The Film (5/5)
For as long as they have had a social media presence Criterion has announced on their Facebook page their upcoming releases 3 months in advance in the middle of any given month. Every month in the lead up to this announcement film fans and Criterion Collectors try and guess the titles they hope, and think will be announced, and one of the most requested titles since the very beginning has been Terrence Malick's classic film debut Badlands.
The moment this disc was announced you could almost feel the excitement from the digital home video community as Warner Bros. finally unlocked their vaults to a third party distributor to do justice to one of the greatest films of the 1970's. On a personal aside I certainly hope this means that Criterion can gain access to Ken Russell's the Devils for a proper Blu-ray release much like the BFI release in the U.K. (only that was a DVD).
Terrence Malick maybe the most reluctant auteur in cinema history. He broke onto the world cinema stage with this 1973 Crime film that rewrites and examines the murder spree of Charles Starkweather and Caril Ann Fugate only under the guise of a beautifully rendered story about love under the most unconventional of situations. He followed this up a few years later with the love triangle during the Dust Bowl film Days of Heaven which may simply be one of, if not, the most beautiful looking American film ever made.
The wait for his third film, the World War II epic the Thin Red Line was well over a decade and a half giving Malick his reputation of a recluse and a perfectionist. 7 years since the Thin Red Line he came back with the Pocahontas story the New World, and has since followed up with 2 new films Tree of Life and To The Wonder with the promise of 2 more, so it appears he is getting much faster as times goes on.
Terrence Malick like many first time filmmakers had essentially no budget to work with. This forced him to shoot inconsistently making Badlands in bit and pieces. When films are shot in this manner, they are usually a bit raw around the edges, with the occasionally bit of continuity issues. For an extreme example of what happens in these situations take a look at Peter Jackson's shot-on-the-weekends debut feature Bad Taste. Malick on the other hand appears to have orchestrated Badlands like a master auteur from the word go.
The film does have a tiny bit of the raw quality you have from a first time filmmaker, but it also has more beauty and polish then you would expect from a filmmaker with much more experience than Terrence Malick did at this point in time. It appears that Malick came to Badlands with a distinct vision in mind, and actually had the ability to work alongside his cast and crew to realize that vision. This is a mindblowing achievement for a filmmaker at any stage of the game, moreso for someone making their first feature.
The film features near flawless direction with wonderful pacing with moments of startling sudden action, but also beautiful introspective moments. This is coupled with a beautiful natural style of cinematography that captures the natural beauty of the territory the film is showing us. Of course, that beauty is in direct contrast to the violent situation we are being presented with almost lulling us in with the beauty before shocking us with the situation itself.
The performances from both leads are both top notch. Sissy Spacek is primarily known for the lead in Brian DePalma's Carrie, but in Badlands her debut feature she delivers a truly powerhouse performance as Holly. A young girl torn between her first love and loyalty to her man, and the desire for normalcy, and hope for a future. Martin Sheen turns in a similarly wonderful performance as Kit, who is able to express his undying love for Holly through to the end, but also his rage and determination.
Badlands as I stated earlier is basically a romantic retelling of the Starkweather/Fugate murder spree. It stars Sissy Spacek as Holly and Martin Sheen as Kit. Kit is a 25 year old garbageman who as the movie begins has just been fired from his job. While walking home from that unlucky event he meets 15 year old baton twirling Holly who although reluctant by her upbringing to date a garbageman ends up falling for Kit's James Dean-esque charms all the same. The two end up sneaking around town, but when Kit tries to introduce himself to Holly's Dad (Warren Oates, who I would watch in frigging anything) things don't go very well, and Kit ends up killing him. The two end up setting Holly's house on fire, and going on the run, but of course with a murder to their credit they are not going to get very far without the cops trailing them. This sends them on a murder spree that will take them through rural South Dakota and into the Badlands of Montana.
Criterion have presented Badlands with a glorious 1:85:1 1080p transfer that preserves the films original aspect ratio. This transfer is certainly a thing of great beauty. The fine detail is excellent, flesh tones accurate, black levels inky solid and deep. The color palette feels very natural throughout, and yet is bright and manages to pop from the screen. The transfer as a whole, much like the film itself has a very organic feel to it with a healthy level of film grain. I did not detect anything in the way of print damage or anything that really detracted from the quality of the transfer.
The audio has been presented in an equally impressive LPCM 1.0 Mono track in English. This track is quite good, the dialogue comes across nice and clear, as does the music and effects. I did not detect any instances of pops, cracks, or hissing on the track. Optional English subtitles are included.
Criterion have put together a nice slate of extras for their release of Terrence Malick's Badlands. The set kicks off with a 42 minute featurette called Making Badlands which interviews Martin Sheen, Sissy Spacek, and Jack Fisk. We then get a 13 minute interview with the films producer Edward Pressman, which is followed by an interview with the films editor Billy Weber. We then get an episode of a true crime TV on Charles Starkweather. The set is rounded off with the films theatrical trailer, and liner notes.
Criterion have released what could be the most requested title that their fans have been asking for. On top of that it could very well be one of the finest films of the 70’s. The A/V restoration is so near perfect it’s amazing, and the extras are interesting and informative. Badlands, The Criterion Blu-ray comes HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
Badlands(The Criterion Collection)
Director - Terrence Malick
Cast - Martin Sheen, Sissy Spacek
Country of Origin - U.S.
Discs - 1
Distributor - Criterion
Reviewer - Scott MacDonald
Date - 04/01/13