Reviewed by Chris Galloway
MGM, widescreen 1.85:1/16x9, languages: English DD 5.1 [CC], French DD 5.1, subtitles: Spanish, French, single side-dual layer, no chapters, rated R, 102 min., $24.98, street date 2/29/2000.
Directed by Rupert Wainwright. Starring Jonathan Pryce, Patricia Arquette, Gabriel Byrne, Nia Long, Rade Serbedzija, Thomas Kopache.
A lost soul has just received the wounds of Christ...and a shocking message that will alter history. Stunning performances from Patricia Arquette, Gabriel Byrne and Jonathan Pryce and a cutting edge score by Billy Corgan of "The Smashing Pumpkins" and Elia Cmiral make Sitgmata "a visual and visceral feast" (Entertainment Today).
Frankie Paige (Arquette) has absolutely no faith in God. All of that changes when she suddenly begins to suffer the Stigmata - the living wounds of the crucified Christ. Frankie's miraculous bleeding comes to the attention of the Vatican's top investigator, Father Kiernan (Byrne). But when Cardinal Houseman (Pryce), discovers that Frankie is actually channeling an extraordinary and provacative message that could destroy the Church, he's convinced that she - and the force possessing her - must be forever silenced. Determined to stop this deadly conspiracy, Kiernan risks his faith - and his life - to save her and the message that will change the destiny of mankind forever.
II think this disc represents most of the elements I love about DVD. DVD has the capabilities of both satisfying the viewer and the director at the same. Only lately, though, have studios done anything about it, Fox seeming to get heavily into it.
I'm mainly talking about alternate versions of a film. Fox has done that with The Abyss and to my understanding with the upcoming Independence Day on DVD (you mean there's a longer version to that movie!? Yikes!). As well Artisan is heavy into it. Thanks to a little diddy called seamless branching you can fit multiple versions of a movie on one disc where, depending on what version was wanted, the disc would skip over a chapter or to an alternate chapter, display the different segment and then skip back to the regular flow of the movie. Hey, if Paramount put Clue on DVD, think of the possibilities!
This can solve many problems. We all hear stories about director's freaking out at the studios because of unwanted changes the studio has made to the film. Although the studios will more than likely always win in the theatrical run, at least the director has a chance to express himself more freely on DVD. This could have helped New Line with the headache that was Tony Kaye during the editing of American History X I'm sure.
I'll admit I did cheat here. I missed Stigmata in its theatrical run so this is my first time seeing the movie. I decided to watch the director's alternate version, which only contains a slightly altered ending. I prefer watching the director's version of any movie so I thought it was a great option. It's also great because if you don't like one version you can then look at the other and then stick with the one you like. The viewer is happy because they get the version they want and the director should be happy because they have shown their original intention.
While I think this idea is great and we are actually given a very nice disc, MGM's DVD has one little flaw. The feature film presented on the disc. Stigmata is actually quite a bad movie. Not horrific but bad enough.
For those of you who were lucky enough not to have gone to a Catholic school and don't know what the stigmata are I'll give you a simple lesson. They are the wounds that Christ gained while being crucified, including the nails through his wrists and feet, the thorn crown placed on his head and the spear in his side. The stigmata also include cuts he would have received from the whippings the Romans more than definitely gave him. Apparently God fearing true believers randomly gain these wounds out of nowhere as a reward (how nice!) and that's the basis of this movie. Not a bad idea but to make a horror movie out of something that has obviously nothing to do with evil would not work. So we get a movie about a rather lame possession.
The movie begins with the death of a priest in a small village in South America. Father Kiernan (Gabriel Byrne), an investigator for the Vatican is around and hears that the very church that the priest preached in contains a statue of Mary that started crying blood the day he died. Going in with his equipment right out of Ghostbusters, Kiernan takes samples and readings, a scene that unfortunately loses all seriousness and ends up bordering on comedy. If the movie was trying to go for true believability it loses it right here in the first 4 minutes, especially when we get to the lab in the Vatican later on that would make Q from the James Bond films proud.
The rosary that the priest wore has been stolen and is sold to an American lady who then sends it to her daughter Frankie (Patricia Arquette) in Pittsburgh. And right about at this time she starts suffering from the stigmata, first her wrists are punctured right through while taking a bath, everyone figuring it was a suicide attempt. And then while on a train she suffers an invisible whipping.
When word gets of this to the Vatican, Cardinal Houseman (Jonathan Pryce) sends Kiernan to the States to investigate. And what unravels is something that does not make much sense. It does all lock into together by the end but by the end I was asking "why?" Why would any of this actually happen? We get a whole conspiracy theory plot involving Houseman trying to hide scrolls written by Christ, as well as something that's supposed to be good (from what I learned in school and actually from this movie) violently possessing an innocent woman and basically killing her for no real reason. And it also seems that you can catch the stigmata like a disease, as Frankie got it from the rosary that she touched. Why doesn't anyone else get it that comes in contact with the rosary?
If there is one thing I had a BIG problem with in the movie was the whole possession bit. Besides the fact I could not buy who was actually possessing her, I had trouble with it because it just rang The Exorcist more than I really wanted. You get that statue doing something it shouldn't, you get the possessed woman floating and yelling out vicious things in a totally un-human voice, though here it seems a little inappropriate considering what it is that is possessing her. You even get the priest yelling at the girl lying in bed demanding the spirit (notice how I didn't' say "demon") to take him instead.
The director, Rupert Wainwright is a competent director, knowing how to move the camera, where to place it and how to edit the film in the final stage. But I wasn't surprised to find out he was a music video director since the film looks and plays like a 102 minute music video, although all he did before (that I know of) were a couple MC Hammer videos (yeah, I remember those). This movie is a big jump from those and from the Disney thing Blank Check that he did (which I actually enjoyed a lot more than this). It does look good, but offers nothing else.
Acting is okay but not great. Byrne is actually quite good and from his performances last year, he has a wide range. He makes a very good priest and from watching the Schwarzenegger farce called End of Days he makes a kickass Satan (I only know Max von Sydow to handle a range like that just as well). And like End of Days, he is really the only good thing in this movie. Patricia Arquette's character doesn't make much sense I found. While Arquette is okay, she doesn't seem too concerned that some alien force is poking holes in her body. Plus you have to love the attitude of "Hey, something is possessing me and killing me. Oh well! Let's go clubbing!"
The movie should have worked but doesn't. Religious undertones in a movie can usually guarantee a frightening experience. While Stigmata offers a few good shocks, it's of the usual substandard kind of something jumping out of nowhere or a gory scene flashed at you, not the thought provoking ones like in The Exorcist. It has nothing of any real value to it. The only scene I got a kick out of was when Jonathan Pryce says "Brazil". Usually it would have never clicked in and while I know it wasn't an intentional point, the movie so far had nothing else to offer. My mind then wandered off to that much better Pryce flick called Brazil and actually watched it immediately afterwards. This movie offers nothing exciting and to be honest, that's the only thing that actually stands out in my mind.
As I said before, though, MGM offers a very nice DVD special edition of Stigmata. The film is presented on a single-sided, dual-layered DVD and is presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1. It has been enhanced for widescreen TVs.
As the booklet claims the film skipped a process during editing called the "skip-bleaching" process. As I learned from looking at the Criterion laserdisc of Seven in a store many years ago (and I'm still kicking myself hard for not buying it) silver is used to enhance colors and then bleached away. They had skipped the bleaching process in this film and in Seven and while it gives a distinct and unique feel to this film, I can't help but wonder if it hurt the image on DVD.
Generally the picture is quite good, very sharp and very bright but it has a few flaws. Other than the occasional small print flaw the disc suffers from many digital artifacts. Chroma noise is very constant. I have my TV set up the way I like it and it works fine with every other film to a certain extent but this movie is loaded with it. Club scenes have the pixel look, as do scenes containing anything reflecting a blue light. Shimmering, though, I was surprised to not see too much of. I usually find the two go hand in hand but here shimmering only happens during scenes displaying Frankie's bed and the design on the headboard. Other than that I noticed no other occurrences.
The film is very dark and I am happy to say that black levels are very strong and bold. I was also happy to see that no dark scenes presented grain, which can usually happen. It's one of the better transfers from MGM but it suffers from a few flaws that I'm sure can be mostly attributed to the down conversion.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround track is a real busy sucker on this disc. Stir of Echoes I found had an effective surround track for what it was and I was actually expecting the same here. This blows SOE out of the water. In fact, I think I may have been a little too easy on it now.
This thing gets a full working, surrounds used most of if not all of the time. Besides ambience effects when called for we get echoes, strikes as those quick cuts are flashed before us, wonderful splits and panning from all around, nice placement of voices and you then get those eerie sound effects and music. The sub kicks in almost all the time, mostly because of the movie although I occasionally found it overdid it. The coolest feature on the track was any scene involving dripping water. All the speakers give the sound of a water drop hitting the ground in a nice mono effect that is quite spooky.
If I have a complaint it's that the dialogue is very quiet compared to the rest of it. You can still make it out but it is just a tad too quiet. Most of it comes out of the center so I ended up having to turn up the center a little more but the thing is this track has everything go all over the place, including the dialogue so it ended up just throwing off the soundstage how I liked it. While it's a very active and quite engaging, this slight annoyance did bother me.
While it doesn't contain many special features it has a few good ones. There is the commentary track by the director. I found it rather dry but it offers a few technical aspects that some may find interesting. He occasionally tries justifying some of the religious elements that are presented by the film but I thought "whatever". If someone were to ask me about my religious beliefs I wouldn't be surprised if my response caused the person to think I was an atheist or a heretic. While I definitely don't consider myself either, I don't buy some of the things I've been told. But even from the things I've been taught and the things I believe I know the guy was REALLY pushing it in this movie.
As mentioned at the beginning there is a choice between two endings thanks to seamless branching. When you select the "Play Movie" option you then choose there as to which version you want to view. I watched the director's ending first, not the original theatrical one. To be honest it didn't really make a difference. While the MGM booklet claims it to be more "powerful" it really didn't feel that different from the original. There are also a few problems with the switch. First my player paused. I borrowed Stargate and watched the director's cut and I don't recall it pausing during its jumps. It pauses here.
As well the symbol for the .1 channel disappears on the receiver, which I'm guessing means I was only viewing it in a 5 channel track. No big deal really since it wasn't really called for in the original ending but I did notice that the quality of the soundtrack deteriorated a bit, not being as sharp or clear as the rest of the movie or the other version of the ending. And also they never bothered to include a separate running commentary with the alternate ending, which I think would have been a good idea. How disappointing.
There are a few deleted scenes. The first is an alternate opening with the priest that dies at the beginning killing himself instead of jumping right to his funeral. There is an expansion on the opening credits that just shows some hardcore nudity, probably cut to keep an R rating or something, same with another scene that shows a more graphic bit of Arquette stabbing her own wrist. The alternate ending is also shown and we also find out what happened to her boyfriend that suddenly disappears during the actual movie.
Finally we get a rather lost theatrical trailer and a tuneless music video from Natalie Imbruglia. Then there's MGM's usual booklet and like all their booklets it is 8 pages and contains a nice amount of information. Along with Criterion, they have the nicest inserts for their DVD's.
And there you go. While I liked the DVD I can't really recommend the movie. The DVD is a very nice but the movie is so empty and ridiculous there is no way I can recommend the disc for it. Still MGM's DVD department shows some good things here and I hope they continue on like this with future releases. Like maybe with Supernova, to make it better, they can offer an alternate version that has nothing but a black screen!!