Though The Book of Eli has elements of the classic western in a sci-fi future, don't call Denzel Washington's upcoming post-apocalyptic action movie a western.
"[It's] the thing that the studio has been scared of and Warner Brothers, even, like, 'It's not a western, it's not a western, it's not a western,'" co-director Albert Hughes told a group of reporters who visited the film's Albuquerque, N.M., set last April 1. "And it's not a western, because ... it is set in the West, but it's not from ... that time period."
But Hughes—who directed the movie with his brother, Allen—admitted the film has its roots in westerns. "My brother and I have always been influenced by Sergio Leone and originally wanted to shoot this in Almeria, Spain, where they shot those spaghetti westerns, and we tip our hats a lot to those westerns. ... [But] there is some stuff, like, ... there's a bar, and it looks like a saloon, and there's ... [a] showdown and stuff like that, but I mean, you get those in cop movies, too."
Warner Brothers describes The Book of Eli this way: Washington plays a lone warrior named Eli who fights his way across the desolate wasteland of near-future America to realize his destiny and deliver the knowledge in a book that can bring civilization back from the brink of destruction and save the future of humanity. The film's original screenplay is by Gary Whitta and Anthony Pekham.
The movie also stars Gary Oldman as the villainous Carnegie; Mila Kunis as Solara; Ray Stevenson as Redridge, Carnegie's enforcer; Jennifer Beals as Solara's blind mother and the concubine of Carnegie; and Michael Gambon and Frances de la Tour as George and Martha, an old couple with a big secret.
"The fact of the matter is the guy is by himself," Washington said in a group interview a few weeks later. "I think that, in a way, his journey—personal journey, spiritual journey—is to learn to deal with people again. You know, he's been given this charge—job—to protect his book, but it's almost like his final test is that he's got to deal with people."
Washington added: "And so I think the difference is, you know, is—maybe it's not different, but there's the classic battle of good and evil in this. God and the devil, if you will, and I found that interesting."
The movie shot interiors at Albuquerque Studios and exteriors around the city and in the desert, including the small town of Carizozo, N.M., which was transformed into a Western street, as well as in White Sands and elsewhere.
Washington praised the two brothers, citing their differing approaches. "It was really well conceived by Allen and Albert. And Albert really knows what he wants. ... He's really the shotmaker kind of guy. And Allen is more the actor-director-communicator kind of guy. ... I've never worked with two brothers before, but you know, they seem to know how to work well together and get twice as much done."
As for the film's central theme? "We all at some point are in search of something and higher power, whatever you want to call it, the meaning of life, you know?" Washington said. "I know I was, especially at even my son's age, in my 20s, and ... dabbling in Eastern philosophies and yoga and Buddhism and Christianity and Islam. I kind of touched them all, you know, just trying to figure out the meaning of life or, if nothing else, figure myself out.
"So I think there's that. There is a thirst for that. ... As a classic battle between God and the devil, or even more specifically for the character of [Eli], I mean, he's five days' walk from the Promised Land, if you will, for taking this book where it belongs, and literally all hell breaks loose."
The Book of Eli opens Jan. 15, 2010.