Back in August one of 2007's best films, "300," showed up in stores on DVD and presented its fans with a significant dilemma: is it worth spending the extra money to get the snazzy, double-disc special edition or should you just go with the bare bones, regular version? (I answered the question with a review that can be read here.)
Now, eight months later, we're presented with a similar dilemma. "There Will Be Blood," the third of 2007's A+, masterpiece films, has received a similar DVD release strategy. (We didn't have this problem with the second A+ 2007 film, "No Country for Old Men." There's only one DVD edition of the Coens' sixth masterpiece.) So if you're a fan of "There Will Be Blood," and need a daily dose of Daniel Plainview - as I do - what should you do? Drop $23 for the special edition or $16 for the single disc? (Oh, and for my original review of the film click here.)
Unfortunately, the answer is not made any easier by the DVD simply being an incredible disappointment.
"There Will Be Blood" is an exhilarating film in so many ways. It's art so deep in its complexity and ambiguity that it can explored over and over again, with new nuggets - or perhaps oil deposits - continually revealing themselves. After my fiancée and I finished watching it the other day I commented "You know I think I could just start it over right now and watch it again from the beginning." She agreed.
And so we were both very exited by the DVD, hoping for some additional insights into the film to help us understand how it was made and how to grapple with the many deep themes it explores. A commentary would have been like manna from heaven. How about even a run of the mill behind-the-scenes featurette? Oh, how about a nice, juicy feature on Daniel Day-Lewis's legendary method acting?
Nope. No special features for you! "I drink your milkshake! I drink it up!"
Oh, there's stuff on that second disc. And some of it's even pretty good. But it's not what we really crave. (And forget about that holy grail of commentaries.)
There are seven items on the second disc totaling a little less than an hour. The first is a 15 minute collection of comparisons of historical, period photographs with scenes from the film. It's set to Jonny Greenwood's perfect scrose. It was moderately interesting but all in all I was pretty bored. Maybe if there was some kind of commentary going along with it then it would have been better.
Then there are the teaser and trailer - pretty standard features, so normal that they're pretty much expected with even the most bare bones of DVDs.
And then there's the real reason to consider buying the special edition: the deleted scenes. There are basically two kinds of deleted scenes to be found on DVDs, those cut for length, and those for quality. Unfortunately most deleted scenes are usually the later. They're deleted for an obvious reason: they're lousy. When perusing DVD bonus features my first stop is rarely the deleted scenes because so rarely do they provide anything to significantly enhance the movie experience. Not so with "There Will Be Blood."
There are two deleted scenes, both of which should have been left in the film. The first is the "fishing" sequence in which the drilling rope snaps and the workers have to "fish out" the tools so they can continue. This scene is particularly notable for an incredible encounter between Daniel and the simple Abel Sunday. It's yet another badass Day-Lewis moment to add to the collection already on display in the film. The second, shorter deleted scene in which Daniel's son H.W. gives him a haircut is also good, though nowhere near as much fun as the first one.
Almost as great a treat as the fishing sequence is what might be considered a blooper. "Dailies Gone Wild" is an alternate take of the scene of H.W. and Daniel ordering steaks at a restaurant. A somewhat intoxicated Daniel tells off and embarrasses the Standard Oil executive who had offered to purchase his company. In this version Day-Lewis performs a very entertaining improvisation.
The last feature is a silent film from the 1920s called "The Story of Petroleum." (It's rescored with Greenwood's music, of course.) This interesting film - some of whose footage is included in the first bonus feature - provides the historical, nonfiction information behind the early twentieth century oil drilling. It's worth watching once.
I was initially quite put off by the absences of a commentary and making-of features. This was also a bit of a surprise given the DVDs for Anderson's "Boogie Nights" and "Magnolia." Digging a little deeper, though, I found out the reason for the bareness of the "There Will Be Blood" DVD. According to the blog Cigarettes and Red Vines, the premier P.T. Anderson site, the director has been burned by comments made on commentaries in the past: "there is no commentary track, nor will there ever probably be one again. Paul mentioned to me how a lot of the buzz has been taken from doing them because people quote them back verbatim to him in interviews and fun/flippant comments are regarded as gospel. (not a quote, but the gist of what was said)." Isn't that the way things always are? A few idiots take a commentary too seriously and make it so a great director who records fantastic commentaries doesn't want to do them anymore. It just takes a few to ruin something for the rest of us. It brings out the Daniel Plainview: "There are times when I look at people and I see nothing worth liking."
So, based on these rather meager features, should one spend the extra cash for the double disc? Well, it's a tough call, and unfortunately relative to the degree one appreciates the film. Fanatics are going to want to spring for the special edition. The "fishing" sequence alone warrants the purchase. (And the cover and packaging are much cooler.) Those with a more moderate appreciation - or DVD budget - can stick with the single disc.