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Blu-ray Review: PRIEST - 1984 Meets Vampires In Post-Apocolyptic Fantasy Horror

A thoroughly enjoyable fantasy horror/action film that blends comic book inspired stunts with a deeper narrative, Priest should appeal to a wide audience.

With films inspired by comic books coming out of our ears over the past few years, the release of Priest €“ which is based on a Korean comic book series €“ begs the question of whether we really need any more and from such a relatively unknown source? Released last week on Blu-ray and DVD, read our review below to find out the answer! Priest, a post-apocalyptic sci-fi thriller, is set in an alternate world -- one ravaged by centuries of war between man and vampires. The story revolves around a legendary Warrior Priest (Paul Bettany) from the last Vampire War who now lives in obscurity among the other downtrodden human inhabitants in walled-in dystopian cities ruled by the Church. When his niece is abducted by a murderous pack of vampires, Priest breaks his sacred vows to venture out on a quest to find her before they turn her into one of them. He is joined on his crusade by his niece's boyfriend (Cam Gigandet), a trigger-fingered young wasteland sheriff, and a former Warrior Priestess (Maggie Q) who possesses otherworldly fighting skills€ Although director Scott Charles Stewart's Priest finds it's basis in a Korean comic book, arguably it could however be deemed to have more in common with themes found in George Orwell's seminal novel 1984. The fictional realms of the film's world bear striking resemblances to the 'Big Brother' state described in the pages of Orwell's creation. Large TV screens play videos of the church leader telling subjects to obey God repeatedly and posters bearing phrases such as Faith, Work, Obey adorn every available space. This creates a sense of tension between the reality of life for the characters and the overbearing nature of the church as a ruler. Out of this tension is born the suspense and action of Priest's battle with the vampires and search for his kidnapped daughter. The design of the post-apocalyptic world is both visually striking and slightly confusing. The blending of imposing, bleak neo-noir cities is offset against the late 1800's frontier styled wasteland towns. The mixture of styles makes the time period of the setting hard to define, but they blend well to create a uniquely stylised vision of a world where vampires are faceless killing machines and priests are fearless warriors. The animated back-story at the beginning of the film is another visual highlight and helps to tell its tale of an alternative world history in an engaging and entertaining way. The performances are generally solid, with leads from Paul Bettany, Maggie Q and Cam Gigandet, but this is uneven. Bettany gives a tortured but rather two-dimensional performance as Priest, the vampire slaying clergyman. He's all gruff voice and painful looks, but he convinces as the mysterious and confident action man. Gigandet is less convincing as the local sheriff support to Priest, but he handles his weapon well and at least looks the part even if he doesn't embody it wholeheartedly. Maggie Q kicks ass as usual, showing off her skills as a martial artist and her ability to perform impressive stunts. Supporting roles are also uneven, with the only notable performance being that from Christopher Plummer as Monsignor Orelas, the leader of the church. He portrays his character with enough malice and shortsightedness to convincingly represent a tyrannical leader of a fearsome population.

QUALITY

Priest is a visual delight on Blu-ray and the full 1080p high definition is one of the most accomplished seen on a live action release over the recent months. The film slips evenly between the dark inky blues and blacks of the dystopian cities and the harsh, bright, saturated scenes of the desert locations. The transfer handles both of these extremes with adroit proficiency and very little grain or distortion is present throughout the film. The colour schemes are expressive and vast, with the darkness of the walled cities contrasted to the bleached tones of the desert being of equal quality. The immense clarity of even the finest details adds a distinctly realistic texture to the film and viewers are particularly offered a significant sense of the grit and dirt of the arid wasteland locations. Extremely accomplished, Sony offers viewers a true sense of the power of full HD. The audio track is more problematic than the visuals here, as dialogue appears to get engulfed in the intense ambient sounds that are heavily present throughout the film. The sound effects and accompanying music fill the full range of speakers, leaving dialogue often swallowed whole by the sheer volume of these. I found myself having to constantly adjust the volume of my television, as in order to hear dialogue intelligibly and clearly it needed to be excessively loud. When loud action sequences henceforth came, I was forced to rapidly reduce the volume to not deafen the entire neighbourhood! Whilst this was an irritating chore, the quality of the ambient sound is something that cannot be denied.

EXTRAS

Sony have put together an impressive mix of additional features that comprise of mini documentaries on a variety of subjects, plus two in depth and engaging commentaries. Viewers can expect to find the following on their release: Bullets and Crucifixes: Picture-in-Picture Experience - a visual audio commentary that sees director Scott Charles Stewart, as well as other members of the cast and crew discussing a range of subjects in relation to the relevant scene. Raw behind the scenes footage and original artwork also accompany the discussions. Audio commentary - with director Scott Stewart, writer Cory Goodman and stars Paul Bettany and Maggie Q. Similar to the Picture-in-Picture feature, this audio only commentary covers some of the same ground but does offer additional information which makes it worthy of a listen if you particularly enjoy the film. Deleted and Extended Scenes €“ this array of additional and extended clips is relatively interesting, but ultimately it becomes apparent why they were cut from the final release. The Bloody Frontier: Creating the World of Priest €“ In this mini featurette the non-specific timeframe of the films setting are discussed, as well as how locations were created. This is one of the most interesting special features, as the setting and locations are one of the most fascinating elements of the narrative. Tools of the Trade: The Weapons and Vehicles of Priest €“ The memorable host of bikes, guns, knives and other weapons are closely looked at here, as their design and capabilities are discussed in this second mini featurette. Movie IQ Viewing Mode €“ this allows you to watch the film with additional info on both the stars and the film itself popping up from time to time. Trailers €“ these don€™t pertain to the film itself, but to Sony€™s wider catalogue of Bluray releases. Film: 3.5 out of 5 A thoroughly enjoyable fantasy horror/action film that blends comic book inspired stunts with a deeper narrative, Priest should appeal to a wide audience. Whilst it is far from being perfect, there€™s something that everyone can enjoy within this visually impressive and narratively engaging film. Visuals: 4.5 out of 5 The image remains sharp and focused throughout the runtime, with very little distortion or grain noticeable. The HD transfer adds a real sense of texture to both the futuristic and antiquated landscapes that permeate throughout the film and the dark, brooding colour scheme of the city is offset against the vibrant, expressive palette of the wasteland. Audio: 3 out of 5 Priest suffers from an extremely poor differentiation between dialogue and sound effects on this Bluray release: dialogue (which is often whispered or spoken in hushed tones) is almost impossible to hear unless the volume is turned up excessively, whilst the sound effects and musical soundtrack become overpowering and far too loud on such a setting. Extras: 4 out of 5 A solid accompaniment of bonus material is offered here, from brief but informative mini featurettes to both a visual and audio commentary throughout the film. The Movie IQ play mode also means that with a BD Live! connection viewers can access further information about the film and its cast/crew. Presentation: 3.5 out of 5 The front cover captures the dark and mysterious tone of the films narrative, as well as effectively capturing the essence of the brooding landscape within the films fictional realm. The video menus are more interesting and accomplished than the standard fare and the film reel style movement of the text makes navigating them extremely easy. Overall: 4 out of 5 An enjoyable film is given a solid release that will please fans and first time viewers alike. The quality of the high definition visuals is impressive, although the audio levels could do with a tweak. So to answer my opening question, yes, we could always do with more comic book inspired films! Priest is available on Blu-ray now.
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