A lot hinges on the ending of The Book of Eli. Where you stand on this story, and your own personal beliefs, will be called into question. It challenges the material, its meanings, and its purpose. Nothing is particularly clear, and words spoken prior hardly match the beliefs of many.
This is all positive though, challenging the Hollywood norm, pushing into touchy religious territory, and turning a main character into some kind of violent, harsh savior. Eli (Denzel Washington) is quiet, the film immediately establishing the sense of isolation as he travels down barren roads, humanity nearly wiped out by a nuclear war.
He carries a bible, the last of its kind, Eli’s own stories telling of a past where they were burned and possibly the cause of the unseen war. That is what makes Book of Eli complex; this is not a story of a man simply trying to save or salvage the past. This is a man of faith, one who murders countless people on his quest to deliver this book to the west coast for reasons unknown. He is hunted by Carnegie (Gary Oldman), a ruthless small town leader who sees the book for its power, its ability to control the people and turn him into a god-like figure. His intentions are clear, Eli’s are not.
Eli looks fantastic, directed with flair by the Hughes Brothers. The first fight sequence, shown entirely in silhouette, is wonderful. Much of the film is lit very specifically, light playing a role in obscuring faces partially. Their technical merits are many, including a truly stunning master shot during a shoot-out in a house. The camera pans in, around, up and down the building, keeping key characters in frame with seamless digital transitions.
All of the camera trickery is impressive, but the messages of Eli are what matter. Eli is seen trading simple wet naps for a battery charge, the shopkeeper amazed at the sight. We are given a speech, preachy as it may be, about how we waste and do not value what we have. Despite the religious implications, Book of Eli is more about what we have, preserving it and remembering it. People of Eli’s world do not know of television, a lost aspect of the “old world,” much like the book he carries.
Since much of Book of Eli is shot in shadow, the critical black levels must remain intact… they do. Warner’s VC-1 encode is superlative in keeping the image full of depth, and respecting the original photography no matter how grim. The first fight, with the hotly contrasted sky and characters cloaked in shadow is stunning. Not a hint of ringing is evident, and the effect is superb.
The bright contrast will remain for most of the film, rarely washing out detail. The biggest culprit is the Red One camera, which is what Book of Eli was shot on exclusively. For all of its impressive close-ups, the mid-range and long shots suffer. The first notable instance of that digital camera look is at 25:46, followed by numerous shots like 36:60 (Denzel’s face), and Mila Kunis at 46:55 who looks completely smoothed over. Long shots of the landscape are consistently appearing processed, such as the road at 45:28, all texture being lost.
It would not be the distraction it is were it not for the impeccable detail in other sequences and close-ups. You can see early, even with the dim lighting, that facial textures can be exceptional. Denzel sits alone at 9:25, and all of this facial features are evident. Scenes where texture shines are about 50/50 with those that don’t. One of the final shots of Denzel, a zoom at 1:40:50, is just amazingly rendered. Shots of Gary Oldman in the car after retrieving his prize are all flawless and reference in their clarity. The same cannot be said for those scenes in his office above the bar.
A flat, muted palette barely lets the film into the realm of color. The washed out browns and oranges are ugly, but appropriate. Late, the shots of the west coast introduce a minimal level of saturation, the flat greens and blue sky finally seeping into the frame. Black levels hold here as well, along with that blistering hot contrast. At least that is consistent.
An aggressive DTS-HD mix is evident from the early moments of the film. In the first fight, Eli slashes at his foes, at one point dismembering a man with a chainsaw. The blades are still spinning on the tool as the arm passes behind the viewer convincingly. The clarity of the clanging blades and spilled blood is magnificent. A bar fight later likewise does the same, showcasing the immense split of the stereo channels, along with breaking glass and tables.
Shoot-outs are pure audio bliss, gunfire aggressive in the positional channels and the low-end. Bullets pass from the front to the rears with precision, creating an immersive level of audio. The complexity of the master shot during the house stand-off is still maintained with the same level of accuracy and intensity. A single gun shot at 1:24:13 carries a moving echo effect, swirling around the soundfield with a dizzying factor.
The score carries the same beefy low-end, a powerful thud from drums always clean and smooth. At 12:53, a woman’s dialogue appears soft and a bit distorted, the only instance of note. Otherwise, all of the spoken lines carry the expected modern level of fidelity. Exceptional.
Warner’s Maximum Movie Mode returns here, with around 34-minutes of pop-up content that can be viewed separately. Behind the Story is split into two sections of making-of material, around a half hour total. A digital comic serves as a prequel to the film, and a brief selection of deleted/alternate scenes run under two minutes. A featurette on the soundtrack runs five minutes, and Warner’s BD-Live access remains.