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STUDIO: Warner Brothers
RUNNING TIME: 118 minutes
• Maximum Movie Mode
• Deleted Scenes
• Short Film
• DVD Copy
• Digital Copy
Denzel Washington and Gary Oldman want you to hear the Good Word in a Dystopian future.
Denzel Washington, Gary Oldman, Mila Kunis, Ray Stevenson and Jennifer Beals
The Book of Eli had the potential to be a really strong film. But, it was hampered by two directors who didn’t really get the script. Sure, a little editing would’ve gone a long way to tighten up the Michael Gambon segment, but there’s something missing. Think about those great post-apocalyptic tales of yesteryear. What makes those films, television shows, video games and whatever work? It’s that feeling of realistic dread and loss of purity. This film didn’t have any of that, as it relied on faith and contrived setups.
Modern American cinema doesn’t handle issues of Faith that well. When Gary Oldman reveals what he plans to do with Eli’s book, it was the first thought floating through my troubled brain. It’s also something that really seems to bother the hell out of Christian America. But, they don’t want to be treated fair either. When it comes to the Bible in the Cinema, the devout want utter reverance or nothing. If you don’t believe me, try getting your religious aunts and uncles to watch Apocalypto. They’ll stick it out to see Jesus get his ass beat, but they won’t tolerate the same setup for anyone else.
By that I mean it’s hard to get certain portions of the wider film-going audience to step out of their comfort zones. When American audiences packed theaters for weeks to watch a foreign language film about Jesus’s death and Resurrection, it had never happened before. But, when Gibson followed up the same model with the Latin driven Apocalypto, audiences didn’t flock in the same mass flocks. Jesus puts asses in theater seats, regardless of the conditions that the story is presented. Needless to say, The Book of Eli was a modest hit upon its release in January.
I’m not going to be diplomatic about it. Those people are hypocrites. Hell, they’re the original hypocrites as their views have been forced into the Arts, Politics, Society and the other various pies of life. The Book of Eli doesn’t play favorites with the religious matter, so much as it skirts the heavy issues for traditional storytelling. Bad guys want object of power, while saintly loners fight against the odds to protect it. Action movies rarely go after the big fish, but there’s a lot of potential left untapped in this dystopian tale.
Denzel Washington handles the titular role well, but he’s really just a Zatoichi analogue. Three decades prior to the film’s opening, there was a terrible war that split open the ozone layer. The sun flared up and flash-fried a lot of stuff. Now, the Earth is a desert-like environment with bleached out colors. Eli wanders through the wreckage, as he is being guided by a voice telling him to go west. Through all of the lands he travels, he never lets anyone get close to his book. Everything’s going fine until he runs into Solara and Carnegie. Carnegie is using Solara, much like he uses everyone in his little town. When Solara spots Eli and his book, Carnegie wants to know everything about it. Carnegie seems to have vague memories of what Eli possesses and he realizes the power that it contains.
That’s because The Book of Eli is about the Bible. It’s not much of a spoiler, as the identity of the text is pretty obvious from the start. There’s something fundamentally wrong with that. The basics of storytelling allow for certain things. But, you can’t have a focal item used a mystery item if the identity isn’t concealed. The characters in the film don’t understand outside of Eli and Carnegie. However, that doesn’t degrade the object’s importance. When you deprive a plot point of its strength, you rob the audience out of a shared experience. You can’t get excited or feel something for a character if you’re on the same page.
I’ve taken a lot of shots at the Hughes Brothers over the past few years. But, I do have to admire their ability to acknowledge the film’s shaky plot. When you watch Carnegie and his gang lay waste to the house near the film’s mid-point, it’s truly amazing. The Hughes Brothers use CG well, as they make the camera follow the two sides and the steady gunfire. Fluid movement played against the film’s bleak surroundings really shine on the Blu-Ray. I have to give props to the audio team on this one, as the DTS-HD master audio track made the action play across all channels.
But, everything keeps falling back on the hacked-up plot. Eli is a capable hero, as he has the Campbellian quest and he fights the usual foes. But, no one else in this film seems to be able to match Washington’s focus. Gary Oldman is a wonderful actor, but I prefer it when creative talents can actively engage him. Nolan and Cuaron have gotten lively offerings out of Oldman in the past decade, why can’t anyone else?
The Book of Eli hits a point near the finale, where you don’t want to write off the experience. But, it’s pretty hard to look past the glaring bullshit of that ending. So much of the first two acts was spent establishing religion as the crowning piece in this new era of political control. It’s when Eli gets elevated to cinematic sainthood that I just want to throw into the pile of other genre films that I’ll never watch again. Where it fails in story, the Hughes Brother show amazing camera technique and they manage to take 60 minutes of material and craft a feature out of it.
I do have one thing to say. When Denzel is washing himself down with the handi-wipes, did anyone else wonder how that could work? Let’s say it has been decades since the last KFC got blasted out of existence. There’s a glut of Handi-Wipes, sanitary napkins and other shit to wipe your shit off when you need a bath or some toilet paper. But, the amount of alcohol in the wipe would go away after a certain point. Thirty years in the future, you have a character wiping what amounts to once damp paper against his junk as a means of bathing. That is more dark and depressing that anything in The Road. We never had to watch Viggo scrub his balls in that flick.
The VC-1 encoded transfer is flawless and it helps the home viewer to catch
details that might’ve been missed during the theatrical experience.
While I was impressed with the gunfights and chase sequences in the theater, the dynamic audio levels have translated over to the small screen. When taking shots from the disc, I did notice that the level of saturation tended to grow heavier throughout the film. For best results, make sure your monitor is properly calibrated. If it isn’t, some of the interiors might be darker than a miner’s balloon knot.
The Blu-Ray follows this weird pattern for Warner Brothers releases since they realized that they could drive DVD sales to the next-gen by force. Sure, you could buy just the DVD and get some basic featurettes. But, the Blu-Ray comes with a digital copy, a Blu-Ray copy and the DVD copy. Suck on that value, capitalist pigs. There’s also an exclusive maximum movie mode that takes advantage of BD-Java applications to show various featurettes about the production. You also get Allen Hughes and superstar composer Atticus Ross talking about the film’s unsual score. If that wasn’t enough, you also get an animated short that spotlights Carnegie’s origins.