There Will Be Blood: Special Edition (US - DVD R1)
Our Gabe Powers is a false prophet, and his DVD review is a superstition...
Ladies and gentlemen, thank you so much for visiting with us this evening. Now, I've travelled across half our state to be here and to see about this land. Now, I daresay some of you might have heard some of the more extravagant rumours about what my plans are; I just thought you'd like to hear it from me. This is the face. There's no great mystery. I'm an oilman, ladies and gentlemen. I have numerous concerns spread across this state. I have many wells flowing at many thousand barrels per day. I like to think of myself as an oilman. As an oilman, I hope that you'll forgive just good old-fashioned plain speaking. Now, this work that we do is very much a family enterprise—I work side by side with my wonderful son, H.W., I think one or two of you might have met him already.
Paul Thomas Anderson is one of the most important directors of his generation, and has staked this claim for some time, but like contemporaries David Fincher, Spike Jonze, and Quentin Tarantino his output has totalled only a mere handful of films, not enough to fully judge his skills. His first film, Hard Eight (a.k.a. Sydney), was taken from him and re-edited by the studio, so its hard to include it fully when considering his canon, though even the mangled version of the film did predominately display Anderson’s skills at moving the camera. Boogie Nights and Magnolia were better samples of Anderson’s writing and directing skills, and should both be counted as full on modern classics.
Anderson’s next film, Punch Drunk Love, would mark a needed break in style, but it never felt like the next step in the correct direction. Boogie Nights and Magnolia are companion pieces, woven from the fabric of Sidney Lumet, Martin Scorsese and (of course) Robert Altman. Punch Drunk Love, a fine film, easily the best thing Adam Sandler’s ever been attached to, was a fluff piece in comparison. Anderson was marking time, experimenting with more easily manageable material, just like David Fincher did with Panic Room between the master works of Fight Club and Zodiac. Anderson needed the film that would stamp him permanently in the minds of possible detractors.
Boogie Nights and Magnolia are still, and likely always will be, two of my all time favourite motion pictures, but in comparison the grandeur of There Will Be Blood is more then just a step for the director, it’s a quantum leap. Anderson’s early assets brightly displayed, but beyond this the growth is simply extraordinary. To tell the dark and angling story of Daniel Plainview Anderson forgoes most of his Scorsese inspired camera movement, his rhythmic and flashy editing, and penchant for acquired period music. He also ditches the Altmanesque interwoven story arcs, in favour of needlepoint focus. The idol worship comparisons are still there to be made, as the film takes a Taxi Driver-esque glare into the abyss, along with memories of Altman’s graceful journeys into the West, but the structural uproot is a revolution for Anderson.
There Will Be Blood is a studious look at a solitary man shot slowly, edited softly, and scored more originally than any film in recent memory. It can’t be compared it to the work of Scorsese, Altman or Lumet, because of this focus and these slightly terrifying tweaks There Will Be Blood comes off as an homage to Stanley Kubrick. Of all the films in all the world the one that struck me as sharing the most in common with There Will Be Blood is 2001: A Space Odyssey. Both films open with a long and wordless sequence of plot crafting events, and both these opening sequences would’ve been deemed unnecessary by most popular filmmakers. Plainview’s gold prospecting to oil prospecting journey also shares themes with early man’s discovery of violence. Both films also cut casually through large expanses of time without much regard for standard editing conventions (an effect Ang Lee utilized for Brokeback Mountain).
Anderson’s absorption of Westerns and other period pieces is admirable, as he deftly quotes John Ford, John Huston and Sergio Leone with a grace other filmmakers of his generation could only dream of. And unlike so many of his peers and idols Anderson writes his own material, though in this particular dramatic change in style can be partially attributed to adaptation (I haven’t read Upton Sinclair’s novel ‘Oil!’), and at least half of the main character belongs to Anderson’s actor. Daniel Day Lewis’ towering performance is one part John Huston’s Noah Cross, a pinch of Robert De Niro’s Travis Bickle, and a fistful of Lewis’ own Bill Cutting, and he earned every bit of that little golden man that’s now sitting on his mantel. There are dozens of other characters filling out the film, but PTA mostly avoids revisiting his past affection for ensemble pieces, fixating almost every one of the two hours and thirty eight minutes on either Plainview or his weasely nemesis Eli Sunday, played with disgusting relish by Paul Dano.
There Will Be Blood was one HD DVD release I was really looking forward too. As in the case of Sweeney Todd, it now looks like we’ll have to wait a long while for the Blu-ray release to enjoy the film in picture perfect glory. I guarantee that anyone now accustom to the look of hi-def will notice some problems with this standard definition transfer.
Robert Elswit’s award winning cinematography loses quite a bit of detailed grandeur. The grit of the sand caked plains is nearly lost, and in even slight darkness objects are completely lost. Colours are well balanced for the most part, though some skin tones are a bit red, and some of the deeper browns are muddied. The most explicit error in quality is the heavy edge enhancement. Almost any case of duelling contrast results in thick, dancing white lines. Elswit’s contrasting use of thick (oily) blacks is thankfully not lost in the vaguely unsatisfying transfer.
Paul Thomas Anderson’s use of period music in Boogie Nights became legend, his work with Aimee Mann on Magnolia was quite inspired, and Punch Drunk Love, being a lighter film, was a slightly more traditional in its musical approach. Jonny Greenwood’s music is a practical antithesis to every musical direction taken by Anderson in the past. His score (only his second full theatrical score) seems to represent the demented inner working of Daniel Plainview’s angry mind. The almost entirely string based score (there is some percussion, though most of it is based on the pounding of string based instruments) is authentically terrifying, playing against almost every expectation driven into our heads by a century of film music. Greenwood and Anderson could’ve gone the Ennio Moricone or Max Steiner rout, but they rubbed brilliantly against the grain with this Bernard Hermann-esque fright house offering.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 track effectively splits its attention between Greenwood’s score and the actor’s full-bodied dialogue. Most of Anderson’s set pieces are relatively quiet, only to smack the audience with the painful punch of a falling scaffold or exploding stick of dynamite. Only the scene in which the new well bursts into flames is particularly sound effect heavy, and though the explosions are quite loud, even this sequence is precise and sparing audibly.
You need to see this movie, and you should probably own it too, but I’m going to recommend against this rather weak, two-disc special edition. The only extras are on disc two, and don’t add up to a whole lot, especially when compared to that fantastic making-of documentary that accompanied the second disc of Magnolia. In all the extra material, not including the additional Story of Petroleum short film, is just over thirty minutes, including the trailers.
‘15 Minutes’ is a literally fifteen minute long jumble of photo research and scenes from The Story of Petroleum compared to moments from the film set to Greenwood’s music. It’s nice to compare, but I’d really prefer some kind of commentary by Anderson during the jumble.
There are two deleted scenes, strangely not presented as deleted scenes, but simple as ‘The Fishing Sequence’ and ‘Haircut/Interrupted Hymm’. The first is a really interesting cut because it adds something to the characters (quite a bit actually), and more importantly, the audience’s knowledge of drilling process. The scene is completely finished, with score and full Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound, and it runs a solid six minutes. ‘Haircut/Interrupted Hymm’ is more of a series of emotional beats that were already stated through other means in the final film. It is not presented in finished 5.1.
‘Dailies Gone Wild’ is an alternate take on the ‘diner scene’ towards the end of the film when a drunken Daniel Plainview re-confronts one of the men from Standard Oil. The version that ended up in the film is quite a bit more menacing, and better sets up the gruesomely funny final scene. The trailers are great, especially the nerve jangling full trailer.
The Story of Petroleum is a silent film made in 1923 to describe the oiling process in layman’s terms. It’s actually a very educational little documentary, complete with animated diagrams, and full on-screen descriptions of every important part of the drilling and pipelining process. Because it is silent the short has been set to the sounds of Greenwood’s There Will Be Blood score. The film runs about twenty-five minutes.
If it wasn’t for No Country for Old Men this would’ve been P.T. Anderson’s year. There Will Be Blood was a very strong second place in a very strong year, and there is a very good possibility that future generations will embrace it more ravenously then the Coen brother’s recent triumph. It’s a shame that pop culture is only picking up on the film’s final scene, which out of context isn’t half as shocking. Hopefully this comedic interest means people that would normally avoid hour and a half long period pieces will see and ‘get’ the film. This DVD has big edge enhancement issues, and its extras aren’t really worth the extra bucks. Perhaps, if Anderson’s previous double release of Boogie Nights is any indication, we’ll be seeing a better Blu-ray release, but it also seems entirely possible that Anderson isn’t interested in analyzing his films for us, after all, his last two releases have been entirely without commentary tracks.
Review by Gabriel Powers
Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian
Release Date: 8th April 2008
Disc Type: Single side, dual layer
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 English
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish
Extras: 15 Minutes, Dailies Gone Wild, Deleted Scenes, 'The Story of Petroleum'
Easter Egg: No
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Cast: Daniel Day-Lewis, Paul Dano, Kevin J. O'Connor, Jacob Stringer, Matthew Braden Stringer, Ciarán Hinds
Length: 158 minutes
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