The Book of Eli has arrived on Blu-ray and it’s ready to deliver us. It got mediocre reviews when it was in theaters as the film was criticized for its preachy nature, uneven plot twist and lack of action. Now that the film is on Blu-ray we get to take another look at it. The question is, does The Book of Eli manage to entertain, or does it fall off the path and lose its way?
The Book of Eli is the 2010 action film directed by Albert and Allen Hughes (From Hell, Menace II Society). The film is actually more a hybrid of various genres. It has elements of the action, drama, western, adventure and thriller. The film takes place in a post-apocalyptic world that was ravaged by nuclear war.
It tells the tale of one man, Eli (Denzel Washington) who is a lone wanderer across the desolate wastelands trying to reach the west coast. He is making his way across America to protect a scared book that many believe will hold the secret to restoring humankind to what it was before the wars broke out. Eli is a man of peace and is devoted and committed to getting this book to the west coast. Unfortunately for Eli, there is one other man who understands the power that this book holds and his name is Carnegie (Gary Oldman). He’ll do whatever it takes to obtain the book for his own selfish needs.
The Book of Eli is essentially the video game Fallout 3 mixed with a bit of The Road and Mad Max 2. I know these comparisons have been made in every review for the film but it really is true. The scenery and the wasteland that the Hughes brothers have created looks so similar to the one seen in Fallout 3. Some of the images and shots from the film are identical. That being said, the cinematography is gorgeous. The post-apocalyptic world that has been created here (shot in New Mexico) is truly haunting. The cinematography is one of the strongest elements of the film and it really held it together.
There are a lot of scenes with little-to-no dialogue. There isn’t even any dialogue spoken for the first ten minutes. The cinematography and the beautiful shots really make up for the abundant amount of scenes that lack so much as a pulse.
For the majority of scenes, the film uses a washed out sepia tone that beautifully complements the scorched look given to the majority of the buildings. The world is decaying and the camera captures it beautifully. The Book of Eli has a very unique look to it and the look becomes just as important as the story itself. It enhances it as we are pulled into this immersive world simply because it is captured so perfectly. The lack of colour in the environment resonates with the lack of life and nature found in this post-apocalyptic world. In addition to beautiful shots of the wasteland, there are also some stunning shots of the skyline.
Never before have I seen a post-apocalyptic world captured and brought to life so vividly and as stunningly as in The Book of Eli. The world truly becomes its own character in the film as it evokes the feelings of fear, scarcity and loneliness in the audience. Adding to the cinematography is the environment itself. Burned out cars, demolished buildings, and human and animal skeletons litter the wasteland.
The Hughes brothers do a great job with their shot composition. The slow cuts mixed with top-notch editing make the film very watchable. The action scenes are also all beautifully composed and choreographed. The few actions scenes that we get are fluid and exciting to watch. The camera travels with the action and it makes for some truly thrilling and engaging fight scenes.
The Book Of Eli has one major flaw and that is the narrative.
– Post-apocalyptic world with no laws, no order. Check.
– A book that can save humankind. Check.
– A greedy villain who realizes the power of the book. Check.
It all sounds interesting and it is for a good portion of the film. Once you start to realize what is really going on, everything falls apart. Anyone with half a brain will realize what the book is within no time and after that the plot loses a good portion of its intrigue and mysteriousness.
We are still compelled to stay around and find out exactly how this book will save humankind and what Eli needs to do with it but, once we do find out, it really is a serious letdown. Throw in a completely asinine and ambiguous plot twist and by the end of the film we feel like our journey through the wasteland was pointless. The way the narrative presents itself has the audience thinking that we will get some grand and exciting ending. Instead it’s completely worthless and one of the most unsatisfying endings I’ve seen in a long time. Once you find out what the book is, why it is important, and how it will help, you’re left feeling like “really? That’s it? That was the big deal?”
One thing that may throw people off is that the film comes off as very heavy-handed and preachy. It got to a point where it became a bit unsettling. I felt like the film was trying to drill these ideas into my head and it takes quite a strong religious stance. Being an atheist, I was a bit put off by this and I think the film could have eased up on it all while still keeping the same message. Between the constant symbolism, metaphors, references and blatant imagery, The Book of Eli is a very Christian film and it makes sure it delivers its message loud and clear to the audience.
The performances in The Book of Eli are for the most part, pretty good. Denzel Washington is an actor you can’t really go wrong with. He brings a strong presence to the screen in a role where actions truly speak louder than words. He doesn’t speak much but his performance is both dynamic and true to character as he imposes upon the audience a sense of fear without so much as making a sound. He is an empowering figure, almost messianic and to some degree haunting.
Mila Kunis is kind of out of place here. You have two great actors in Denzel and Oldman and then we have Kunis. She really doesn’t add anything to the film. Her performance is simply robotic. To be fair her role is not the best. She plays the whiny tag along and has to hold her own against Denzel in many scenes. I just feel like they could have found someone else to play the part as Kunis seems very miscast.
Oldman offers a performance that is on par with Washington’s. As Carnegie, he is over-the-top but never overbearing. He infuses just the right amount of charisma and wit to create a menacing and worthy villain. Carnegie is relentless in his pursuit of Eli and Oldman brings the character to life perfectly, giving us one of his better performances in recent memory.
When all is said and done, what does The Book of Eli really amount to? It is a film that aspires to greatness but never really reaches that point. It wants to be important and it wants to be iconic but it has too many flaws. Despite the asinine twist, unsatisfying ending and non-stop preaching, I did enjoy the film. Washington and Oldman turn in great performances and the storyline and premise does grab and intrigue you for a while. The cinematography is jaw-dropping and the post-apocalyptic world created here is one of the best I’ve ever seen.
A strikingly beautiful film such as this would be expected to have an equally stunning Blu-ray presentation and The Book of Eli does not disappoint.
The brilliant video transfer adds to the film’s end of the world atmosphere with a very desaturated picture presentation. The black levels look good and are intense as they should be and while the shadow detail suffers a bit in some scenes, it isn’t a terrible problem. The film carries a grainy look, and especially in the darker lit scenes it really shows. It doesn’t ever become that intrusive as to disturb the eye, and if anything, it just keeps everything film like.
The desolate look of the world that has been brought on by the nuclear war is only enhanced by the contrast of the picture. Vivid detail is found in all the elements of this forgotten land. Dust, dirt, rocks, everything looks great and is enhanced with rich detail. The transfer is superb and shows even with the finest details like pores on the face and the dilapidated wear and tear look of the buildings. This is a film that has to be seen on Blu-ray to appreciate the phenomenal production values.
The audio comes through perfectly, except for one gripe I had. The surround channels are not always taken advantage of. They do kick in when it counts though and in certain scenes, like when Eli and Solara are holed up in the farm house. The erupting gunfire mixed in with the objects flying around provide a remarkable sound mix that really comes to life. The gunshots are punchy and shake the room as the sounds of bullets whiz around with each shot. Dialogue reproduction is handled well and dialogue is clear and always at the front and center of the track. The lossless encode provides a clear score for the film and earthly elements like wind, dripping water and dust blowing around enhance the feelings of bleakness that are so imminent in this post-apocalyptic world.
In terms of special features we get a pretty generous offering:
Special Features Include:
- WB Maximum Movie Mode — Maximize your viewing experience by watching picture-in-picture and Focus Points within the context of the movie. Learn how to survive in a post apocalyptic world with Denzel Washington and the Hughes Brothers.
- Focus Points (1.78:1; 1080p/24; 34:24):
- The Look of Eli
- Underpass Fight
- Building Carnegie’s Town
- The Motorcycle Brigade
- Eli Goes to Battle
- Eli’s Mission
- Shootout at George and Martha’s
- Eli’s Weapon of Choice
- Solara Causes Mayhem
- Apocalyptic San Francisco
- A Lost Tale: Billy — Billy’s Backstory (1.78:1; 1080p/24; 0:05:02) — This graphic novel in motion serves as a companion piece to the Book of Eli motion picture and tells the story of Billy Carnagie long before the war.
- Starting Over (1.78:1; 1080p/24; 0:13.03) — How civilizations live, die, and are reborn again, plus what role we might play in reshaping society the day after the end of the world.
- Behind the Story: Eli’s Journey (1.78:1; 1080p/24; 017.54) — layered with moral complexities, this film asks many questions about what humanity will do to survive.
- Deleted/Alternate Scenes (2.40:1; 1080p/24; 0:01.53)
- The Book of Eli Soundtrack (1.78:1; 1080p/24; 0:04.59) — Co-director Allen Hughes and composer Atticus Ross compare notes about the soundtrack’s construction and deconstruction.
- Digital Copy
We are treated to quite a lot of features and for the most part they don’t disappoint. The WB Maximum Movie Mode is always a treat and it’s enjoyable and informative on The Book of Eli. Another notable feature that I enjoyed was Eli’s Journey which takes a look at morality and survival. Among the rest of the special features there isn’t anything else that particularly stands out, but it’s all worth a watch.
The Book of Eli will draw you in with its interesting premise. Eventually though you’ll get tired of the preaching and your anticipation will build to an ending that disappoints. With a plot twist that falls apart in the end, The Book of Eli fails to deliver us.
If you enjoyed the film in theaters then this disc is a no brainer. Run, don’t walk, to your nearest store and buy it. If you’re new to the film and haven’t seen it, I’d say it’s definitely worth checking out. It’s an interesting take on the post-apocalyptic world and is visually stunning. While you may not enjoy certain parts of it, I think there will be enough in this package to make it a worthwhile purchase.
The film has some interesting ideas behind it and Denzel Washington is great, as usual. Give this one a rent.