This is another movie from that YouTube video about “critically hated movies that are actually awesome” (watch it here). When this movie showed up on the list, I was surprised. I didn’t remember The Book of Eli being hated. But after checking Rotten Tomatoes and seeing it at 49%, I realized that this divided critics. This is the first time I’ve revisited a movie I’ve already reviewed for this site, so it was interesting to see what I had to say, because I honestly had no idea what I wrote (this came out eight and a half year ago). I do remember enjoying it very much; I did buy it, after all.
You Should Only Read Reviews After You've Written Your Own. Even Then, It Might Not Be a Good Idea.
I remember The Book of Eli having a unique, nearly black and white look for a scorched Earth apocalypse and featuring some impressive, gory action sequences. (From here on out there will be major SPOILERS.) I also remember it for being that movie that reveals Denzel Washington has been blind the entire movie. It’s a crazy twist, but upon rewatching it holds up, for the most part. Some critics hated it; A. O. Scott called it “beyond absurd.” So that’s one reason why critics hated it. But I still didn’t understand the hatred or rather, the indifference of half of the critics.
The movie is very Christian, as the titular book is possibly the last Bible in existence. Was that why? Christian movies typically get destroyed by critics. Looking at a few negative reviews, that’s not the case exactly. Many claim the movie set out to have a powerful message but fell flat. They don’t say how exactly it fell flat, but I’m assuming since it was about the importance of religion they felt that it never delivered on the idea that the Bible can save humanity. I don’t think the end result of mass producing the Bible was the point. It was more about faith and struggling through a difficult journey in a destroyed world. But hey, different strokes and all that.
The other problem was the setting. Critics were dealing with apocalypse fatigue as The Road had been released a few months prior. A lot of critics mentioned how it provided nothing new to the tired genre. I thought it had an interesting look for the end of the world. More importantly, it felt like a fully realized world. Of course there’s going to be some similarities to other films, but I found it to be unique enough.
Many critics found it too serious and just a slog to get through. I don’t get this at all. There is a lot of action, and since most of it is filmed in long takes, you can actually tell what’s going on. And sure, there are a few too many slow motion moments that attempt to add emotional depth (the scene when Mila Kunis breaks down after nearly being raped, the moment when Denzel gets shot which seems to last five minutes), but I would hardly call that a slog. Another common complaint was that the film lacked humor. First off, just how funny is the apocalypse supposed to be? Still, there are quite a few moments of humor. For instance, the entire sequence with the cannibals (played to great comic effect by Michael Gambon and Frances de la Tour) was played for laughs.
I hate reading reviews (I know, the irony). For one thing, they make me question my own opinion about the film. I try to avoid them until after I’ve written my own review (this is actually the first time I read any reviews for this movie). Also, I get annoyed with a lot critics who offer plenty of complaints with no examples to back to them up, and they spend two thirds of the review just summarizing the film (Ed Koch’s review for The Atlantic was particularly annoying). I also hate reading my own reviews. But if I’m going to complain about other reviews, I should do the same with my original review.
Looking back, I made the same comparisons to The Road. I guess it was fresh in everyone’s memory, but I liked both films. Overall, I stand by my original review, though there are a few cringe-worthy elements. I called the action worthy of Michael Bay, and this was meant in a positive manner. To be fair, this was before he turned completely into the Transformers “what the fuck is going on?” action. I was referring to the scene in Bad Boys II where the camera travels through a house (through bullet holes and walls and whatnot), which happens during the house assault in The Book of Eli. Still, I should have compared it to Alfonso Cuaron’s Children of Men, especially since the two movies are similar beyond the style of action.
I use “though” way too much. I still do. I should really consult a thesaurus. Or perhaps I should stop making a point, only to give an example that disproves that point the very next sentence. I’ll probably just keep overusing “though,” though.
I’m more negative than I remembered. My memory of The Book of Eli was that it was pretty awesome. This was only my second year of reviewing movies, though. I probably thought that showering a movie with praise was amateurish. I do recall feeling like I had to point out something weak about a film even if I loved it. I still do that, but to a lesser degree.
Overall, I stand by my original review. I wish I didn’t try so hard to find weaknesses in a movie I thoroughly enjoyed, but oh well.
That Crazy Twist...
I didn’t revisit this movie just to compare reviews. I wanted to examine that blind twist in a bit more detail. I remember figuring out the twist before the reveal, but not much before. Watching it again, it should be obvious rather quickly, and perhaps it is to most people. There are plenty of clues throughout: he bumps into stuff in the first house he checks out, he has no reaction to a dead body and needs to feel the body’s feet to tell if there are shoes, he touches everything, he tells the bandit crew he can smell them from a mile away, he kicks the staircase at the cannibal house to tell where it is and uses his shotgun to find the door, and he claims he walks by faith, not by sight.
There is one big slip up with the blind twist. No, it’s not the fact that he can fight like a Jedi (I think we’re supposed to chalk that, and other unbelievable moments, up to God looking out for him. It’s the wetnap he trades Tom Waits for a battery charge. He mentions that it’s from KFC. Unless the wetnap had braille on it (I’ve never come across a wetnap like that), how could he possibly know where it was from. Not enough to ruin it for me, but it did bother me. Someone should have caught that.
I can see why people were annoyed with the twist, and while God watching over him may not be entirely clear, I believe that is the case. I believe it because after Gary Oldman shoots him, he talks so much about how God isn’t really protecting him after all.
The Unofficial Fallout Movie
Finally, the YouTube video mentions that this is as close to a Fallout movie as we are going to get. I hadn’t played Fallout when this came out, but now I love the franchise, and the video is exactly right. This movie is basically a prolonged quest in a Fallout game. Hell, there’s even a A Boy and His Dog poster in the movie, and that apocalyptic film is a well-known inspiration for Fallout. It’s possible this film is heavily influenced by the videogame series, and I think it’s better for it. In fact, watching it with that in mind made it more enjoyable for me. I noted all the similarities: apocalyptic setting (obviously), quiet, lone hero who can carry a lot of weapons and is proficient with all of them, can easily take out large groups of random bandits by himself, ends up traveling with a companion, is on a lengthy quest, stops by a town under the control of one man, and so on. If you’re a Fallout fan, watch this again with the series in mind.
I’m definitely glad I own this movie, and it’s the rare movie that ended up being very interesting to re-watch. Not just to look for blindness clues, but also to compare it to an awesome videogame franchise.
I don’t understand why the Hughes Brothers went separate ways after this. It didn’t set any box office records or anything, but it did okay.
I'm no fan of cats, so the beginning is fine with me. Adding insult to death by feeding a piece to a mouse. And critics said this was humorless!
Wetnaps for a battery charge. Strange transaction.
Most of the product placement for the film is covered by all the sunglasses that are all in great shape for the apocalypse. But there’s an odd Motorola placement when Oldman uses a megaphone. It just felt strange that he pulls up this megaphone prominently displaying a Motorola logo. I didn’t even know they made megaphones...hey, the placement worked!
On Oldman’s burn list: Oprah magazine, The Da Vinci Code, and The Diary of Anne Frank. What a monster, The Da Vinci Code is a fun read.
Two cat related events in first half hour...odd.
Really like the main theme. Atticus Ross’s first film score.
So they burned almost every Bible after the war. Okay. But everyone forgot Christianity? That's a bit much. I guess I can accept it for the purpose of the story, but it seems like it would need to be many more years after the war for this to have happened, not just thirty or so.
Overall, I like the idea of using the Bible for hope vs. control. Oldman calls it a weapon.
I get Oldman’s motivation is control and expanding beyond a single town, but why? I always wonder about that when a villain’s goal is simply power. I guess controlling more people would allow him to live better. I don't know. I guess there are plenty of real people who just want power…
How did Solara get out of the water shack?
Maybe the person who wasn't shot in the stomach should have been rowing the boat to Alcatraz the whole time…
Near the end in the row boat felt a bit too similar to Children of Men.
Great moustache, Malcolm McDowell!
Oldman telling Waits to be careful picking the lock of a book. What's it going to do, blow up?
Denzel’s been walking for thirty years. I looked it up. If he found the Bible in Bangor, Maine, that trip would be a little over 3,300 miles. If he walked just one mile a day, that should take over nine years. Sure, he’s blind, but he must have spent years doing a crazy zig-zag across America. Once again, this is all explained away by fate and whatnot. He was supposed to be where he was when he was so he could meet Solara so she could help him and be saved herself. But still, thirty years?!