Post-Apocalyptic films may have taken many different shades & shapes over the years, ranging from the comedic (Brazil) to the family oriented (Wall-E) to the morose (The Road), but they all maintain a certain level of social commentary, attempting to paint a picture of what will become of our society if we don’t change our wicked ways. The Hughes Brothers’ The Book of Eli is set in the relatively (and unfortunately?) familiar setting of post-nuclear war America, but rather than make a comment about nuclear proliferation (which I suppose they figure is a forgone conclusion by now), it instead lays the blame at the feet of religious zealotry. Supposedly having been determined to be the root cause of the last war, all of the bibles, and presumably all other religious texts as well, were rounded up and destroyed.
A lone wanderer named Eli (the getting cooler every decade Denzel Washington) is carrying what could well be the last King James bible West across the U.S., along with a mean-looking machete, a small arsenal of guns, and a whole lot of skill at using both. Meanwhile, a cruel and ambitious businessman name Carnegie (a low key Gary Oldman in the vein of Al Swearengen, but less profane) is tirelessly seeking a bible in hopes of harnessing its awesome power to melt the minds of the masses. As luck would have it, Eli happens to be passing through Carnegie’s town, and there begin the schemes, chases, and gunfights for control of Eli’s book.
My first time around with this movie, I tried to argue against how it wasn’t a 2 hour ad for Christianity, which was a little challenging at the time. After my second pass, I’m seeing it less as Christian propaganda, as it quite clearly demonstrates both sides of it, and more as a treatise on religion in general that painted itself a shade of Christian in order to reach the crucial North American audience. When I really broke it down, it was religion itself that could either enslave or liberate humanity. It was what the book contained, not what it was about that was dangerous, if that makes sense. It wasn’t that Carnegie was already using a rudimentary faith system and was going to trade up to the awesome mind-numbing power of Christianity, it was the moving nature of the book’s oratory rather than Christianity’s precepts that he was going to make use of.
When I wasn’t busy trying to tiptoe through The Book of Eli’s religious speculations, I was bathing the haunting soundtrack and gawking at Don Burgess’ breathtakingly stark photography. And occasionally I was able to bear witness to some meticulously planned and masterfully executed fight scenes with Denzel taking on medium to large crowds of bad guys with his custom made machete tucked neatly away in his really cool upside-down sheath.
So while the mezmerizing washed-out scenery looked pristine in this bluray presentation, Warner’s latest installment in its ambitious Maximum Movie Mode releases might have taken a half-step back this time around. I had been really looking forward to seeing the Hughes Brothers standing together on a sound stage in front of a set of TVs to discuss their latest work in depth.. I have have always been fond of their films and I really enjoyed Zack Snyder and Guy Ritchie’s appearances in the Maximum Movie Mode for Watchmen and Sherlock Holmes, but alas, what we are presented with in this instance is more akin to a feature film crosscut with a featurette. Instead of Allen and Albert on a stage, we have them being interviewed separately and played back in brief intervals during the film. The result is no less informative, but it doesn’t evoke the same sense of intimacy that sets the feature apart from what everyone else is doing these days. I don’t know whether the blame for this lies in the Hughes Brothers’ unwillingness, or Warner’s failure to secure a proper contract with them, but I hope this isn’t a sign that the benchmark for quality has already slipped on what has been a mark of distinction for Warner’s bluray releases. Compromise is the first tiny death on the road to oblivion… As I mentioned earlier, that they didn’t show up in the capacity I had hoped, didn’t make the features any less robust or informative. There’s still plenty of juicy morsels on the bluray to tantalise the fans.
So while it might not have lived up to my special feature hopes, this movie is Fallout 3 meets Pale Rider meets Farenheit 451 meets Deadwood. It’s in my collection and I recommend you add it to yours.