Paradise Lost 2: Revelations
Docurama // Unrated // $24.95 // August 28, 2001
Review by Adam Tyner | posted September 10, 2001
Highly Recommended
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On May 5, 1993, three eight-year-old boys from sleepy West Memphis, Arkansas were reported missing, not having returned home after school let out. The following afternoon, a grisly discovery was made at the nearby Robin Hood Hills -- three severely beaten, stripped young corpses, one of whom was violently castrated. Three of the local misfits, reportedly led by one Damien Echols, were almost immediately accused of the murders, with the only evidence being that Damien wore black concert t-shirts and listened to Blue Öyster Cult. Police coerced a confession from one of them, the mentally handicapped Jessie Misskelley, which factored heavily having in the three railroaded to prison under only the most circumstantial of evidence. Filmmakers Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky had their cameras present, documenting the trial and the media circus that surrounded the small town, for the award-winning HBO documentary Paradise Lost. Though the original documentary attempted to remain objective, not making any claims as to the guilt or innocence of the three young men who are profiled, the botched evidence and numerous missed opportunities presented in the film show that this wasn't the open-and-shut case the prosecution made it out to be. Paradise Lost sparked a movement to free the West Memphis 3, as Echols, Misskelley, and Jason Baldwin came to be known. Sinofsky and Berlinger returned to Arkansas a few years afterward, with 16mm cameras in tow, to document one of Echols' appeals in court, as well as to cover the boys' underground swell of support and new evidence that had come to light.

Whereas Paradise Lost apparently is centered around the accused and the events surrounding the gruesome murders, this follow-up documentary spends the lion's share of its running time divided between conversations with a pro-bono appeals lawyer and his newly recruited profiler, the supporters of the West Memphis 3, and the borderline psychotic John Mark Byers. The only parent of the victims willing to participate in this second film, Byers hams it up at every opportunity and seems desperate for the camera's attention. Byers contradicts himself at nearly every turn, and his erratic behavior on-camera seems to lend credence to the countless people throughout the film who accuse him of being the true driving force behind the murders. Although Paradise Lost 2 is an expertly crafted documentary, building tension by spreading out certain relevations and their impact instead of presenting them in large, complete chunks, Byers is the real star here. He frequently breaks into poorly-delivered and obviously pre-prepared monologues, and even one of the West Memphis 3 supporters points out that his demeanor pulls a complete 180 when the cameras are rolling. So much doubt is placed on Byers, due in no small part to many of his own statements, that Paradise Lost 2 doesn't have the objectivity so often attributed to the original documentary. I suppose this is to be expected, since the subtitle is, after all, Revelations, and no new evidence has turned up to further condemn the West Memphis 3. Those who, like myself, haven't seen Paradise Lost might come out of this second examination of the events at Robin Hood Hills with a slightly distorted view. That's not to say that the uninitiated should steer clear, as a respectable job is done recapping the events covered in the earlier film. The filmmakers present this material in such a way that it feels as if the viewer is an on-looker to these events, not watching a blandly tossed-together package of consecutive interviews. Paradise Lost 2 remains engaging for its entire two hour runtime, featuring compelling subject matter presented by a pair of exceptionally gifted directors.

Video: Paradise Lost 2: Revelations is presented in full-frame, as would be expected for a documentary produced for cable television. Although I missed its debut on HBO, I'd imagine this DVD release looks virtually identical to those cable broadcasts. Paradise Lost 2 looks much like what one would expect from a documentary shot on 16mm, which also incorporates quite a bit of video footage from news broadcasts and court appearances. Since much of this documentary was filmed without having extensive time to set up lights and fiddle with settings to the point of perfection, focus occasionally drops out momentarily and some portions are grainier than others. The level of grain never exceeds the usual tolerances for a 16mm production, though. There are a couple of digital nasties, such as some shimmering in a handful of sequences, often around the courthouse bricks. These issues seem extremely minor when compared to the sharp and colorful image that makes up the majority of the film. Though the video quality of Paradise Lost 2 rarely extends beyond cable television variety, that's really all I expect for this sort of documentary.

Audio: Much like the video, it seems a bit silly to go in-depth harping about the nuances of a documentary's audio presentation. The most important aspect of Paradise Lost 2, the interviews and conversations on which the film is based, are crisp and free of distortion, though a very light hiss is present in some portions recorded in less-than-ideal conditions. The stereo surround audio really only flexes its muscles with the few Metallica tunes that comprise the soundtrack, which roar from every speaker with a booming, expansive quality.

Supplements: The only supplements are director filmographies and a small series of photographs.

Conclusion: Paradise Lost 2: Revelations is unquestionably worth seeing, particularly for those who enjoyed the original documentary, which is not available on DVD as I write this. Paradise Lost 2 is fairly easy to jump straight into, even for those unfamiliar with the case of the West Memphis 3. Though most people associate documentaries with excruciating boredom, Paradise Lost 2 manages to generate considerable tension through a clever arrangement of sequences. This is an excellent documentary that's well worth a rental or purchase. Highly recommended.

Related Sites: Free The West Memphis 3

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