Historically, January and September are my favorite months for movie releases. September because it’s like this transition period from summer blockbusters to winter awards fare, so the movies are like these hybrids of the two. Sicario and Drive are great examples. January is typically known as a dumping ground, but there are still gems peppered in there as well. Two of my favorite franchises, Resident Evil and Underworld, have, or will, release movies in January and September. This is a weird metric to judge movies on, I know, but it’s a time frame I look forward to. I bring this up because the subject of this article was released in, you guessed it, January. I don’t remember much leading up to the release of The Book of Eli, and that’s because I was probably a little underwhelmed with the trailers. That doesn’t mean I didn’t want to see it, it just means I wasn’t going to be first in line, in fact I was pretty much dragged to it. I had just moved to Arizona and didn’t know anyone, so when my uncle said he was taking me to the movies, I didn’t complain. Maybe it was the fact that I was more preoccupied with getting out of the house than actually seeing a movie, but I was blown away by what was on screen.
The Book of Eli is one of those movies that just is. Nobody feels too strongly about it one way or the other. The critics seemed to give it a beating, which shouldn’t be an indicator on your feelings, but it’s a real shame we aren’t talking about this movie more. What follows could be considered spoilers, so if you haven’t seen it please go do that before you finish this. The script made The Black List of most liked screenplays in 2007, unfortunately whenever a movie on The Black List gets made it seems to not go over well with critics and audiences.
It was directed by the Hughes Brothers, who brought us Menace II Society and Dead Presidents. They haven’t worked much since, which is a real shame because what they brought to this is wholly original. From the set design to the action scenes. The fact that they don’t get more recognition for this movie is a real shame.
The movie came out in the midst of the current post-apocalyptic boom, but it delivered something, at least to me, that stands apart from all the rest in the genre. Zombie apocalypse landscapes have been ingrained in our minds since the late 60’s, but we’ve never really been given a nuclear apocalypse setting. The look of everything is just unique. Fans of the Fallout video games thought that promotional material for the movie was that of a Fallout movie because of the similarities, but having been a fan of both I can say the similarities are minimal. Gone are the looks of Mother Nature reclaiming abandoned cities and roadways, this is scorched Earth. It is never directly explained that it was a nuclear holocaust, but it is heavily implied with from the decaying ruins of the cities that are left and the way the sky looks.
Story wise, it’s a different take on the apocalypse story. These people aren’t trying to survive per-se, they aren’t trying to find a cure, they aren’t looking for shelter, they’re just being. Sure, they don’t live in a lap of luxury, but this is obviously decades after the main event and society has somewhat starting to come back together, in the loosest form of the word. Even the bad guy has some weird motivations: he’s on the lookout for books, more specifically a certain book, but that’s really all he wants, and oddly enough he rules the people of his town by being one of the few people who can read. I’ve heard of a few people say they knew the twist at the end of the movie was coming, but I was completely taken off guard. It’s actually fun to watch multiple times and try to pick up on some of the minute details that give away his blindness.
In a sea of post-apocalyptic fare, some better than others, The Book of Eli stands out as something different because there is no nefarious world organization that brought on the downfall of civilization, or is trying to control it after its demise; there is no super flu that is tenuously explained through pseudo-science. It’s just about a guy trying to get a single book to a group of people trying to save humanity through the preservation of history.