Extras: Commentary Track, Composer’s Comments, Cast & Crew Biographies, Production Notes,
"Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2" takes place in our reality, and begins in the autumn of 1999. The first title card reads, "The following is a fictionalized re-enactment of events that occurred after the release of ’The Blair Witch Project’". (Of course, this is a lie, just as the first film wasn’t a "real" documentary.) We are introduced to Jeffrey (Jeffrey Patterson), a native of Burkitsville, Maryland (where "The Blair Witch Project" took place), who has set out to capitalize on the "Blair Witch" hysteria, by opening the "Blair Witch Store" and creating a tour package, which he calls "The Blair Witch Hunt". On his inaugral trip, Jeffrey has four customers; Tristen (Tristine Skyler) and Stephen (Stephen Barker Turner), a young couple who are writing a book on the "Blair Witch" phenomenon; Erica (Erica Leerhsen), a Wiccan witch, who has come to Burkitsville to dispel the myth that all witches are evil; and Kim (Kim Director), a goth-girl who just wanted to see Burkitsville because she thought the movie was cool. (Note that all of the characters have the same names as the actors portraying them, thus lending credence to the "true story" angle.)
Director/co-writer Joe Berlinger made a name for himself making award-winning documentaries, such as "Paradise Lost" and "Revelations: Paradise Lost 2" (If you haven’t seen them, see them. Period.) So, he seemed like a good candidate to make the follow-up to a faux-documentary. Of course, Berlinger faced insurmountable odds in creating a sequel to "The Blair Witch Project". The success of that film had nothing to do with the movie (which is one of the worst films ever made), it had to do with the hype and the international interest which surrounded the film. Berlinger (and co-scripter Dick Beebe) wisely decided to focus "Blair Witch 2" on this hysteria which "The Blair Witch Project" created. Instead of sending another group of people out into the woods searching for the Blair Witch, Berlinger opts to send a group of fans in search of a movie. And then, he makes the gutsy decision to pull them out of the woods halfway through the film. In doing so, Berlinger is really pointing his camera back at us, the audience. His film is a thinly veiled treatise on the state of the media in America and the way that we get caught up in things that aren’t real.
Considering the disappointing box-office performance of "Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2", Artisan Home Entertainment has still given the film a nice package for its DVD release. The film is presented in an <$16x9,anamorphic> <$PS,widescreen> transfer, <$PS,letterboxed> at 1.85:1. The picture is nearly perfect, as it shows practically no grain or distortion. It’s obvious from the beginning of the movie that this isn’t a low-budget "homemade" affair, as with the first film. The image has a depth and clarity that is representative for full production values. The colors are nicely reproduced, which natural fleshtones and very true blacks for those ominous nighttime scenes. There are no noticeable defects from the source print, nor is there any noise or artifacting problems. This is how one should always expect a brand-new studio film to look.
The "Book of Shadow" DVD complements this great transfer with a handful of extra features. First up, we have an <$commentary,audio commentary> with director Joe Berlinger. Right from the get-go, Berlinger is very open and honest with his feelings about the film. He lets us know that the film that we are watching is not his "director’s cut" and he immediately begins to point out the features that the studio added against his wishes. (One has to wonder why Artisan allowed him to go ahead with this commentary.) Berlinger does a good job of comparing what we are seeing to his original vision. But, all of his comments aren’t negative. He has good things to say about his actors, and he seemed to have enjoyed his first experience with making a big-budget feature. Also, Berlinger is very up-front with the message that he was trying to convey with the film. Obviously, he and Artisan butted heads when it came to making a political film vs. a horror film. This is one of the most intriguing commentaries that I’ve heard in a while, due in part to Berlinger’s candidness.
We also get a brief commentary from composer Carter Burwell. He talks over three select scenes and describes how the music for these scenes was created. The DVD features extensive cast & crew biographies and filmographies, as well as in-depth production notes. One of the most unique special features to come along in a while is "The Secret of Esrever". This brief segment describes how certain scenes in the film contains secrets which can only be seen when the movie is viewed in reverse. Actually, in order to learn which scenes contain this phenomenon, you have to watch "The Secret of Esrever" in reverse. To be honest, I haven’t checked out the particular scenes, but there’s no denying the originality of this concept. Noticeably absent is a theatrical trailer, although one is accessible through a DVD-ROM feature.
Considering how much I despised "The Blair Witch Project", I was pleasantly surprised by "Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2". The film is far from perfect, but it takes some chances, and in this age when serious horror films are scarce, it stands out in the crowd. Artisan Home Entertainment has delivered a DVD with a knockout transfer and a commentary that doesn’t pull any punches. The odds were stacked against "Book of Shadows" from the beginning, but I’m willing to bet that some of you may end up enjoying it.