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DVD Pick: There Will Be Blood

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There Will Be Blood was one of the finest films of last year – a bold and mesmerising drama charting the rise of an oil man in the early years of the 20th century.

Daniel Day Lewis won the Best Actor Oscar for his stunning central performance – the driven and obsessive Daniel Plainview, who starts off as a silver miner before slowly establishing himself as a hugely successful oil prospector.

For writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson it was yet another marvellous addition to his already dazzling filmography (which now includes Hard Eight, Boogie Nights, Magnolia and Punch-Drunk Love).

But this was an unusual departure for him – unlike his last three films it is away from his usual San Fernando Valley setting, eschews most of his favourite actors (such as John C Reilly, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Julianne Moore) and has a haunting, other-worldly feel to it.

A lot of this mood is created by Jonny Greenwood‘s unusual and innovative score, which was shamefully disqualified for Oscar recognition.

The film also saw Anderson re-team with cinematographer Robert Elswit, who won the Oscar for his remarkable visuals in a particularly strong year.

Technically, the film is quite astonishing with Jack Fisk‘s meticulous production design, David Crank‘s art direction and Dylan Tichenor‘s clever editing all of the highest order.

Revisiting the film again on DVD is interesting, as the bold narrative jolts and intensity subside to deeper feelings about the themes of the film.

Although viewers may have theories on the film tied in with America’s current adventures in the Middle East, Anderson doesn’t deal in clumsy metaphors but instead creates a compelling take on America’s obsession with oil, money and business.

Given how outstanding the actual film is, it is a little disappointing that this 2-disc special edition is lacking a little in features.

For the third time running, Anderson has chosen not to record a commentary. Perhaps he feels it should ‘speak for itself’, but given the excellence of his commentary on the marvellous R1 Boogie Nights DVD his audio absence is still sorely missed.

That said, what is here is still very good. The feature takes up the first disc and the transfer of the film is superb – the colours, lighting and sound are all wonderfully reproduced.

But the extras on the second disc – whilst interesting – are a little sparse given the importance of this film.

They include:

  • The Story Of Petroleum: This vintage featurette (1923-7) from The National Archives was created by the U.S. Bureau of Mines in collaboration with the Sinclair Oil Company as a promotional film. It runs for almost just over 25 minutes and provides some fascinating historical and social context. It shows how early oil pioneers looked for and extracted oil from the ground, as well as providing many useful nuggets of information. A nice touch is that Jonny Greenwood’s score is layered over what is an old silent film, making a stronger connection with Anderson’s feature.
  • ’15 minutes’ slideshow: This is a highly effective 15 minute montage of shots from the film inter-cut with archive images the filmmakers used for their research. It is striking to see how influential these photographs were on the finished visuals – some are almost reproduced shot-for-shot. Again, Jonny Greenwood’s score provides a beautiful counterpoint to the visual mix.
  • Deleted Scenes: The first of the deleted scenes is called ‘Fishing’ and at just over 6 minutes long feels like something Anderson cut out late in the edit process. It show’s how Plainview’s men are badly delayed after their rope breaks and use a process called ‘fishing’ to recover their tools at the bottom of the oil well. There is also a notable exchange with Eli’s father that touches upon the central themes of faith and fathers. The second is a called ‘Haircut/Interrupted Hymn’ which is a strange mix of scenes from the film involving Plainview and H.W.
  • Dailies Gone Wild (Outtake): Taken from the sequence of Plainview and H.W. in the restaurant, it seems to shed a bit of light on Daniel Day Lewis’ acting methods and culminates in one of the lighter moments he had on set with his young co-star.
  • Trailer: The mysterious first teaser trailer was unusual in that PTA cut it and uploaded it on to YouTube without telling the studio, which freaked them out – until they saw all the positive comments left by users of the site (alas Paramount have since pulled it from YouTube). The fuller theatrical trailer reveals more about the plot and does a good job of compressing some of the juicier elements of the film.

Strangely, Buena Vista Home Entertainment (the UK distributor) have gone for a rather odd packaging which consists of folded card.

There Will Be Blood - DVD cover

Although the design is nice, the way the discs slide out like an envelope doesn’t seem too practical in the long term.

Despite that, maybe we can hope for a beefed up special edition somewhere down the line. Until then, this remains an essential purchase for any true film lover.

To conclude, here is PTA discussing the film last September when it had a surprise world premiere at Fantastic Fest in Austin, Texas:

There Will Be Blood is out now on DVD from Buena Vista Home Entertainment

> Buy There Will Be Blood on DVD at Amazon UK
> Official site
> There Will Be Blood at the IMDb
> Check out reviews at Metacritic
> There Will Be Milkshakes – popular viral video and a discussion board
> New York Times interview with Daniel Day Lewis about the film
> AV Club interview with Paul Thomas Anderson about There Will Be Blood
> Extensive article in American Cinematographer magazine on Elswit’s work in There Will Be Blood
> PTA and Day Lewis have a lengthy discussion with Charlie Rose about the film
> An interview with Robert Elswit and production designer Jack Fisk about There Will Be Blood

Written by Ambrose Heron

July 10th, 2008 at 1:02 am