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Release Date(s)1973 (March 19, 2013)
Studio(s)Warner Bros (Criterion - Spine #651)
Terrence Malick burst onto the filmmaking scene in 1973 with Badlands, a refreshingly different approach to filmmaking from an American director that was a result of Malick drawing inspiration from directors like Françios Truffaut and, more apparently, Arthur Penn.
Badlands is a masterpiece in the long line of Terrence Malick masterpieces. He may not be a director who turns out product often, but like Stanley Kubrick, you know you’re going to get something of quality when he does make something. His work has never been for those looking for a direct through line into a film’s narrative. For good or bad, they’re almost always about the characters and the visuals and how it all fits together aesthetically. You walk away from his films filling in the gaps yourself, despite their not really being any gaps. It’s all open to interpretation and he doesn’t quite spell out all the details for you. You have to make up your own mind on how you feel about it. It took me a while to warm up to his work once I began to understand it. I would say that Badlands is the most straightforward of Malick’s work, although it doesn’t completely follow that through line for the whole of the running time. It just feels more like a narrative-driven story than his later work.
It’s also a very beautiful film, all due to cinematographer Jack Fisk. It’s filled to the brim with gorgeous skylines, vast open landscapes, barren desert fields and desolate country back roads. Malick and Fisk capture that aesthetic powerfully. The story may be directly about our two leads, but you can’t deny that the world they inhabit is almost a character unto itself. It always feels oppressive against these characters because it’s basically a world that they don’t really belong to. Not just because of their actions, but because of who they are. Their plight, their dreams, their desires; it all comes together and becomes more than just another story about a couple shooting people and running from the police. The plot is based on the murder spree of Charles Starkweather and Caril Ann Fugate, of course, but you never get the feeling that you’re watching a ‘based on actual events’ movie. This isn’t that, it’s very fictional, but it has its own voice and carries the stamp of one of cinema’s true artists.
Criterion’s presentation of Badlands features a brand-spanking new digital 4K transfer, which was approved by Malick himself, and the results are spectacular. There’s a healthy grain overlay that never feels obtrusive, the image is free from debris and artifacts, the colors are crisper and more authentic than previously seen, skin tones are accurate, contrast and brightness are perfect and image clarity is sharp with an enormous amount of detail on display. There are some shots in there that appear soft and sometimes blacks aren’t as inky as you’d want them to be, but it’s all inherent in the original photography (as associate editor Billy Weber explains in the extras). This is a pitch-perfect transfer, and the restoration team behind it should be very proud. The soundtrack included is the original mono, uncompressed, with optional English subtitles. It’s a track that doesn’t quite live up to the visual presentation, but I’m happy to have it included as I’m a bit of a purist in that regard. It’s a bit flat and definitely sounds rough around the edges, but it’s mostly good. Dialogue can be a bit low in the mix while some of the louder sounds like the train can be a bit too loud by comparison, but it’s a good track.
The extras include the documentary Making “Badlands”, interviews with associate editor Billy Weber and executive producer Edward Pressman, an episode of American Justice from 1993 about Charles Starkweather, the film’s theatrical trailer and a 22-page booklet with an essay by filmmaker Michael Almereyda inside. While I would have loved to hear the reclusive Malick talk about his work (at least in audio form) or seen the UK DVD featurette carried over for completist’s sake, this is a very good set of extras to complement the main presentation.
Overall, Criterion’s treatment of Badlands on Blu-ray is fantastic. It was high on my wish list of titles (as well as many other people’s) that I’d hope they’d get the rights to someday. That day is now finally here and I can breathe a sigh of relief. Highly recommended!
- Tim Salmons