There Will Be Blood is, unarguably, a film that should primarily be experienced in a cinema. It is a big movie and was meant to be seen on a big screen. But at home, on a television, the experience loses no power. I imagine one could watch Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest opus on an iPod and still be moved. It’s just a heckuva motion picture. Among 2007′s best.
The DVD transfer is gorgeous. The film is every bit as dark and stark as it is in the theater. The blacks are oily and the whites are blinding. With everything from the ubiquitous dust and heavy wool suits to the grassy hills and cobalt ocean registering with rich, almost-palpable texture. Robert Elswit shot the hell out this thing and it shows in every frame.
What comes across more in the privacy of one’s home than in the theater, is the relationship between Daniel Day-Lewis’ Daniel Plainview and his would-be brother, Henry (Kevin J. O’Connor). Where the cinema lends itself to big events, big emotions and big cinematic flourishes that can overwhelm narrative nuance, television is the place where narrative nuance thrives.
After every screening of this in the theater (I saw it three times) I always walked away a little disappointed by the Henry character. His presence felt a bit forced. He is not as interesting or charismatic as any of the film’s other second stringers by half. But on TV the relationship plays much better. Henry’s brief visit works, in a way, as a respite for the audience. This section of the film feels like an episode of HBO’s Deadwood – deliberate, steady, nuanced, and in no rush. If most of Blood works like a classic Hollywood epic, the scenes between Daniel and Henry are like poignant character studies.
One sees, on the small screen, the way the relationships are explored with profound delicacy. Day-Lewis’ Plainview is obviously the center of this film. But it is only through his keenly observed relationships that the audience really gets a sense of the man. Every character that enters Plainview’s world illuminates some deep-seeded characteristic of this paradoxical man. Often contrary to their superficial role in the film, the supporting characters reveal some latent quality lurking within Daniel.
Plainview’s adopted son H.W. (Dillon Freasier) is more obviously a tool in this man’s bag of capitalist tricks. Henry, a sort of villain, reveals Plainview’s true desire to have a familial connection. Paul Dano’s Eli Sunday highlights Plainview’s respectably immutable value system. Each of these characters exists with a definite narrative and character-building purpose in this picture. This is a rare accomplishment, in even the best pictures.
Watching a film like There Will Be Blood in the intimacy of one’s own home allows one to enjoy these characters and their peculiarities in a more relaxed way. Where the theater experience made the explosive scenes and set pieces that much more penetrating, the television experience allows the film to breathe more deeply. What feels long to some in a theater environment moves with a comfortable steadiness at home.
The Special Features on the disc are consistent with the rest of the picture: simple, clean, and revelatory. Particularly the “15 Minutes – Pics, Research, Etc. for the Making of…”. Using the music heard throughout the actual film, compliments of Radiohead’s Johnny Greenwood, “15 Minutes” is an illuminating journey through still photographs, newsreels, and vintage motion picture footage juxtaposed to scenes from the film. It is reason enough to own a copy of the Collector’s Edition of this exceptional movie.