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Priest: Unrated Blu-ray Review

Priest (2011) movie poster Priest

Theatrical Release: May 13, 2011 / Running Time: 87 Minutes / Rating: Unrated (Theatrical Cut: PG-13)

Director: Scott Stewart / Writers: Cory Goodman (screenplay), Min-woo Hyung (graphic novel series Priest)

Cast: Paul Bettany (Priest), Karl Urban (Black Hat), Cam Gigandet (Hicks), Maggie Q (Priestess), Lily Collins (Lucy Pace), Brad Dourif (Honest John), Stephen Moyer (Owen Pace), Christopher Plummer (Monsignor Orelas), Alan Dale (Monsignor Chamberlain), Mδdchen Amick (Shannon Pace), Arnold Chon (Strong Priest)

Buy Priest from Amazon.com: Unrated Blu-ray • Theatrical Cut DVD • Unrated Blu-ray 3D

There's a misconception going around that people are into vampires these days. They're not. They're into The Twilight Saga and, to a much lesser degree, they're into "True Blood."
The film industry hasn't interpreted toy and pirate fiction as booming, so I'm not sure why it seems to think vampires are fair game. Attempts to tap into seemingly certain draws, like youth magical fantasy or the superhero, have repeatedly proven that genre alone isn't the source of popularity.

This is a lesson learned by Priest, a film about vampires and slayers adapted from a comic book line. Maybe on paper that sounded like a recipe for success. In reality, it was far from it. The summer season has expanded enough so that even opening on May's second Friday qualified Priest for Box Office Mojo's "Summer 2001 Comic Book Bash" classification. Its company there (Thor, Captain America, etc.) dwarves Priest's $60 million production budget and even more so its $29.1 million domestic gross, a sum that would be pitiful any time of the year, but is especially ignoble in cinema's busiest months.

Our unnamed protagonist priest (Paul Bettany) prepares for vampire slaying by etching crosses into bullets. Shady antagonist Black Hat (Karl Urban) is not like other former priests.

Loosely based on the 1998-2007 Korean comic series by Hyung Min-woo, Priest is set in a post-apocalyptic future where a war rages on between men and vampires. Though vampires are stronger and deadlier, mankind has taken a decisive lead, aided by sunlight and by the Roman Catholic Church. That's right, those entering the priesthood have been "trained by the Church in the art of vampire combat." Priests can jump high, run fast, and throw crosses that can take out the most imposing of bloodthirsty monsters. And they have a cross tattooed on their foreheads, so you can recognize them (which is good, because there is even a lady priest in skintight leather that you might not recognize as "the cloth.")

None too creatively, in this dark future, religion and state have intertwined, resulting in a loss of freedoms. The words of Monsignor Orelas (why, Christopher Plummer?) are broadcast on every corner Big Brother-style, as he reminds the masses that to resist the Church is to resist God. One priest with a buried past (Paul Bettany) is certain that the vampires have broken out of their caved captivity and again pose a threat to the public. When he can't convince the impersonal, technological (virtual confessions!) institution to which he has devoted his life, the priest decides to defy his superiors and follow his heart.

Joining him on this mission to find and kill vampires is Hicks (Twilight's Cam Gigandet), a young, sharp-shooting sheriff who is in love with the priest's niece (Lily Collins) and holds similar fears for her safety. They are eventually accompanied by the aforementioned Priestess (Maggie Q), who is sympathetic and also rogue. Working for the other side, meanwhile, is a mysterious man in a black cowboy hat (Karl Urban, J.J. Abrams' Bones), a former priest who you could say has developed some bite.

The vampires of "Priest" look a little different than Edward Cullen. Monsignor Orelas (Christopher Plummer) hears a priest's confession virtually.

Priest is a subpar production. Its dialogue ranges from unbelievable to nakedly expositional and any impact on the page gets lost in the delivery. Visually, it's not too bad, stretching its modest budget (still the biggest to date for Sony specialty subsidiary Screen Gems) to decent effect on endless caves, open desert, small Western town, and domed Blade Runner-style metropolis alike.
That is to be expected of Scott Stewart, who assumes the director's chair for the second time after years of visual effects work on huge movies (including Harry Potter and Pirates of the Caribbean installments) with The Orphanage, a company he co-founded. Stewart seems to have been hired not to draw strong performances, heighten drama, or mine excitement, but to supply some visual flair without a 9-figure budget. He doesn't get any help from the increasingly ludicrous first screenplay of Cory Goodman.

It has to be asked: what is the deal with Paul Bettany and movies with religious overtones and implications? Since playing Silas, the self-flagellating albino monk of The Da Vinci Code, religiously skeptical cinema has come to be for him what leaning poster poses are for Matthew McConaughey. Other recent roles for the Catholic-turned-atheist Bettany include Charles Darwin in Creation, a wayward priest in The Reckoning, and the archangel Michael in Stewart's post-apocalyptic directorial debut Legion. In an April interview, he swore this would be the last one, which safely assumes there will be no Priest sequel, despite its closing attempts to set one up.

On Blu-ray, Priest is presented exclusively in an unrated cut. The film carries the same advertised runtime as the PG-13-rated theatrical cut that is DVD customers' only option. And it doesn't feel far from a PG-13 movie, with its one non-sexual use of the F-word and largely bloodless, obscured violence. I would guess there is a little bit more of the latter here and the opening comic book-style animation did seem a bit bloody for PG-13. Online comparisons reveal that the unrated cut adds a little CGI gore and some violent sounds (breaking bones, stabs). Nevertheless, this would seem to merit no worse than a very soft R by today's MPAA standards.

Priest: Unrated Blu-ray Disc cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray Disc Details

2.40:1 Widescreen
5.1 DTS-HD MA (English, French, Spanish), Dolby Surround (Descriptive Video Service)
Subtitles: English, English for Hearing Impaired, French, Spanish
Not Closed Captioned; Most Extras Subtitled in English and Spanish
Release Date: August 16, 2011
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (BD-50)
Suggested Retail Price: $35.99
Blue Keepcase with Side Snap
Also available on DVD ($30.99 SRP), Blu-ray 3D ($45.99 SRP), and Instant Video


Priest looks excellent on Blu-ray, its stylized mix of dark and bright visuals presenting no challenges for the format. Though it's easy to find fault with the film dramatically, the aesthetics are another story, and the blend of horror, western, and sci-fi styles has some allure. The 5.1 DTS-HD master audio is also sure to please, offering a wide, engaging, and effective mix of atmosphere and music, albeit with lots of dynamic jolts.

Lily Collins (one of next year's two Snow Whites) turns up once more in this most notable deleted scene. Director Scott Stewart rocks a beret in his featurette appearances.


Extras begin with two playback modes, which cannot be paired up.

First is the BD-exclusive "Bullets and Crucifixes" picture-in-picture experience. With it activated,
filmmaker remarks pop up every few minutes in a window one-fourth the size of your screen. The comments are substantial and aptly timed to what's onscreen, and though they start with visually boring talking heads, they do come to include some B-roll to justify this being more than a standard audio commentary. Fortunately, you can jump from one pop-up to the next with the chapter skip button.

A standard audio commentary gathers director Scott Stewart, writer Cory Goodman, and actors Paul Bettany and Maggie Q. Their track is expectedly lively and full, but wanting to hear what they say after the picture-in-picture experience and the two featurettes takes a-Priest-iation greater than mine. I did notice that many of the running remarks echoed ones made elsewhere on the disc.

Seven deleted and extended scenes (12:30), mostly the latter, appear windowboxed and in standard definition. An extended opening presented without score or visual effects in place is goofy, but then so is much of the film. Most notable are a couple of bits that can be considered alternate endings.

"The Bloody Frontier: Creating the World of Priest" (12:49) discusses design, as it pertains to vampires, totalitarian Cathedral City, the wasteland, and stunts. Some crew remarks lend insight that isn't evident just from watching the movie.

Hooray for violence! The film's weaponry is put in focus in the featurette "Tools of the Trade." Priests cycle through the desert at great speeds on the Blu-ray menu montage.

You can guess what "Tools of the Trade: The Weapons and Vehicles of Priest" (11:25) is about. It takes an approach similar to the previous featurette, with cast and crew weighing in on the thought behind characters' arms and transportation methods, as well as their production experiences with them.

Finally, for no apparent reason, there is an uncut trailer for the PlayStation 3 video game Twisted Metal (2:30). Cool?

There's also a BD-Live section, which is a way to stream Priest's otherwise absent trailer, as well as trailers for other Sony films recently released or soon releasing to home video. Not too shabby, but you'd have fewer waits and delays just exploring Apple's trailer site. What you can't get from Apple is movieIQ, a playback enhancement that is supposed to identify actors and musical cues as they appear, along with displaying the occasional trivia fact. Alas, this appeared to be empty and didn't properly display for me. The menu's ticker also allows you to stream bonus feature clips from five recent/forthcoming Sony Blu-rays (one of them, Priest).

The DVD only goes without the picture-in-picture mode and the BD-Live features, while the Blu-ray 3D (which includes a 2D presentation on the same disc) adds "Weaponry and Vehicle Exploration in 3D."

This disc loads with promos for Blu-ray, Insidious, Battle: Los Angeles, and Arena. The "Previews" listing lets you jump directly to those trailers, along with ones for Bad Teacher and Just Go With It.

The menu gives us a scored montage of clips that are run through various filters to make them look more buggy, futuristic, and dramatic. The disc supports bookmarks and also resumes anything you were watching when you stopped it (although it did have trouble returning to the disc after a BD-Live session).

As usual, Sony uses the reverse side of the cover to display additional artwork (in this case, an unsightly vampire) through the translucent case. An insert further advertises Twisted Metal, encouraging you to "save this insert" because starting October 4, 2011 (and ending October 4, 2012), you can use a unique promotional code to download a Priest car skin for the game. I'm sure it's well worth following the six steps and reading the two paragraphs of fine print provided.

Three is not a crowd when the three are a priest (Paul Bettany), a young sheriff (Cam Gigandet), and a priestess (Maggie Q).


Months and many films remain, but Priest is the worst movie of 2011 I've seen so far. At least, it is mercifully brief. The only people who will need to see it are those who are satisfied by sensory stimulation alone, fans of the Korean comics it's based on, and those who can't say no to a part-Western, part-sci-fi vampire shoot-'em-up. All three of those audiences will find some things of interest here, but probably not enough to overlook the weak writing and acting.

Sony's Blu-ray delivers a first-rate feature presentation and about all the insightful extras fans could want, but the idea that there will be a lot of insight-craving fans for this seems far-fetched.

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Related Reviews:
Paul Bettany: Inkheart • The Tourist • Iron Man | Cam Gigandet: The Roommate • Burlesque • Easy A • The Experiment
Maggie Q: Operation: Endgame • Balls of Fury • New York, I Love You | Karl Urban: Pathfinder • And Soon the Darkness
Christopher Plummer: The Last Station • National Treasure • The Sound of Music
Season of the Witch • Dylan Dog: Dead of Night • The Rite • Red Riding Hood • Bram Stoker's Dracula • The Walking Dead: Season 1

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Reviewed August 17, 2011.

Text copyright 2011 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 2011 Screen Gems and Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.