Blu-ray Review HTF BLU-RAY REVIEW: Days of Heaven

Discussion in 'Blu-ray and UHD' started by Matt Hough, Mar 7, 2010.

  1. Matt Hough

    Matt Hough Executive Producer
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    Days of Heaven (Blu-ray)

    Directed by Terrence Malick

    Studio: Criterion
    Year: 1978
    Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1   1080p   AVC codec     
    Running Time: 94 minutes
    Rating: NR
    Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English
    Subtitles: SDH
    Region: A
    MSRP: $ 39.95

    Release Date: March 23, 2010
    Review Date: March 7, 2010
     
     
    The Film
    4.5/5
     
    What might have been a standard love triangle story between two men and a woman is instead fashioned into a lyrical near-masterpiece by writer-director Terrence Malick in Days of Heaven, one of the true marvels of 1970s filmmaking. Unlike almost any other film being released in that cinematically creative decade by a major studio, Days of Heaven is much more about mood and tone than it is about making narrative points. This is a movie that one experiences a particular vibe from, and its enthralling spell is hard to describe and nearly impossible for any other film to duplicate.

    It’s 1916 in the southwestern United States, a time when immigrants and itinerants traveled the rails looking to do seasonal labor on homesteads, vast ranches, and farms. Into this countryside comes Bill (Richard Gere) fresh from a steel mill in Chicago together with his lover Abby (Brooke Adams) and Bill’s young sister Linda (Linda Manz). Linda is the film’s narrator, and her laconic, down-to-earth, almost world-weary point of view casts on the film a hypnotic spell, especially since there is little dialogue between the characters and much of the movie’s atmosphere is established with images, sound effects, and a classic score by Ennio Morricone.

     
    To prevent too many probing questions, Bill and Abby pretend to be brother and sister, but they have a strong attraction to each other and don’t end up fooling as many people as they think they do. However, the wealthy, unmarried owner of the wheat farm (Sam Shepard) they begin to work becomes smitten with Abby and begins a courtship. Bill decides a marriage would be advantageous for them, especially when he overhears that her potential husband is incurably ill and has only a year at most to live. Much to Bill’s surprise, however, the marriage becomes a tonic to the farmer’s health, and Abby actually begins to fall in love with him.

    The slightly melodramatic plot is spelled by the absolutely stunning cinematography of Nestor Almendros (additional photography by Haskell Wexler after Almendros’ next job pulled him off the project). Never has the heartland of America (shot ironically in Alberta, Canada) looked so spectacular. These images, filmed mostly in natural light and with some of the most creative use of cameras ever seen in a film to capture wide ranging vistas and also close-ups so stark you can reach out and touch, simply take one’s breath away. The richly earned Oscar for cinematography that this film garnered has never been awarded so deservedly.

     
    This was Richard Gere’s first film, and though he had worked exclusively on the stage prior to this movie, it’s obvious in just a shot or two that he was born for the camera. Brooke Adams’ forlorn expressions through much of the movie are heartbreaking (she‘s the most conflicted bride you‘ll ever see), trapped between a glorious marriage and a lover who can’t understand how his plans have gone so badly awry. Linda Manz’s work is likewise moving, a young girl with no goals or direction and simply living each day as it comes taking what life has to offer.

    But those images! That’s what you’ll take away from this film whether you’ve watched it one time or a hundred times: blue-hued fields caught at dusk, the acres of golden wheat blowing in the wind with the palatial home rising in the distance (reminiscent of the vast Reata ranch in Giant), a climactic one-two punch of a horrific locust attack with a raging inferno that begins as the men attempt to save the wheat crop. Malick’s direction is spare when it needs to be and intricate when scenes with several characters demand it. The prizes he won as Best Director from the New York Film Critics Circle and the National Society of Film Critics (the film won Best Picture from the National Board of Review) attest to his excellence.

     
     
    Video Quality
    4.5/5
     
    The film has been framed at 1.78:1 and is presented in a 1080p transfer using the AVC codec. Colors are solid in a very subtle, non-showy kind of way while sharpness is well above average (those close-ups of prairie chickens and wild turkeys are so clear you can count feathers, and the locusts are eerily three dimensional), and black levels are great. In some dark scenes, heavier grain does appear, and there are one or two shots where sharpness doesn’t quite match to the best of the rest of the film. Otherwise, it’s as pristine a transfer as one could hope for. The movie has been divided into 20 chapters.
     
     
    Audio Quality
    3.5/5
     
    The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 sound mix track is a clean audio experience though the mix is decidedly front heavy until the natural disasters hit the farm late in the film. Then, the rears get some use, and the LFE channel boasts some surprising depth for a film of this age. The flyover by a few air circus biplanes also wakes up the rear channels and subwoofer with their first real taste of surround delights. Otherwise, however, they’re used sparingly.

     
      
    Special Features
    3.5/5
     
    An audio commentary features four behind-the-scenes participants gathered in 2007 for reminiscences about making the film: casting director Dianne Crittenden, film editor Billy Weber, art director Jack Fisk, and costume designer Patricia Norris. It’s an excellent gab fest as each person gives opinions, relays information not contained in other features on the disc, and genuinely enjoys revisiting this American classic.

    An audio interview with actor Richard Gere is played against clips from the film and lasts 22 minutes. Gere discusses his theater background and Malick’s working style in his comments.

    A video interview with actor Sam Sheppard (filmed in 2002) explains how he came to work on the movie and his impressions of Malick as a director. This 1080i featurette with more clips from the film runs 12½ minutes.

    Cinematographer Nestor Almendros died in 1992, but the two other men most responsible for the look of the film each get video interviews. Camera operator John Bailey has a 20-minute discussion of his feelings about Almendros and the techniques used while working on this project. Oscar-winner Haskell Wexler has an 11½-minute interview explaining how he came aboard the project before the end of filming. Both featurettes are presented in 1080i.

    The enclosed 40-page booklet includes some beautiful stills from the picture, a critical analysis of the film and its director by Australian film scholar Adrian Martin, and the lengthy chapter about Days of Heaven from Nestor Almendros’ autobiography A Man With a Camera which covers in depth his work on filming this movie.
     
    The Criterion Blu-rays include a maneuvering tool called “Timeline” which can be pulled up from the menu or by pushing the red button on the remote. It shows you your progress on the disc, the title of the chapter you’re now in, and index markers for the commentary that goes along with the film, all of which can be switched on the fly. Additionally, two other buttons on the remote can place or remove bookmarks if you decide to stop viewing before reaching the end of the film or want to mark specific places for later reference.

     
     
    In Conclusion
    4/5 (not an average)
     
    There aren’t many American films that are as poetic and impressionistic in their impact as Days of Heaven. It’s a film connoisseur’s delight, and one of the true originals in American cinema of this period. The Blu-ray disc is a handsome package attesting to its brilliance and comes highly recommended!

     
     
     
    Matt Hough
    Charlotte, NC
     
  2. 24fpssean

    24fpssean Stunt Coordinator

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    A stunning disc and film. Such beauty, it makes my 50" Viera look like an open window. Film grain is preserved, colors are solid and real. Dialogue is a bit low but then there is very little dialogue. A dream film comparable to Sunrise. Redemption for Criterion after the unwatchable fiasco of Howards End.
     
  3. Vincent_P

    Vincent_P Screenwriter

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    I'm going to have to agree with Robert Harris re: HOWARDS END in that whatever horrible flaws you're seeing that render it a "fiasco" in your eyes must be display chain and/or monitor dependent, because I'm just not seeing any of the problems you have said are there on my Panasonic video projector being fed by my PS3. To my eyes, HOWARDS END looks very natural and film-like without any objectionable video noise (in fact all visible noise/grain is very low on that Blu-ray). I don't dispute that you're seeing it on your system, but I'll take Robert's conclusion to heart that, for whatever reason, the HOWARDS END Blu-ray looks bad on some systems and looks absolutely fine/excellent on others. It would be interesting to do an investigation and find out why this is- is it the C-reality scanner that was used? Some sort of post-processing? It would be interesting to find out the answer, but one should also note to potential buyers that HOWARDS END will not be a visual "fiasco" on all systems. On many it will look quite good if not excellent.

    Vincent
     
  4. Heinz W

    Heinz W Second Unit

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    Overall the DoH disc is beautiful to behold, but it does suffer from some minor EE. It's most notable, as usual, when a person or object is silhouetted against the sky. Some shots moreso than others. Not anywhere near as bad as something like the notorious Die Hard: With a Vengence DVD, but it is there.
     
  5. Brandon Conway

    Brandon Conway captveg

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    That's not EE. It's from the camera lens diffusing the 'magic hour' lighting.
     
  6. Heinz W

    Heinz W Second Unit

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    Then why is it there in some shots but not in other similar ones knowing that most of the film was shot at that time of day? Why isn't it there in EVERY silhouette shot?
     
  7. Stephen_J_H

    Stephen_J_H All Things Film Junkie
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    Because the same lens isn't used in every shot.
     
  8. Parker Clack

    Parker Clack Schizophrenic Man
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    I just picked this up the other and I am looking forward to watching it.
     
  9. Heinz W

    Heinz W Second Unit

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    So those halos are lens related artifacts? Okay, guess I learned my something new for today. I really think the film looks fantastic, but I could swear that's EE as it looks just like other EE artifacts I've seen before, right down to being heavier on the left side of the person or object than the right.

    One particular shot stood out to me. After the harvest when the farmer and his accountant are adding up the figures (at about 10:00) the accountant's hat features a heavy halo on the left side. This is a product of the camera lenses? No trying to be difficult, I just want to understand.
    How do you tell the difference between the two?
     
  10. Brandon Conway

    Brandon Conway captveg

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    Often with heavy natural backlighting there will be a halo-ing effect, especially at magic hour. It does depend on the lens used, as that will vary it from shot to shot.

    One way to determine it's in the captured image and not added artificially is to look at the outside photography as compared to the indoors photography. The indoor photography on Days of Heaven does not have any halos/"EE".

    I've also seen the film theatrically, and those halos are definitely in the photography and on the film itself.
     
  11. Stephen_J_H

    Stephen_J_H All Things Film Junkie
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    The other way is to use a zoom or get your nose right up to the screen to check for mosquito noise. That's usually a dead giveaway of EE.
     
  12. 24fpssean

    24fpssean Stunt Coordinator

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    Yes, film can result in haloing, sometimes it will even be red or blue depending on how the light enters the lens. Photographing with film had/has its own set of flaws and was far from perfect.

    As far as digital flaws go, my disc keeps confusing my blu ray player at chapter 13 and the image falls apart. Removing the disc and putting it back in made the player say it could not read data on it. Removing it again and putting it back in made it play through. It did it again last night. Taking it back today. Never had this happen with a BD before but I suppose there is a first time for everything.
     
  13. Heinz W

    Heinz W Second Unit

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    Excellent tips there guys, thank you. I saw no apparent halos in any shots not having the sky in the background, inside or out. All the outdoor shots without the sky looked fantastic and very film-like. There are even some silhouette shots without any halos which was why I asked about them.

    Sean, two things: Do you have the latest firmware for your player and do you have an SD card in it? I couldn't get Starship Troopers to load at all until I put one in my Panasonic BD-60. Try it, it might work. I used the stock one that came with my wife's digital camera.

    I've had no issues whatsoever with playback of this disc, The chapter bookmark feature works perfectly and playback is flawless. I bought mine from Amazon too where they apparently had some bad copies. I must have been lucky to get a decent disc.
     
  14. 24fpssean

    24fpssean Stunt Coordinator

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    The freezing up at chapter 13 happened again, this time on a replacment disc I exchanged. Turns out the issue seems to be firmware; updated my firmware and it now plays. On the other hand, firmware update has NOT made Howards End look any better on blu ray.
     
  15. James David Walley

    James David Walley Stunt Coordinator

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    At the risk of digging up a deceased thread, I'd point out that, back when I was in film school, Days of Heaven was one of my favorite films, and I watched it as often and as obsessively as many of my contemporaries did with a very-different work, released the previous year, that was set long ago in a galaxy far, far away. As such, I think I'm intimately familiar with the imagery in early-generation prints, and I never saw halos as pronounced as they are on this BD.
    Another curious point in this "director-approved transfer" is that the end titles are in white text on black background. This is most definitely not as it was in the original theatrical release, where the text was canary yellow on black. (The Paramount DVD had colored text, but the yellow had aged to a burnt orange.) Not a big deal, but I wonder why Malick decided such a minor change was needed.
    :huh:
     
  16. Lord Dalek

    Lord Dalek Cinematographer

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    The Criterion transfer was the first to be sourced from the O-Neg, perhaps the grade was accidentally given a yellow push during the original printing phase.
     

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