Running Time: 90 minutes
MPAA Rating: R
Format: Widescreen 1.85:1
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Digital 2.0
Languages: English, Spanish, French
Region: 1
MSRP: $19.98

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Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 (2000)

How do you follow up one of the most successful movies of 1999? If you're Artisan Entertainment, you release one of the worst movies of 2000. Making a sequel to The Blair Witch Project was a nearly impossible task, but Book of Shadows has already become a example of what not to do when you have an indie hit on your hands.

Mercifully not shot in the shaky-cam style of the original film, Book of Shadows follows five young people on a "Blair Witch tour" to see some of the locations so important to Blair Witch mythology. They all pass out after getting drunk, and the next morning they can't remember what happened the night before. As they review some videotapes they apparently shot without knowing it, they discover that they may have committed a crime...

On paper it may have looked like a good idea to have respected documentary filmmaker Joe Berliner direct the sequel to a documentary style film. Sadly, Berliner decided to take his inaugural stab at drama with this movie. The movie never builds any suspense, and the acting is often atrocious. Some of the structure problems may have been the result of studio interference, but it was never going to be a particularly good movie. It just isn't scary or fun.

The sad fact is that this is an ugly movie. Shot almost exclusively in craggy woods or the rundown warehouse loft, the film is dominated by grays and browns. Still, this disc seems to be an accurate rendition of the film I saw in the theater. The mixed film stocks show up well, and the whole thing looks wonderfully clear, except when it is supposed to be grainy. The sound is more than adequate, with the score (largely made up of natural sounds) sounding very good.

The highest profile extra is that this disc is that it a hybrid DVD/CD, a first for the US. One side is a DVD, the other a CD. The CD however, is nothing special. Three (lower profile) songs from the soundtrack, and the complete score, and a live track from Godhead. Big deal.

Much more interesting is the audio commentary by director Joe Berliner. He was given carte blanche to talk about whatever he wanted, which is good because he feels that his film was interfered with at the studio level. He offers a lot of insight into what went wrong, both intentionally and unintentionally

"The Secret of Esrever" is essentially a game. You watch a little feature that has letters running in one of the corners, then you play it backwards and you can read words. The words then give you indications of where to look in the main feature for subliminally creepy images. For instance, one of the words is "grave", and in the graveyard scene the name on a prominent gravestone changes between shots. Presumably these manipulations were done for the video release, because no one seemed to notice them in the theater.

Scattered among the menus (including some well hidden in the copious talent bios and production notes) are witch's runes. I clicked on them and when I got done clicking what I assume is all of them (there are about ten), I got the teaser trailer to the film. This trailer is pretty interesting, basically because it features a book and claims that "the truth will finally be uncovered."

Conspicuous by their absence are two fake documentaries that were made to support the film, The Burkittsville 7 and Shadow of the Blair Witch. They have been released in that OTHER format, and their absence from this disc is extremely disappointing. I have to wonder, though, if they were excluded from the DVD by Berliner. He seems to be down on mixing fact and fiction the way the original Blair Witch Project did -- which makes me wonder why he was hired in the first place.

Scott Hamilton, 7/18/2001