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The Book of Eli

The war tore a hole in the sky, and most of humanity perished in the harsh sunlight. Now one man trudges West, perhaps the last man on Earth to actually have a sense of purpose …as long as his iPod still works.

While that little detail in The Book of Eli seems a little ridiculous, it's actually such touches that lighten up what is an otherwise extremely bleak story. Not that the end of the civilization should be particularly funny, but under the direction of the Hughes Brothers, it's rarely been so beautiful though barren.

That really stands out on the blu-ray DVD release coming out this week. Bleached in hue but crisp in transfer, the imagery really pops - and there's no doubt that the brother directorial team compose purposeful pictures. Their use of contrast makes the extreme violence of the film almost tasteful; much is suggested, not shown, but you feel like you've seen more if only because of the aftermath.

So The Book of Eli turns out to be lush in its visuals, but actually a little sparse in its story. If Clint Eastwood's Man with No Name had survived the apocalypse and been Denzel Washington, this might be his movie. Eli (Washington) clearly borrows a lot from that earlier character, but his eyes are sad, not hard like Eastwoods's.

Yet you've seen it in other forms before. A stranger wanders into town, one run by the vicious boss Carnegie (Gary Oldman), who maintains the barest veneer of civilization. Carnegie sends his thugs out through the wastelands looking for books. Not just any book, of course, but THE book, the one that can bend people to its purpose - and the purpose of its holder - by the sheer power and hope offered by its words.

Allegedly all copies of that book were burned by the survivors, and further hindering Carnegie's search is that no one in his town seems to actually be literate. They wouldn't know it if they saw it.

With a light dusting of Fahrenheit 451, this post-apocalyptic Western still has a lot going for it. Though slow paced, the story has a few touches that keep it fairly compelling. It also has subtle character work, not quite spelling out whenever someone makes a realization about what's going on, as well as allowing actors to breathe without chewing scenery.

Jennifer Beals does some nice work as Mila Kunis' blind mother. Though Kunis' character Solara makes a few big leaps along her arc, the actress still anchors it well. Even Oldman seems restrained in a role that he could have easily gone over the top (though he does, admittedly, hover closely).

Warner Brothers offers this blu-ray package with a regular DVD and digital copy. For reasons of time, I focused on the blu-ray, which in addition to a great transfer has a pretty sharp sound mix. It's become my habit to watch with headphones on, which allow me to pick up a lot more subtleties on the soundtrack. That's not just in the sound mix, but in a hauntingly effective score by Atticus Ross.

The blu-ray also includes what the Hughes Brothers call a "graphic novel" prequel; really, it's a motion comic. With panels by Tommy Lee Edwards (Turf), the prequel delves into Carnegie's childhood, and it's a beautiful piece of work that I do understand might not have been as powerful without the animation. Still, let's call it what it is.

Their hearts are in the right place, though, and the other extras on the disc are interesting, both in getting into the actors' heads and the inspiration for screenwriter Gary Whitta, who may have read the graphic novel Just a Pilgrim, but makes it a lot more palatable.

Though it's yet another movie that tells us society will break down pretty quickly in the wake of disaster, The Book of Eli offers a message of hope that still leaves us to find the answer we choose.

Better yet, it earns it.

Available on Blu-ray Combo Pack, DVD, On Demand and for Download 6/15.

Derek McCaw

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