Directed by Terrence Malick
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 1080p AVC codec
Running Time: 94 minutes
Audio: PCM 1.0 English
MSRP: $ 39.95
Release Date: March 19, 2013
Review Date: March 6, 2013
Garbage man Kit (Martin Sheen) falls in love at first sight with fifteen-year old Holly (Sissy Spacek), but there is otherwise nothing for him in the small South Dakota town where they live. So, Kit decides he and Holly will go on an adventure living life freely and going wherever their stolen vehicles will take them. He has to get rid of Holly’s objecting father (Warren Oates) first, but afterwards until the couple is eventually caught in Montana, it’s a spree of living in the wild, in the homes of a friend (Ramon Bieri), a rich man (John Carter), or out of the car with a trail of bodies left behind.
Terrence Malick based his script on the story of Nebraska mass murderer Charles Starkweather, but you’ll hunt long and hard to find a more unconventional killer than Martin Sheen’s Kit. He’s the kind of man who’ll apologize to you after he shoots you in the back or makes small talk with you before pulling the trigger and with not the least show of concern (or remorse) in the process and at the same time convinced of his own celebrity. He’s more concerned about providing entertainment and interesting changes of venue for the teenaged Holly who bores rather easily. She’s as indifferent about the murders Kit is perpetrating as he is and seems eager for this unplanned fling to end a few days after they’re into it. Malick’s signature voiceover narration spoken by Holly is as laconic as it would be in the later Days of Heaven, and the imagery paired with the audio is always soulful, thoughtful, and hypnotic especially when shots happen in counterpoint to what’s being said. A raging fire in the film is one of the most beautiful blazes in screen history, and Malick takes the time to shoot vast expanses of the Great Plains not only for their lyrical beauty but for their lonely desolation as well matching the tone of the film’s second half as the couple begins to run out of time.
There have been disarming murderers portrayed on film from the beginning of the cinema, but Martin Sheen’s drawling Kit who talks to victims after he shoots them (or doesn’t; his unpredictable behavior is part of his allure), builds a mini-shrine to mark the spot of his arrest, or strikes up friendships with the officers who arrest him is one of his greatest creations. The young Sissy Spacek exudes a nonchalant youthful ebullience that makes it easy to understand why Sheen’s Kit would be drawn to her. Ramon Bieri as Kit’s friend and co-worker Cato has a tragic cheeriness that makes his end so heartbreaking. Warren Oates has a good couple of scenes as Holly’s strict father while John Carter and Alan Vint make firm impressions in their small roles as a rich victim and a friendly deputy.
The film’s theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1 is presented in 1080p using the AVC codec. Image sharpness is rather erratic with long shots occasionally not having the depth or expected detail one anticipates with high definition transfers. Medium and close shots fare much better and are quite detailed. Color resolution is very good throughout while flesh tones are natural and appealing. Black levels can be excellent with very good details conveyed in the shadows. The film has been divided into 13 chapters.
The PCM 1.0 (1.1 Mbps) sound mix is exactly as one would expect for a low budget movie from this era. Dialogue, sound effects, and the use of music, both original music by George Tipton and standards from the likes of Nat King Cole, combine flavorfully into the single track with dialogue never being overshadowed by the other elements. There may be a bit of soft hiss early on, but it’s never a distraction.
Unless otherwise noted, the featurettes are in 1080p.
“Making Badlands” is a 2012 series of interview with stars Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacek and her husband and the film’s art director Jack Fisk recalling the making of the movie. The stars discuss their casting in those early stages of their film careers, and Fisk discusses working so closely with Malick to get the film they wanted to make. The low budget is discussed and an on-set accident during the fire sequence is also mentioned. This runs 41 ½ minutes.
An interview with producer Edward Pressman finds the producer mainly discussing the touchy financing for the movie and his earnest desire to support Malick on his first film though others on the crew with more experience doubted what he was doing. This lasts 12 ½ minutes.
An interview with film editor Billy Weber discusses fitting the pieces of Malick’s puzzle together including the use of voiceover, the use of montage, the placement of music, and the Malick-scribed dialogue which was often cut because of wordiness. This runs 21 ¾ minutes.
A 1993 episode of American Justice focuses on the killing spree (ten people over eight days) of Charles Starkweather and Carol Ann Fugate whose story served as inspiration for Malick’s script. This runs 20 ¾ minutes in 1080i.
The theatrical trailer runs 3 minutes.
The enclosed 22-page booklet contains cast and crew lists, a number of color stills from the film, and filmmaker Michael Almereyda’s celebratory essay on the 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 and the title of the chapter you’re now in. 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.
4.5/5 (not an average)
Unique, often hypnotic, quietly penetrating: this can describe almost any film by Terrence Malick, but the one in question in this first-rate Criterion release is Badlands, the filmmaker’s first feature film. Very good audio and video transfers and quality bonuses enhance this truly one-of-a-kind movie. Highly recommended!