There seems to be an informal debate among critics as to whether There Will Be Blood is a break from or continuation of Paul Thomas Anderson’s directorial style. My reaction upon first viewing the film is the former. I’ve been a fan of Anderson’s work since Boogie Nights. While I’ve always felt his previous films are beautiful and entertaining in many regards, they have never been greater than the sum of their parts. While this is not detrimental to enjoying the films, it is enough to keep them from becoming the works of art that Anderson has been striving to achieve. His previous films seem to be trying too hard to be noticed, jamming in too many overreaching themes that never fully come to fruition. This may be the deficit of having your ambition outreach your talent.
There Will Be Blood stands in contrast to his previous films in that it does not feel so frenetic and forced and works much more cohesively. Has Anderson finally crafted a masterpiece as many critics are claiming? My answer is a qualified no. It is easily his strongest showing to date, exhibiting a much more stable sense of storytelling that backs up the themes of the movie as opposed to working at odds against them. Anderson has finally cultivated the patience to allow his directing style to open up, breathe and absorb the viewer rather than trying to beat them into submission. Blood is a stunning, if not perfect achievement, that definitely gives promise for his future efforts
Some critics have suggested that There Will Be Blood carries over the themes of family from Magnolia. I would disagree in that while there are minimal family dynamics, they only serve to show the callous nature of Daniel Plainview, an oilman at the turn of the century dedicated to achieving wealth and power at any cost. What we are presented with in Plainview is a character whose avarice knows no limits and is matched by an equally unbound depravity. He is misanthropic to the point of seeing all humans as a means to an end and ultimately even hating himself. Plainview shows no regret, no remorse in his unrelenting drive to achieve as much wealth and power as possible.
Based on that description, one could ask, “Why would I want to watch this movie?” If you were looking for a main criticism to this film, I would argue this is it. How do you justify constructing a 158 minute epic around such a deplorable character? Anderson’s direction and use of story is more accomplished and purposeful than ever, the cinematography is gorgeous but there is one real answer: Daniel Day-Lewis. Day-Lewis presents a powerhouse of a performance that is on par with anything he has done before and is arguably his best to date.
While many of our classic modern day actors such as Pacino and De Niro have degenerated from their former greatness to becoming mere shadows of their previous selves, Day-Lewis remains a chameleon of an actor who is meticulous in his choice of roles. He becomes so enveloped in Daniel Plainview that you forget you’re watching an actor perform. His portrayal of this character is so hypnotic that while many of his actions don’t deserve our attention, you find yourself unable to look away from the screen. The beautiful camera work and elegant soundtrack reinforce the stoic nature of the main character. In fact the film is so absorbing, it is possible upon initial viewing you won’t notice there is no spoken dialogue for almost the first 15 minutes.
One of the biggest flaws of the film may be the ending. Without revealing details, the first time I watched the film, the ending stunned me to silence, as I did not expect what transpires. On repeat viewings, the actions that end the film do fit congruently within the nature of the main character. Unfortunately, they only work to reinforce the despicable nature of Plainview and ending the film on that note snaps the viewer out of the spell of the film and leaves one somewhat deflated. Much more could be written about There Will Be Blood, but suffice to say it is not a perfect film as many critics will claim. However its flaws are easily forgiven based upon the deeply rewarding experience presented. It is a challenging film I plan to revisit many times in the future.
The VC-1 1080p transfer on Blood is very close to perfect based on the best we’ve seen of Blu-ray to date. There really is very little to fault in it. My main complaint would be that blacks do not always resolve as cleanly as they could, but this is a minor issue. Colors are deep and solid, accurately representing the beautiful, muted palette of film. Skin tones are displayed very naturally throughout, and outdoor scenes, of which there are many and the majority being harsh, barren landscapes, come across in a gorgeous natural reproduction. The print is astonishingly clean, as you’d expect from a recent release. If digital processing was done to clean up the print, it wasn’t too heavy handed, as there are still ample amounts of detail. In fact, detail is almost hyper-realistic at points. The transfer definitely delivers that sense of dimensionality we’ve come to expect from the best of high-def. I doubt you would use this as a disc to demo your high-def system. Not because it isn’t visually stunning but because this isn’t the type of film you will watch a scene or two from out of context. This film demands being watched in its full breath from beginning to end.
You might think that a character driven epic wouldn’t benefit from lossless sound. The Dolby TrueHD 5.1 track provided brings out dialogue with crisp precision. It delivers the strings and percussion included in the strong score from Johnny Greenwood, of Radiohead fame, with striking fullness. The film is not heavy on action but the soundtrack delivers when it needs to. The occasional gunshot, the deep creaking sound of the rope being pulled from an oil well and especially the explosive scenes of achieving a full gusher of oil resound thoroughly through the rear and lower channels of your sound system. The rear channels aren’t used too heavily beyond that, but environmental noises are played out well in good ambient surround. This soundtrack more than adequately does justice to the film. Also included are Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks in Spanish and French. Subtitles are included in English, French and Spanish.
All the supplements included on the standard def release are ported over here. While there is not a lot to go through, the benefit is they are all presented in high definition. There is an option to play them all but I did not take advantage of it as it did not seem it would be of benefit due to their somewhat disparate nature. The extras are as follows:
The Story of Petroleum: The major extra on the disc clocks in at 26 minutes. It is a silent film originating from the mid 1920s that was created to show the background of the oil business. It is interesting to watch as it reflects many of the details of the movie. I’m not sure how much re-watchability there is in it.
15 Minutes: This extra lasts appropriately 15 minutes thus justifying its title. It is a montage of still black and white pictures reflecting the time and environment that the film is historically based upon juxtaposed with related scenes from the movie. It is enhanced with Johnny Greenwood’s score and lacks dialogue mimicking the opening of the movie.
Deleted Scenes: Two deleted scenes, Hair Cut(3 minutes) and Go Fishing(6 minutes), are presented. Both feel well within the theme of the movie. Hair Cut feels more like a throw away. Go Fishing seems it could have been included in the film as it really exemplifies the nature of Daniel Plainview.
Dailies Gone Wild: This outtake is 3 minutes and is an alternate version of the scene in the move where Plainview encounters rival businessmen in a bar. It is very interesting to watch Day-Lewis’ acting.
Teaser and Theatrical Trailer: Both the teaser and trailer for the film are presented in HD.
One glaring omission from the extras is the lack of commentary track from Anderson. Based on the richness and depth of this film, discerning viewers would benefit from the insight of his commentary. It would also be nice to see a full documentary detailing the history and making of this film from multiple perspectives including the director, cinematographer, actors, etc. Considering the solid extras included on special editions of Anderson’s previous films, it would not surprise me if we see a more expansive “special edition” double dip from Paramount on this title in the future.
There Will Be Blood is not a film that will match everyone’s tastes. It is a film whose strengths far, far outweigh its weaknesses and we’re presented with the best direction and most cohesive storytelling from Paul Thomas Anderson to date. When you consider the utterly hypnotic and well deserved Oscar winning performance from Daniel Day-Lewis, this film easily recommends itself with its strong presentation on Blu-ray. You get a near reference quality transfer and very solid if not overly remarkable high-def soundtrack. The main weakness of this package is the slim supplements that feel very anemic considering the depth of the film that could be explored. If nothing else, we really deserve a commentary from Anderson. As previously stated, there is a good chance we’ll be a seeing a special edition of this title in the future. In the meantime, I recommend this disc as a very solid effort.
– Robert Searle