Badlands Blu-ray Review

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Terrence "Badlands" Malick needs to have a serious word with Terrence "Song to Song" Malick

by Casimir Harlow May 17, 2019 at 10:12 AM

  • Movies & TV review


    Badlands Blu-ray Review
    SRP: £19.99

    Badlands Film Review

    Terrence Malick's Badlands remains one of the greatest directorial debuts of all time.

    Back in 1973, a young upcoming director made a startling debut with Badlands, taking a long 5 years to perfect his sumptuous sophomore effort, Days of Heaven, before disappearing off the map for some two decades, before he returned with a bang and arguably his greatest masterpiece, The Thin Red Line, which many regard as superior to that other film which vastly overshadowed it at the time of release, Saving Private Ryan.

    Malick's own inimitable take on Pocahontas would provide the source for his majestic The New World, whilst his study on life, love and the birth of the very planet - The Tree of Life - touched many, but put off an equal number, and arguably signalled a turning point in his career towards pretentious art at the expense of coherence, leading to a trio of increasingly vapid pieces - To the Wonder, Knight of Cups and Song to Song - the equivalent of modern art which appears to be having more fun mocking its audience for enduring it, than actually delivering anything worthy of your time.

    It's crazy to think that 46 years ago the same auteur was capable of delivering a stylish but taut, 94 minute drama - a kind-of skewed variation on Bonnie and Clyde - which, whilst loosely based on a real young couple from the 50s, who fell in love and killed a bunch of people, is also quintessentially Malick, enjoying stunning vistas, simmering atmosphere and unspoken sentiment.

    An iconic, memorable classic

    15 year old Holly (Sissy Spacek) lives with her widower father (Warren Oates). After catching the eye of Martin Sheen's garbage collector, Kit, the find a mutual spark which soon, very literally, sets a fire under their lives, sending them on a road trip which only leads to more violence.

    Arguably the main inspiration for Quentin Tarantino's True Romance (and, indeed, Hans Zimmer's copycat theme) as well as arguably the Tarantino-scripted Stone film, Natural Born Killers, Malick's Badlands remains one of the most impressive directorial debuts of all time, taking a stylish but minimalistic approach to a simple but eventful road trip narrative which enjoys all of Malick's now quintessential tropes - from the gorgeous sunsets, to the limited dialogue, to the ethereal voiceover. A powerfully electric Sheen and a suitably vacant Spacek are perfectly matched as the leads, whilst Malick efficiently navigates the potential controversy of glorifying these two honeymoon killers by committing to an at-times documentary-style approach to following their story, even if its steeped in undeniable natural beauty which juxtaposes the raw brutality that frequently sparks to life. It's an iconic, memorable classic.

    Badlands Blu-ray Picture

    Badlands (1973) Badlands Blu-ray Picture
    It's been six years, almost to the day, since Criterion released Badlands on Blu-ray, which isn't as long as the wait for Criterion's The Last Temptation of Christ Blu-ray, but comes pretty close, finally receiving a UK Blu-ray release after all this time which remains nothing more than a Region B-friendly port for those who don't have multi-region players.

    Thankfully, even after all this time, Criterion's then-newly 4K-remastered 1080p/AVC-encoded High Definition video presentation, sporting the original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1 widescreen, and approved by filmmaker Terrence Malick himself (and supervised by Malick's favourite cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, who lensed every one of his films since The New World, along with all of Alfonso "Children of Men" Cuarón's films and Alejandro González Iñárritu's The Revenant), still remains an excellent presentation which leaves the 46 year old movie looking frequently impressive.

    Unconventional demo material

    The film is a gritty - as aforementioned, raw - production which looks the part, boasting an unsurprisingly filmic layer of grain which modern digital fans will find quite a dramatic change in style. It lends it an indelible texture, however, and never denies scope for the underlying detail, promoting clarity throughout, as you almost watch a beautifully shot home video evolve across the curious road movie narrative duration. Malick's trio of listed cinematographers do a stunning job capturing the natural beauty of the broad open vistas, whilst Malick himself edited the piece to perfection (something distinctly absent in his modern-day guise), leaving a striking, frequently flawlessly faithful presentation which makes for unconventional demo material.

    Badlands Blu-ray Sound

    Badlands (1973) Badlands Blu-ray Sound
    The accompanying lossless Linear PCM 1.0 mono audio track also does a great job bringing the 46 year old feature to life with authenticity and adherence to the original style of the aural elements. Dialogue remains keenly prioritised throughout - whether the ethereal narration from Spacey, or the intermittent words between the star-crossed couple - coming across clearly and coherently throughout, or at least as much as any Malick film has allowed dialogue to come across clearly.

    A faithful rendition of the audio for this classic film

    The effects are distinctly ambient, rumbling to life with car engines, police sirens, and fairly thunderous - notwithstanding the period limitations - gunfire. Easily the most distinctive element is the iconic score, which passionately plays out with a suitable degree of innate whimsy, dreamily reflecting the surreal voyage of the young couple, and occasionally hinting at something darker underneath. It's hardly a boisterous offering, with no significant LFE input to speak of, and little that could be regarded as immersion, certainly by modern standards, but this is a faithful rendition of the audio for this classic film.

    Badlands Blu-ray Extras

    Badlands (1973) Badlands Blu-ray Extras
    Although this remains an identical port to the already available (but Region A-locked) US release, that doesn't diminish the wealth of extra features that are on offer here. Headlining the salvo of features is a decent new Making-of Documentary (produced in 2012), with a number of great new Interviews from key cast and crew members. There are also separate, shorter, Interviews with both the Producer and the Editor, looking back on the production.

    Although an identical port to the US release, that doesn't diminish the wealth of extra features that are on offer

    A further episode from the 1993 TV series American Justice looks at the real individuals who the lead characters were loosely based upon, and the disc is rounded out with a Trailer, whilst the package itself features one of Criterion's now-trademark lavish booklets with further interviews and stills.

    Badlands Blu-ray Verdict

    Badlands (1973) Badlands Blu-ray Verdict
    One of the most impressive directorial debuts of all time

    Badlands is an absolute classic, and a reminder of a simpler time certainly when it came to then-debut director Terrence Malick's work. For those who have no concerns about region restrictions, a release from Criterion will be seen as distinctly old news, but for those who were patiently waiting, this Region B port of their excellent 2013 disc is welcome and recommended.

    Suggested retail price when reviewed: £19.99

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