Originally Posted by erik myers
It’s just a shame it’s so obviously unfinished.
When I saw it in New York, I watched an Avid mixdown. There was a crudely-rendered logo at the front (“EXORCIST IV”), yellow on white. Then the film played out with timecode. It looked unfinished, but being a filmmaker, I could mentally fill in the blanks. That in large part informed my review.
That said, I was horrified when Schrader sent me a DVD prior to release, and apart from opening and closing titles and the removal of timecode, it was literally the exact same film. It wasn’t properly colored or contrast-corrected, the FX were unfinished, and Mary Beth Hurt’s temp vocals for the demon were retained. I just couldn’t believe how badly he was screwed in that regard.
It's a testament to Schrader that even as a released rough cut his version is miles ahead of what the studio concocted after him. The movie's not tremendous, but it's a solid stand-up double of a film, and certainly more thoughtful a piece of work than anyone could have realistically hoped for (and indeed, than the studio was prepared to release) from a franchise prequel.
Originally Posted by erik myers
I admired that he didn’t walk back on his stance that LEGION is the better film than EXORCIST III, despite the fact that it clearly isn’t.
Once Blatty leant me the various shooting scripts, coupled with the knowledge that a lack of Jason Miller robs the Karras reveal of any power, it was clear that the studio may have been on to something after all....
That one's not as easy for me.
The problem with LEGION is that it is basically impossible to view on its own terms. You can't pretend that the footage of Jason Miller doesn't exist, any more than you can unlearn the alphabet. Therefore, I can't honestly say I know how well I would have accepted Dourif as Karras had I been forced to. Without that alternate version in the universe, it could well be that the morgue prologue and the various photographs would have been sufficient in selling the recast. Every other EXORCIST reprisal in the film is a recast, after all.
I don't think the studio was onto anything. They were mostly motivated by integrating an exorcism, correct? The pseudo-availability of Miller during the reshoots was, if I'm not mistaken, peripheral to the mandates about the climax. If Miller would have been available (aka healthy) in the first place, Blatty would have cast him.
Which is the other complicating factor. Climax and Father Morning aside, it's not like THE EXORCIST III represents what Blatty would have delivered had Miller been available from the beginning. That would have been Miller exclusively as Patient X. The duality concept came about only due to Miller being in lousy condition. It is an impressive bit of ingenuity on Blatty's part, and is another element of the final film that I appreciate and can't "unsee" when trying to evaluate LEGION, but it still represents an attempt to make the best out of a problematic situation. A version of the film where Patient X is portrayed by Karras the whole time has the benefit, as Blatty puts it, of "no tricks."
I'd have to call both cuts pretty flawed versions of what is *this* close to a masterpiece. I'm also dubious that what Shout! put together as LEGION is completely accurate, despite how well-intentioned the effort, and of course the A/V limitations are not trivial. But I do contend that if you took the theatrical cut and simply wiped out [the great] Nicol Williamson, you'd probably have a better version than either.