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Site created 12/15/97.

review added: 2/28/00

Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2
2000 (2001) - Artisan

review by Todd Doogan of The Digital Bits

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 Film Rating: D

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): A-/A/B+

Specs and Features

90 mins, R, letterboxed widescreen (1.85:1), 16x9 enhanced, dual-sided, dual-layered (on Side A - no layer switch), DVD+CD, Amaray keep case packaging, audio commentary track with co-writer/director Joe Berlinger, audio commentary for three scenes by composer Carter Burwell, The Secret of Esrever featurette, production notes, cast and crew biographies and filmographies, Easter eggs, Priority Records soundtrack ad with live performance of The Reckoning by Godhead, DVD-ROM features (including shooting script, bonus scenes and theatrical trailer), Side B is a standard music-only CD (featuring the songs The Reckoning by Godhead, Goodbye Lament by Tony Iommi (featuring Dave Grohl) and Tommy (Don't Die) by Steaknife as well as 13 tracks by composer Carter Burwell and a live performance by Godhead from Webfest), animated film-themed menu screens with sound, scene access (25 chapters - 17 music tracks on Side B), languages: English (DD 5.1), French and Spanish (DD 2.0 surround), subtitles: none, Closed Captioned

Anyone out there looking for answers behind the newly created mythos of the Blair Witch is going to have to keep looking, because the answers aren't here in this sequel to the original Blair Witch Project. I guess I shouldn't say "sequel", because even though it's presented as a sequel, Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 is more like a re-imagining. It'll take a few seconds, but I think I can explain what I mean.

Book of Shadows pretends that everything that happened in the first film was just a movie (as if we didn't know that after seeing the highly annoying Heather bopping from one talk show to the next as we waited for her fifteen minutes to end). But by allowing us to imagine that the first film was a fake, Artisan now has a real life tribe of pop culture obsessed kids who are trampling through the woods of Maryland trying to relive the Blair Witch adventure. You know what, though? I'm so detached from the ideas presented in this legend that I can't even imagine it.

So here's the story. Because Blair Witch Project was "just a movie" that has started this huge sensation, Jeff (an enterprising young man with a dark past) starts a tour of the Black Hills of Burkitsville calling it "The Blair Witch Hunt". It even has a website that sells t-shirts, dirt and sticks from the woods. For his inaugural tour, Jeff finds himself three customers. There's Kim (the Goth chick), who loved the first film. Erica (the young hot-to-trot Wiccan) and Tristen and Stephen (two silly intellectuals who are studying the hysteria behind the myth). Jeff leads the group into the woods, while they have back and forth conversations as though they'd known each other for years - never mind that they just meant. After buying supplies (and poking fun at the locals) the group sets up camp in the ruins of the house from the first film (it has a name but, for the life of me, I don't give a crap what it is). Jeff sets up about a billion dollars of digital filming equipment (that he has bought off Ebay - yeah, right) and they break out beer, liquor, wine and most likely sangria and start to party. The party is cut short when another tour group interrupts them (it would seem that everyone calls dibs on this house). They figure out how to get rid of them and send them along on their merry way to Coffin Rock. More partying ensues and then we cut to the next morning. Their camp is now trashed. Tristan and Stephen's notes are shredded and "raining" from the sky and Jeff's equipment is in pieces. More haunting, is that they learn that the other tour group has been savagely murdered up on Coffin Rock. But, of course, they somehow find their video tapes buried in the rocks of the foundation of the house and they all head back to Jeff's place to unravel the secret behind the missing hours of their life.

As the film unfolds, it become painfully obvious that the filmmakers had a vision that was conflicted by the studio. If we know that the events in the first film were essentially a joke, then how can the events in the second film exist? And if this is a sequel, then how can it be a real story follow-up to a fake film? The plot holes are enormous and, in the end, you won't give a damn about one thing that happens on screen. And that's too bad, because there was a chance to actually make this film scary... and it's hampered by it's lack of credibility.

Joe Berlinger is a brilliant documentarian and he deserves better than to have this flick on his filmography. It would have been great if he were able to make an actual well-filmed documentary sequel to this film, but it would have taken time to do that (and have it make sense and feel less of a rip-off). But Artisan "needed" to capitalize on Blair Witch hysteria as soon as they were able. The result is a weak film, with some strong touches from Berlinger, but sadly not strong enough to make it worthwhile.

Artisan's DVD version of the film heralds its arrival by being the first major studio DVD+CD release, which means that on one side of the DVD we get a dual-layered anamorphic widescreen presentation of the film with Dolby Digital 5.1 audio and extras and, on the flip side, we get a music-only CD with three cuts from the mainstream pop soundtrack and Carter Burwell's entire musical score release. It's sort of a mutant compilation disc, and it's pretty worthless considering that the best tracks (by Poe, Marilyn Manson and Rob Zombie) aren't included. That just makes it a silly, one-note gimmick. It's like adding a DVD-ROM video game promo to a movie DVD (a game that has nothing to do with the actual film), just to create a cross-promotional opportunity (New Line's Frequency anyone?). So what's next, DVD+CD-ROM? As we say here at the Bits, if it doesn't support the film, it doesn't belong on the disc as a special edition feature. If you can't get all the music from the film (or even a better sampling of the songs) then what's the point? Why couldn't Carter's score be an isolated audio track on the DVD side if that's all you could get? I don't mean to slam Artisan for being visionary - DVD+CD is a great idea. But you can just tell it didn't work out as Artisan really wanted and they went ahead with it anyway. The very least they could have done was make put music on the CD side in 96/24 high resolution audio. That would have at least been different. As it is, I can't imagine anyone spinning the CD side of this disc more than once.

Let's talk about the DVD side. The anamorphic widescreen picture quality is okay. It's muddy in a few spots and shows a few moments of artifacts, mostly because the film is spread over only one layer of the DVD. It's not as crisp as it could be. But, then again, this is Blair Witch 2 - some grain is both expected and needed. The sound is Dolby Digital 5.1 and it's very good actually. There's plenty of play in all the speakers and the mix makes for a pretty eerie listening experience in your home.

The extras, aside from the CD, are surprisingly minimal. There's a full-length audio commentary by Berlinger, where he talks about his concepts, inspiration and finally drops the bomb that the film doesn't work because of Artisan's meddling. He never actually says that, but he makes enough allusions and statements that you can tell that's what he wants to say. There's also a very small commentary by composer Carter Burwell (covering three scenes). Burwell, known for his beautifully natural soundtracks for the Coen Brothers, sheds light on his process and how he made music for the film out of water, sticks and rocks. The commentary's not long enough to be a worthy extra for music fans, but it's still pretty interesting. The biggest deal on the disc is the featurette, The Secret of Esrever. Here, we learn that the filmmakers layered the film with all sorts of subliminal messages. And, if you follow the featurette's instructions, you'll find out where to look for them. And then, when you start looking, you'll find even more messages hidden than the featurettes lists. I'll give you a few: CAMPFIRE, TRISTAN and WINDOW. Once you have them all, you have to figure out what to do with them, and how they tie into the Easter Eggs that are layered into almost every menu page on the disc. Esrever, pfft. Rewind that and see what comes of it.

Rounding out the bonus material is cast and crew info, production notes and a performance by Godhead (hidden in an Egg in the Priority Records soundtrack ad). Oh... and there's also DVD-ROM features like the script, more bonus footage and a video trailer for the film (along with a website portal). It always drives us crazy when you get video content on the ROM side of a DVD (instead of having it on the set-top, playable side where it belongs). But there it is.

I think, based on The Secret of Reverse and nothing more, that this is a disc worth checking out. I think it's fun to try and find all the hidden stuff. It would be even better if it answered some questions about the film. But, then again, clarity was never one of Blair Witch's strong points...

Todd Doogan
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