010; my assessment boiled down to it was more of a disappointment.  Legion was filled with interesting, compelling yet many unrealized, concepts and ideas that were constrained and shoved into a far smaller film.

Priest on the other hand is in some ways an improvement over Legion as that it is a larger canvas with plenty of interesting and compelling ideas.  However it suffers the same problem as Legion in that many of them are only marginally exposed if at all.

In all fairness, the world of Priest is very interesting; these ain’t your daddy’s vampires and the idea that vampires have evolved alongside mankind as a totally separate species really hasn’t been done before.  We get glimpses of the hive/pack mentality and live style of these drooling, snarling beasts but not much is explained.  Because of the difference of these vampires to the vampires of common lore, this is one of those few cases where I’d say expose more of the creature’s biology.

The film also possess ‘familiars’; humans infected by vampire bites.  As they cannot turn into vampires themselves, they have become slightly mad and look to serve their masters.  However the Master-Slave relationship between the vampires and familiars is never really delved into and would have helped explain some elements of the film.

There are also the unavoidable religious aspects of the script; with the Church (though it never specifies which denomination) running the world in a totalitarian theocratic manner is also a great source for storytelling. However the Church lacks any great impact on the film beyond sending other Priests after Bettany’s character.  Like LegionPriest bites off a good chunk of religious meat but doesn’t really chew it.

That is the big problem with the movie when it comes to the story.  It’s not the most original storyline; in some ways you might say it’s a science fiction/horror redux of John Ford’s classic The Searchers. While the story isn’t very original, it doesn’t really flex it’s muscles too much and when it begins to; it retreats into more familiar territory.

The story has a lot of wonderful potential, but it feels wasted to a degree.

However, when watching the film I had the distinct feeling that the 87-minute film that played before me was cut down from a longer movie.  Several characters make an appearance and though it seems they might come back later they don’t.  Other times some scenes just seem to end before they are through.  And the opening feels a bit too chopped.  In terms of violence (will get to that later); yes it seems to cut away before too much is shown.

Does that mean there’s an Extended Cut lying about somewhere?  Maybe; I’d be curious to find out as it certainly feels like there was more movie to be had.

From a technical perspective the movie is competently done and certainly has some solid production values.  The sets are wonderfully built and each setting has their own distinct look and feel while maintaining the same idea of the universe.  A far more elaborate and fully rendered world than the diner of Legion.

While the story fails to dig into some really interesting material, that isn’t to say it’s poorly directed. Stewart shows himself to be a competent action director; the set pieces are well staged and shot.  The editing is also not as aggressive as some other films have been, a great benefit for actually seeing what is going on.

The movie moves very briskly, if not to a fault (once again making me think that there may be a longer cut).  The film isn’t scary, there are a few jump scares here and there but this movie wears the tag of ‘action’ more than it does ‘horror’.  The action is generally good and that’s if that’s what you’re coming for; then you’ll get some decent stuff.

The question that is on a lot of folk’s minds: How is the 3D?  Priest was delayed several times for its conversion to 3D.  Director Stewart said that Sony (who owns Screen Gems) wanted the film in 3D more or less from the start; however Stewart wanted to shoot with large anamorphic lenses.  Lenses that aren’t gonna fit on any 3D rig.  So the ‘shoot for conversion’ route was adopted.

How was it?  Because it was shot knowing it was getting converted it’s not bad.  Neither is it all that great.  A few of the shots, mostly the action, those work pretty well while other scenes don’t do that well in establishing space or dimension.  Nothing really pops out of the screen at the audience, so you don’t have to worry about that.

The fact that the editing is less aggressive than it could have been helps the 3D immensely as the audience’s eyes have more time to adjust; thus hopefully alleviating some headaches.

Ghosting was marginally visible in a few of the shots and only obvious in one or two something that probably wouldn’t have happened if the film was shot with 3D rigs.  But, unless you know what to look for; you won’t notice.

But, by the end of the day; the 3D is kinda meh.  It really doesn’t add much to the viewing experience but at the same time it doesn’t take too much away.  I think that Priest though can be held as hopefully one of the last conversions.  Even with WB pounding away at a conversion for Harry Potter 7 Part 2; that film wasn’t shot for the format; Priest was.

Priest also spent a long time being converted and even with being shot for the release of the format; it didn’t do much.  So far the only good ‘shot for conversion’ film in my opinion is Piranha 3D; a film that I didn’t realize was converted till I was watching the end credits.  Whatever Aja did during shooting and his post-team did; they did right, something no one else has been able to do.

I love 3D, I love it to death; I think it’s fun.  And just by judging Priest; I think the ‘shoot to convert’ path should be near dead.  And after over a year and a half of work and probably a few million burned (making it certainly the longest conversion yet); if Potter doesn’t look like it was filmed with 3D rigs, the whole conversion craze I’m sure will be dead.

But that’s my bit about the 3D; love it, want it to be around.  Only if though directors are willing to put in the extra time and studios the extra coin to shoot it with 3D rigs and not shooting 2D for conversion.

Moving on.

The cast is pretty solid.  Paul Bettany place the stone faced, title character and proves that he has not only the acting chops for great drama; but he can be a solid action actor.  He brings a certain about of credibility and weight to the role.  It was also refreshing he didn’t do ‘The Bale’, a new term I’ve just thought of where action heroes drop their voice a dozen octaves and sound like they’re in desperate need of a lozenge.  He lowers his voice a bit, but it’s still Bettany coming through.

Karl Urban is his foe Black Hat and Urban brings a controlled over the top performance to the role.  He flashes his fangs almost every time he talks and does something closer to ‘The Bale’ than Bettany does.  He’s a cool villain and strikes a great silhouette in his western garb looking like he stepped out of a Clint Eastwood film.

The supporting cast includes Twilight actor Cam Gigandet as a local lawman in the wastelands.  Gigandet holds his own well enough against Bettany during their scenes and the more I’m seeing of him the more I’m seeing him developing into an interesting actor.  I think he’ll be one to watch in the coming years.

Maggie Q is Priestess and her character is fairly straightforward assistant to Bettany.  There’s some sexual tension between their characters but it’s something that doesn’t develop beyond a few brief mentions.  Once again, going back to interesting, yet underdeveloped ideas.

True Blood star Stephen Moyer has a small role as Bettany’s brother and if anyone has seen the trailer, I’m not spoiling anything by saying he kicks the bucket.  Moyer doesn’t do much and leaves not much impact.  Genre veteran Brad Dourif pops up in a small, two-scene role and I’m sure people in the theater looked at me oddly as I giggled with glee when he appeared.  Character actor Christopher Plummer brings some needed weight to the role of the delusional theocratic head of the city Monsignor Orelas; a great actor with potentially an interesting character, also underdeveloped.

Now for the thing everyone must be wondering about.  The PG-13 rating.  While I think some critics have made the film more bloodless than it is, the film is still in PG-13 territory.  There is blood being spilt and splattered and even a man being torn to pieces with his chunks falling to earth.  There is blood and some gore in the movie, however not enough to push it into the R.  Some of these shots seem to be trimmed to keep it PG-13 while others seem to be less bloody takes chosen once again to stay with that rating.

Maybe there’ll be an Unrated Cut released to Blu-Ray and DVD.

The vampires, no sparkly, sexually charged, handsome creatures of the night here.   No these vampires are bestial, drooling, snarling four legged critters that won’t seduce you before feeding.  Then again who would want to be seduced by one of these things?

I’m someone whose firmly in the ‘only do it CG if you can’t do it practical’ camp and while I think some of the vampire shots could have been done with practical effects; the CG isn’t bad.  It’s not as photo-real as District 9 however it wasn’t a distraction and the only CG weakness I found was a few green screen shots inside the vampire hive.

I’m sure Screen Gems was hoping to have another horror/action franchise to add to their rooster of the Underworld and Resident Evil films; because of the disappointing opening; unless foreign and video sell well, I doubt we’ll see another journey into the world.

Which is somewhat sad as while the movie isn’t great nor is it an atrocity of film, the world that the movie takes place in interests me enough that I’d like to see a continuation of the story.  The overall movie, it’s kinda there, it does its thing and to be honest I was entertained.  I’m a Bad Movie Masochist and I didn’t find the movie offensively bad enough to recommend to only the hardcore of us in the BMM community.

Priest is something a mate of mine in Australia might dub a ‘Beer Movie’; a flick you can watch over a brew or two with your friends and have some cheap thrills.

Even so, while Priest entertained me it was a disappointment considering the potential that this movie had.

That’s it for me folks, hopefully I’ll be able to get back into the habit of review writing.  Let me go out by my ending phrase: there’s nothing at the end of the credits.

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