Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Priest and High-Priced Gloss: A Movie Review

Director: Scott Charles Stewart.

Writers: Cory Goodman and Min-Woo Hyung.

Cast: Paul Bettany, Maggie Q, Karl Urban, Cam Gigandet, Brad Dourif and Christopher Plummer.

Director Scott Charles Stewart is no stranger to working with actor Paul Bettany, as they teamed together on 2009's Legion. Their latest film together is also Christian themed, but thankfully this is an anti-Christian film. Priest released in May of 2011 to a mediocre response. Now, this film is moving to DVD and Blu-ray, August 16th. Priest is an adaptation of a comic book to a feature length film. Some of the larger than life characters translate okay to film, but the shallow storyline, geared mainly for adolescents, does not translate well to the length of this movie. And at $60 million dollars, each minute of the film cost 750K. That is unbelievable! In the end, Priest delivers an action genred film, with some western aspects added. The result is not very compelling.

The plot can quickly be broken down. Vampires and humans have fought for centuries, with the remaining humans hiding in walled off cities, that look stolen from Blade Runner (1982). A weapon is created to defeat the vampires; this weapon is the Priest or Priestess, whose acquisition of powers is never explained. Paul Bettany plays one of the Priests. However, he leaves his service when the Church will not allow him to aid his brother, after a vampire attack. The domineering Monsignor and Christianity in general is given some ribbing early. Then, this Priest heads out into the wasteland to uncover a mystery involving the resurgence of the vampire hordes. The Priest meets a friend along the way, who now has a thirst for blood and vengeance!

There are a few sublplots along the way, but they will not be revealed here. You can see, by the uncomplex plot structure, that transitioning a comic book to cinema is not without its flaws. So, Priest adds in several action sequences along the way to keep viewers distracted. As well, there is a lot of CGI work here, which explains the film's large budget. Some of the strongest conflict comes from the character of the Black Hat (Karl Urban). That name should clue you in to his motivations. However, Black Hat is no Shylock sucking at your purse strings or a Richard III, with a passion for power. He is simply a character torn from his humanity to thirst for blood. Only one scene shows why Black Hat harbours any deeper feelings e.g. resentment. So, even the characters are given very little depth.

One of the interesting film elements within Priest is the use of genre. There are elements of the western see here in the costumes, settings and dialogue. As well, the film holds a lot of action, which is shown early and more frequently at the end of the film. Maggie Q as the Priestess shows some of her skills with a modern whip. Finally, there are elements of science ficiton shown in the human cities, which are heaven reaching, dark monstrosities. They cumulatively look like the Tower of Babel. The combination of all of these genres makes pinpointing the setting e.g. time and place very difficulty. Yet, this is fiction where speeding trains hold an army of vampires, and blind beasts of the night can find their prey without echolocation. Check the reality at the door for this one.

This film feels unsatisfying in its short runtime and the promise of a sequel seems weak at best and possibly exploitative. If there is a future film, then the sequel will need to source something other than a graphic novel. The writers might want to return to he classics for inspiration including Orpheus and Odysseus. In the end, Priest is simply a film for pure entertainment, with few challenges to the frontal lobes. Although, it would be interesting to see the unrated version being offered on Blu-Ray, instead of this toned down PG-13 version. Fans of action thrillers might find something of interest here, in a barren vampire filled wasteland.

Writing/plot/characters: 6 (really, a comic book adaptation?).
Pacing/continuity: 7 (everything moves at a quick clip).
Characters/believability: 5 (not enough back story to make this reviewer care).

Overall: 6 out of 10 (a bare pass).

A humorous review of this title at Film Critics United (Christopher Armstead):

Priest Reviewed at Film Critics United

Stakeland is 10x better than this film and it was made for 1/30th of the budget:

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