Paradise Lost 2: Revelations

Paradise Lost 2: Revelations (1999)
New Video
Extras: Filmmaker Filmographies, Still Gallery, Bonus Trailers

For most people, movies exist solely for entertainment. For others, films are a way to temporarily escape reality and visit a time or place that one normally could not. I fall squarely into that second category, which is why I typically don’t like documentaries. Rather, it takes a very special documentary to really grab my attention. "Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills" was one such film. This grisly crime-drama was riveting from the start and raised many questions about a murder case in Arkansas. Three years after its debut, a sequel, "Paradise Lost 2: Revelations" was released and this title has now made its way to DVD, courtesy of Docurama and New Video.

"Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills" premiered on HBO in 1996 and immediately set off a whirlwind of controversy. The documentary deals with the murder of three small boys, which occurred in the town of West Memphis Arkansas, in 1993. After an investigation, three local teens, Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin, and Jessie Misskelly were arrested and charged with the murders. What made this case interesting was the fact that there was little to no hard evidence on which to charge this trio. The arrests focused more on the fact that the young men liked to dress in black and listen to heavy metal music. The police had decided that the murders resembled the work of a satanic cult, and thus these three teens were the most likely suspects. The film focuses on the case and more specifically, the trial, in which all three are found guilty. Echols, the apparent ringleader was sentenced to death, which Baldwin and Misskelly each received life sentences. "Paradise Lost" is told in an objective manner, but one can’t help but walk away from the film feeling that justice wasn’t served that day in Arkansas. The film went on to be nominated for an Emmy and win a Peabody Award.

"Paradise Lost 2: Revelations" picks up this original story and goes back to West Memphis, to see if anything has changed. First, we get to see the explosion of controversy caused by the first film. This new film focuses on several different storylines. As the movie opens, Damien Echols is attempting to get a new trial, as he claims that his lawyers from the first trial were incompetent. Also at the outset, we meet the creators of the "Free the West Memphis Three" website, as they explain how they got involved in their project and why they’ve come to Arkansas to support Damien in his fight. A third motif deals with Misskelly’s attorney Dan Stidman. At the recommendation of the folks, Stidman had called in forensics expert Brent Turvey to give a fresh perspective on the physical evidence.

In "Paradise Lost", there was a great deal of interview footage with the three suspects, especially Damien. However, there isn’t much of that this time around. (One can only assume that this is to do the lack of access to the young men now that they are in prison.) So, the real star of this show is John Mark Byers. Byers is the father of one of the young murder victims, and he made quite an impression in the first film with his eccentric behavior. (For the uninitiated, Byers resembles a larger version of George Carlin, after a three-day drinking binge.) Byers oddness in the first film has transformed itself into a true psychosis, as he rants and raves throughout "Paradise Lost 2". This is someone who seemed a bit suspicious before, but is now presented to the audience as a potential suspect. While there is little evidence pointing to the three young men who are currently incarcerated, there is a great deal of items, which makes one wonder about Byers. He certainly doesn’t help his case by his behavior. He obviously loves being on camera and gives several tangential speeches throughout the film. Whether or not he’s a killer, Byers is certainly a disturbing person.

The two "Paradise Lost" films were produced and directed by Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky, who continue to prove themselves to be among the best documentary filmmakers working today. "Paradise Lost 2: Revelations" obviously works because of the intriguing and controversial storyline. It’s nearly impossible not to get swept up in the debate and moral questions that this film raises. But, the film is also masterfully edited. As noted above, Berlinger and Sinosky are following four connected, yet separate storylines in the film (that’s not to mention the occasional interview with a family member), and they intertwine these plots in an ingenious way. Instead of following one story to its conclusion, they’ve been cut together in such a way that the viewer must wait to see what happens. An interesting twist involving Byers is introduced about half-way through the movie, but it isn’t resolved until the last few minutes, making the suspense almost unbearable. While making the film suspenseful, this technique also makes "Paradise Lost 2" easier to watch. The forensic evidence or Byers, especially, can be overwhelming to watch, so the fact that the film has been broken up allows the viewer to get this information in small increments.

"Paradise Lost 2: Revelations" isn’t quite as objective as the first film, or at least, that’s the way it seems. When Joe Berlinger was tapped to make "Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2", I don’t think anyone at Artisan thought that he would bring themes from "Paradise Lost" to the movie. But, he did. "BW2" is all about the media, and how we believe what we see on TV, and this theme is highlighted in "Paradise Lost 2". (You’ll also understand why "BW2" opened with a helicopter shot!) Now, the filmmakers were most likely just as objective as they were on the first film, but "Paradise Lost 2" is so full of people saying "Damien is innocent. I think Byers did it", that after a while, you begin to believe it yourself. I would recommend viewing the film twice, so that, as a viewer, one can take an objective view of it. No matter where your decision on the guilt or innocence of those involved lies, there’s no denying that "Paradise Lost 2: Revelations" is powerful filmmaking.

Docurama brings "Paradise Lost 2: Revelations" to DVD. As it was intended for broadcast on television, the film is presented full-frame. The image is clear and crisp, showing only a fine amount of grain during the daytime shots. (The movie was presumably shot on 16mm, so this would be an acceptable amount of grain.) The colors on the transfer are good, offering realistic fleshtones, and deep reds and blues. There are some "flashback" scenes from "Paradise Lost", which are in black-and-white and look quite crisp. But, this DVD is not without its video defects. In Chapter 5, Byers face seems to shimmer and contort, while the rest of the picture appears normal. (This is not only a strange defect, it makes the scene really creepy!) At the 50:00 mark, the bricks on the courthouse cause a great deal of distortion and shimmering on the image. There is also some video and news footage incorporated into the film, which shows some unavoidable defects. Other than those noticeable flaws, the transfer here is quite good.

While one would necessarily expect great audio from a documentary, "Paradise Lost 2" delivers in that department as well. The dialogue is always sharp and clear, with no hiss interfering. The music in the film is provided by Metallica and their crunchy brand of metal is reproduced with a deep resonance. The Dolby 2-channel mix offers some ambient surround sound effects, though these consist mostly of musical cues and sound effects.

While this DVD offers a nice transfer, it disappoints in the extras department. All we get are filmographies for Berlinger and Sinofsky and a still gallery with a dozen photos. (There are also bonus trailers for other Docurama products.) What this DVD is really crying out for is an update. It’s been two years since "Paradise Lost 2: Revelations" aired and the viewer is left wondering what happened next. While I would certainly prefer a "Paradise Lost 3" to learn more about the story, it would have been very nice if a brief text section could have been included to let us know what has happened since the film ended.

Those of you who are familiar with "Paradise Lost" will definitely want to pick up this DVD. For those who haven’t seen the films, but are intrigued, don’t worry. "Paradise Lost 2" recaps what happened in the first film, so you won’t be lost. You will find yourself drawn into a film, that takes an unblinking view of the American justice system and how we view other people. And it’s a view that you won’t soon forget.