I know we’re headed towards 2012, but seriously—there was a lot of apocalypse/post-apocalypse movies in 2009 (and leaking into 2010). This isn’t necessarily a bad thing but when two films, both The Road and The Book of Eli, produce two very similar and violent worlds (not only in tone but also in visual style), it makes you wonder if we aren’t settling in for a row of visually and mentally depressing films. In any case it seems critics are already getting a bit fed up on the genre, as The Book of Eli was a clean split down the middle in most cases, with many finding the film to be a bit too overambitious for the type of story it contained. Even with negative reviews the power of Denzel Washington couldn’t be denied as it swept itself to a worldwide total of over $150 million.
Eli walks alone in post-apocalyptic America. He heads west along the Highway of Death on a mission he doesn’t fully understand but knows he must complete. In his backpack is the last copy of a book that could become the wellspring of a revived society. Or in the wrong hands, the hammer of a despot. Denzel Washington is Eli, who keeps his blade sharp and his survival instincts sharper as his quest thrusts him into a savage wasteland…and into explosive conflict with a resourceful warlord (Gary Oldman) set on possessing the book. “We walk by faith, not by sight,” quotes Eli. Under the taut direction of the Hughes Brothers (Menace II Society), those words hit home with unexpected meaning and power.
When it comes to this film we’re given just enough information at the right moments in the story to fulfill the questions we have. Although it’s still never clear what exactly what the great war was that they discuss in the film, it was apparently enough to cause excessive damage to the world. Or, rather, I assume it was the whole world because it’s very United States centric—there’s really not much discussion about any worldwide survivors, partly because the whole telecommunications infrastructure was apparently decimated. Which I find a bit hard to swallow considering there is still working iPods in whatever year this film takes place in; it’s more akin to a cannibal-filled wild west outing than anything.
The film is really quite deceptive in what it markets itself as. Not just in trailers and whatnot, but also in just the way it starts out. We’re given an incredibly violent intro (well, after seven minutes of not a single word being uttered, we get some violence) to Eli’s character and after that we get the general sense that he’s just a man on a mission…a highly skilled and trained man, but still a man nonetheless. On the back end of the film there is a lot of spirituality and faith-based talk that goes on, but on the other it’s just a mindless action film. It’s hard to take the films quieter moments seriously as you know some kind of epic and wholly violent cavalcade of violence is going to ensue shortly after it.
As flawed as the film was there were still plenty of entertaining moments to be had. The characters all had great chemistry with one another in the right areas; great power and authority exuded from Washington and Gary Oldman’s characters, while Mila Kunis’s character was a lot more innocent and timid in some respects (though she ends up wielding some weaponry later in the film that dashes that notion from your head). In fact I’d say it was nearly a perfect cast aside from Kunis, who I don’t really fault for the awkwardness that her character exhibits. That was just how the character was written and I doubt any actress would’ve been able to play it any more convincingly or less irritating than Kunis did. There were just moments where you wanted to strangle her; despite her actual age of 26 she played someone that really didn’t look or act much older than 18. I’m sure this was all intentional, but it made it kind of like an annoying Batman and Robin combination where you have the experienced old guy being weighed down by the curious and bratty teenager who forces Batman to give in to the bad guy so that Robin’s stupid and inexperienced ass can be saved. Yes that was a weird comparison, but it’s the closest comparison I could draw right now. It’s a common element found in films, but comic books especially. The brutish loner befriends (reluctantly) the chipper youngin’ who admires him, but in the end the youngin’ does something stupid that forces the brutish loner’s original quest to come to an end. As common as it is I’m blanking on any better comparisons than the Batman and Robin thing, but you get the general idea.
In any case the film definitely has its flaws in the story (and the isolated US-only nature with our technologies being sent back to pre-computer days made it really hard to swallow), but once the more spiritual elements come into play they also become a larger presence in your mindset as you watch the film. How does Eli, even with his remarkable skillset, manage to fight off horde after horde of bad guys with nary a scratch? The whole revelation at the end of the film eventually reveals something more and it again lends credence to the spiritual angle of the film; which, if you aren’t already paying attention to the clues of its presence that it drops here and there throughout the story, will come off as stupid and annoying to you as it kind of comes out of left field with how heavy handed it hits you over the head with it. There’s also the matter of the wild-haired Malcolm McDowell seemingly just believing everything Eli says even though he has not a single bit of proof to back up what he’s saying. I mean yeah, the fact Eli spits out the entire Bible from memory is impressive, but I’d still question its validity before firing up an old ass printing press.
Another (yeah, another) issue I had with the film was its spontaneous nature to get over dramatic or arty with its transitions or music. I mean it looked and sounded great, sure, but it just felt incredibly out of place and more like the directors were playing around with the new pre-set tools in whatever video editing software that came pre-loaded on their laptops. Obviously it is more sophisticated in that, but it was so overused that it was like viewing someone’s first PowerPoint slide with sounds, transitions, and a ton of clip art on every slide. It just got to be a bit too much, as interesting as it was at times.
But I digress. Mixed in with all of this spiritualness is a healthy dosage of excessive violence (with plenty of limb-lopping to boot) with swords and guns, so the action junkies should be fairly sustained when it comes to that. The film definitely has more than a few flaws and for that I can only recommend this one for a Rental first; it’s noisy, brash, and altogether a bit heavy handed in its delivery but it’s entertaining nonetheless.
Warner brings The Book of Eli to Blu-ray in a standard Elite Blu-ray case. Inside is the usual pairing of discs (one Blu-ray, one DVD/Digital Copy combo) and a rather decent selection of extras. It’s a fair enough package, but it’s the A/V presentation that’ll keep you coming back for repeat viewings if you dig the film in the least.
Video arrives in the form of a VC-1 encoded (I think Warner is the only studio who still uses VC-1…but at least they do it well) transfer that is immediately striking from the start. Though the film is largely devoid of color with the blown-out and high contrasted world that is a post-apocalyptic United States, it’s these tans, browns, and blacks that make for a very interesting image throughout. I knew I was in for a pleasing transfer when Eli kicked the door in to a home during the first few minutes of the film—dust particles fluttered around the room and the shining beams of light lit them in such a way that it simply made me smile because it looked so good. Detail is high throughout the film as well, as everything from the stubble on Washington’s face to the pock-marked face of Gary Oldman stood out brilliantly on the screen (for better or worse). Overall it’s a very nice transfer and one that definitely helped further my enjoyment of the film…although the clarity did make the backdrops and green screen work all the more obvious.
Even with a fantastic video transfer, however, the film would be a mess without a proper audio mix and thankfully the DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix we receive here is…enjoyable. I hesitate to call it flawless because the audio levels seem to be a bit off—while the surround and LFE output are loud and plentiful, I found myself having to turn up the volume even more during the quiet, dialogue driven scenes. I could barely hear what Oldman or Washington were saying at times and then invariably the music or some sound effect would come back on screen and I’d get my ears blown out and my dogs would run out of the room in fear the house was crumbling down. It definitely sounded fantastic whenever violence was apparent on screen (especially that zoom-in on the machine gun in the final act of the film), but the dialogue seemed rather unbalanced to me.
Focus Points (34:24, 1080p)
A Lost Tale: Billy (5:02, 1080p)
Starting Over (13:03, 1080p)
Eli’s Journey (17:54, 1080p)
Deleted/Alternate Scene (1:53, 1080p)
The Book of Eli Soundtrack (4:59, 1080p)
There’s a fair amount of goodies here and when combined with the Maximum Movie Mode that is also on the disc (in which the “Focus Points” appear) you get a fairly solid idea of how the production of the film went. The “Starting Over” and “Eli’s Journey” featurettes also serve as additional making-of insight, whereas the other extras are pretty superfluous at times. Overall a decent selection of extras for a film that was both well and ill received…although a commentary would definitely have been welcome.
Overall a Recommended release if just for the sonic blasts that the subwoofer pounds out whenever a gun is fired (or when cars are exploded…which was quite an awesome scene as well).
The Book of Eli arrives on Blu-ray and DVD on June 15th.