October 22, 1999

The Blair Witch Project (1999)
Artisan Entertainment

87 mins. ∑ R
Fullframe

Format
DVD

Audio
E

Subtitles
English

Extras
Newly Discovered Footage, Commentary Track, Documentary, Teasers and Trailers


Review by
Bill Evenson


Rating



(1999)

"The Blair Witch Project" is a little independent film that has gone on to make it really, really big. The film was produced with a very small budget - somewhere around $30,000 - which really adds to its charm and believability. The basic idea of the movie is that itís not a fictional horror movie at all, but a documentary of sorts. Three filmmakers set out in 1994 to make a documentary film about the Blair Witch, which supposedly haunts the small town of Burkittesville, Maryland. They disappeared rather mysteriously, and their documentary footage was only recently recovered. This footage was edited together to make the film "The Blair Witch Project".

By now, Iím sure you all know that part already. Even if you havenít seen the movie, you have to have heard of "The Blair Witch Project", which has been parodied in TV commercials and even other short films like "The Blair Warner Project", a documentary about Blair from the show "Facts of Life".Iím also sure Iím not spoiling anything by telling you that itís not really a documentary.

These actors that supposedly disappear in the film have made appearances at movie theaters and gone on talk shows. "Blair Witch" is sort of the "This is Spinal Tap" of horror movies. One big difference, apart from Blair Witch not being a comedy, is that virtually unknown actors were cast, which adds to the realism.

In "The Blair Witch Project", the three principal actors have the same names as their characters. Heather Donahue is the filmmaker who has masterminded this ill-fated trip, Josh Leonard is the cameraman, and Michael Williams is the soundman. They start off, innocently enough, interviewing locals in Burkittesville about the Blair Witch. In the film, Burkittesville used to be a town called Blair. Hence the name "Blair Witch". These interview segments are broken up by footage of the three principals playfully filming each other, drinking beer, smoking cigarettes, having fun. A few days into the filming of the documentary, they trek into the supposedly haunted woods to get some footage of locations where children have been killed.

It bears mentioning at this point that "The Blair Witch Project" owes a debt to "The Last Broadcast", a film that went into production in 1992 and was finally released in 1997. It is a story of characters with variations of the actorsí names who venture into the woods to investigate the mysterious "Jersey Devil" in the Pine Barrens of New Jersey. "The Last Broadcast" was also presented as if it were an actual documentary. The similarities do not end there however, as the filmmakers of the film employed marketing techniques, complete with an elaborate website and faux interviews, that incidentally resemble and precede those of "The Blair Witch Project" by about two full years. The heated discussion whether "The Blair Witch Project" plagiarized "The Last Broadcast" or not is still creating big waves, and an end is not in sight, especially since the "Blair Witch" filmmakers continuously refuse to acknowledge their "too close to be accidental" influences from "The Last Broadcast".

"Blair Witch" hits its stride once the crew gets into the woods. After seeing the footage of the filmmakers playing around and filming each other, we as the audience are attached to them, and are sympathetic with them as the encounter mysterious and scary things. The crew find mysterious wooden figures hanging in the woods, and hear strange sounds at night. Before long, they are hopelessly lost in the woods without a map, surrounded by frightening sights and sounds. One fault of the film is that it becomes difficult to suspend disbelief sometimes when you become aware that the characters are filming everything. At one point, theyíre running for their lives from some spooky menace, but still manage to keep the camera upright and in focus. This is addressed a few times by characters in the film, which helps a little. One character asks Heather why she insists on filming everything, and her answer feels honest to me.

I donít want to give away too much of the details of this film, because I feel that it would take away from the fun and horror of the experience. The story is well written, and contains enough twists to keep the viewer riveted. The documentary feel of the movie makes the experiences these young filmmakers go through feel more real, and this makes it scarier than any scary movie Iíve seen in some time. The actors really submerge themselves in the parts, and this makes their reactions to weird and spooky stuff very real and natural. Perhaps by using their own names, it made the experience feel more real. The experiences the actors actually went through are explored in some detail on the excellent directorís commentary.

The video quality on the disc is exactly what youíd expect it to be. The footage is less than perfect. It mixes between black and white and color, depending on whoís holding what camera in the story. But this disc actually looks great. I noticed no digital artifacts. The picture looked very clear. I saw "Blair Witch" in the theater, and I didnít think it looked this good. Blacks are solid and the colors look accurate and natural. Itís presented in the original 1.33:1 fullframe aspect ratio.
Thereís not much to say about the soundtrack. This is a low budget film, and the soundtrack is clear, but not spectacular.

The extras include a fun commentary track with the directors and producers, which was very entertaining. Thereís extra footage not used in the film, which is referred to as "newly discovered footage", which I thought was a nice touch. Also included in the extras is DVD-ROM content, including excerpts from the comic book. The best extra of all, in my opinion, is the featurette "Curse of the Blair Witch". This was shown on the SciFi channel prior to the filmís full release, instead of a traditional "Making of" show. This is a fun and interesting documentary of its own. It uses the same style as the feature, referring to the events in the film as actual events, but interviewing the filmmakerís friends and acquaintances. This was a really neat idea in itself, making an actual documentary that referred to the Blair Witch as if it were real, just as the movie did. This documentary alone makes the disc worthwhile.

Initially, there were reports that the Blair Witch DVD would contain hours of unseen footage and tons of extras, and now looks like a release of that footage would be far in the future, if at all. Some people were very disappointed by this, but I found this disc to be a really satisfying disc, and I would highly recommend it. "The Blair Witch Project" is a very good movie, and the inclusion of the "Curse of the Blair Witch" show and the clear digital transfer make this a great disc to own.
A brief warning however, people who easily suffer from motion sickness should absolutely stay away from this film. There is not a single steady shot to be found in this 87-minute presentation.

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