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By Michael Dequina | July 9, 2000

To put it mildly, Book of Shadows, the sequel to The Blair Witch Project, has its share of detractors (and rightfully so). But who knew that among them is none other than the film’s director/co-writer himself, Joe Berlinger. I’m sure he has a greater affection for the film than most, but he barely stops short of saying that he hated the theatrical cut of the film on the DVD’s audio commentary track. Berlinger is remarkably up front about the various problems with the production–the rushed production schedule, the studio-imposed reshoots and recuts–and how he feels about the result, and it’s almost surprising that Artisan let all his words slide.
Maybe it’s because the film is so largely considered a failure by critics and moviegoers alike that the studio figured there’s no use in suppressing Berlinger’s bitterness. What the studio has suppressed, however, is his original cut of the film, about which he goes in great detail in commentary. None of the gratuitous shots of gore were in his original version, nor was the film cut in its current nonlinear (and seemingly haphazard) style. Berlinger’s original version was a more straightforward treatment of his story about five The Blair Witch Project obsessives who gradually learn the truth of a mysteriously forgotten night they spend in the woods. As Berlinger describes it, his cut sounds like a far more interesting film, and it would have been nice to see that version also included on the platter.
However, like the current incarnation of the film, Berlinger’s original Book of Shadows does not sound the least bit scary. In fact, it sounds even more pretentious and bludgeoning in its exploration of the theme of “the danger of blurring the line between fantasy and reality”–much like how he constantly reiterates this point in the commentary track. Berlinger’s pretensions are given a full showcase in the DVD booklet, which contains a slightly reworked but still long-winded “director’s statement” that appeared in the film’s press kit for the theatrical run.
Berlinger’s commentary is but one of the many extras included on Artisan’s well put-together but somewhat peculiar disc. Carter Burwell, whose eerie and unconventional score is one of the film’s few virtues, also provides some insightful commentary, albeit only for three specific scenes. In addition to the basic features of production notes and cast and crew biographies are here, the supplements also include a useless segment called “The Secret of Esrever,” that supposedly reveals extra clues to the The Blair Witch “mystery” when played in reverse (hence, “esrever”); and a live performance of a soundtrack cut by Godsmack, which follows a token promo for the soundtrack album.
One wonders why there is even a promo for the soundtrack on the disc, for it’s a revolutionary “DVD + CD” disc that has all the DVD content on one side and CD-playable audio on the other. No less than two versions of the Godsmack selection are included along with a couple other songs and Burwell’s complete score. It’s hard to imagine anyone wanting to shell out for the soundtrack album after buying this disc, which will satisfy anyone’s Book of Shadows needs and then some.
Specifications: 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen; English 5.1 Surround; French and Spanish Dolby Surround; English closed captioning; DVD-ROM features; CD audio.

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