by Del Harvey
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On August 16th Sony releases the much-anticipated sci-fi actioner Priest on BluRay and DVD. Starring Paul Bettany and Maggie Q, Priest tells the story of a post-apocalyptic world where a savage war between man and vampire raged for centuries. A warrior priest (Paul Bettany) receives word of fresh attacks but this time it`s personal because his niece has been kidnapped by a new hive of merciless vampires. To save her, he must break his vow of peace and hunt down the hive before it’s too late.
Based on the acclaimed graphic novel and packed with bloodthirsty action, this full throttle crusade takes you on the hunt for a deadly new breed of killer. Set 100 years into the future, after the war between the Christians and the Satanists, Priest is about a Christian warrior priest (Paul Bettany) who disobeys church law by teaming with a young sheriff (Cam Gigandet) and a fellow priestess (Maggie Q) to track down a cult of vampire outlaws led by a former Christian-turned-Satanic priest known only as Black Hat, who kidnapped Priest’s niece. Now he must find her before the hive turns her.
Priest is an intriguing concept and a very complex story. Originally, it was a manhwa (Korean comic) series created by Hyung Min-woo. The comic book fuses the Western (as in “old west”) genre with supernatural horror and dark fantasy themes and is notable for its unusual, angular art style. An interview with Hyung in Priest: Volume 3 states that the comic was inspired by the computer game Blood, which featured a similar horror-Western aesthetic and undead protagonist.
The comic book Priest tells the story of humanity’s battle against 12 fallen angels. Despite having fought for God in the battle against Lucifer, Temozarela and his cohort shortly thereafter found that God had lost interest in them. Upon finding God has focused his attention on humans they decide to rebel against God in light of God’s favoritism towards the human race. They descend upon Earth to ‘play God’ among the humans who build a temple and statues for them. For their rebellion and acts against humanity, God destroyed their temple and their statues were cast underground, with their souls being trapped within the statues.
Centuries later, there lives a Holy Knight called Vascar De Gullion, a killer of heretics in the Name of God. After his wife and children were burned alive, Vascar De Gullion ‘loses faith’ and wanders the earth in a ‘blood rage,’ leaving a wake of slaughter wherever he goes. His journey comes to an end when he discovers a hidden cave with the statues of the 12 fallen angels. Temozarela talks Vascar De Gullion into giving his body to him in the hopes of exacting his revenge on God.
Ivan Isaacs is the name of the man who will go on to become the titular “Priest,” after witnessing the death of his true love and being reborn as an immortal and vows vengeance upon those who killed him and his love.
The film version is, of course, quite different. It would require an epic re-telling of the graphic novel to do it justice, and there just was not the necessary following required to support such an expense. But much of the original flavor is retained, including the very deep undercurrent borrowed from previous Westerns such as The Searchers, where two family members search across the frontier and the years for the niece abducted by Apache Indians. In many ways, Priest offers up homage after homage of old West films; unfortunately, too many young viewers do not have the requisite film history experience for them to mean anything.
Still, the film offers plenty of excitement, with Bettany’s character serving as the fulcrum around which most of the action occurs. His priest is a devout warrior whose beliefs rise above and beyond the edicts of the ecumenical leaders and whose understanding of his world and the creatures inhabiting it proves his salvation. This is particularly important when the people in that world have had too many opportunities to fall complacent at a time when sensitivity and awareness would serve them far better. Fortunately, not all his fellows are blind, true believers, or we would miss out on Maggie Q’s divine form kicking some very nasty vampire butt.
Priest on Blu-ray offers a large number of supporting extras, including a thorough picture-in-picture feature, commentary, and two behind-the-scenes featurettes. The extras included are:
Bullets and Crucifixes: Picture-in-Picture Experience: In this picture-in-picture supplement, cast and crew discuss the picture’s origins, its cinematic influences, its “industrial” “retro-future” look, the film’s themes and deeper meanings, prop design, character development, special effects work, the qualities of the cast, and more. The piece also offers up original artwork and plenty of raw behind-the-scenes clips from the set.
Audio Commentary: Director Scott Stewart, Writer Cory Goodman, and Actors Paul Bettany and Maggie Q cover much of the same information found in the picture-and-picture supplement, but there’s certainly some new insights and a completely different style and flow that makes this worth a listen for those who enjoyed the film.
Deleted & Extended Scenes (480p, 12:31): Flashback #2 - Extended, Priestess Tells Hicks to Focus, The Whole Town, Black Hat Flashback - Extended, Train Fight - Extended, Priest Returns With a Head, and Lucy Asks Priest to Stay.
The Bloody Frontier: Creating the World of Priest (1080p, 12:49): Cast and crew discuss the challenges of creating the film’s undefined timeframe and landscape, giving it a unique shape and texture, redefining the vampire mythos, constructing the film’s digital menaces, building the film’s “retro future” world, using real-world locales for the film, building a unique Western-Industrial inspired town, and the challenges of making the film’s action scenes.
Tools of the Trade: The Weapons and Vehicles of Priest (1080p, 11:25): A close-up look at some of the action-critical goodies seen throughout the film.
Twisted Metal Uncut Trailer (1080p, 2:31).
Previews: Additional Sony titles.
Del Harvey is the founder of Film Monthly, a film teacher, a writer and a film critic in Chicago.
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