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Site created 12/15/97.

review added: 5/25/00

1973 (2000) - Warner Bros.

review by Dan Kelly of The Digital Bits

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

Badlands Film Rating: A+

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B/C/F

Specs and Features

93 mins, PG, letterboxed widescreen (1.85:1), 16x9 enhanced, full-frame (1.33:1), dual-sided, single-layered, Snapper case packaging, film-themed menu screens, scene access (28 chapters), languages: English (DD 5.1) and French (DD 1.0), subtitles: English and French, Closed Captioned

Terrence Malick's Badlands is one of the best movies I've ever seen. It is a strange and hypnotic masterpiece, that is completely engaging and original, starting with the first image we see on-screen. Part escapist fantasy, part romance and part crime drama, it has emerged over the past quarter century as a classic of American cinema.

Kit Carruthers (Martin Sheen) is an aimless garbage collector in rural South Dakota, who puts little thought into anything beyond day to day existence. He has no future, but doing anything at all to change that never crosses his mind. One day, while wandering the neighborhood, he meets Holly Sargis (Sissy Spacek). At 15, she is ten years younger than him, has a level head and knows a lot more about the world than he ever will.

In many ways, Holly's place is to fill in the void in her father's (Warren Oates) life after her mother died. She cooks and cleans for him and keeps him company when he is lonely. He finds out about Holly's relationship with Kit and punishes her by shooting her dog and keeping her busy with music lessons after school. When her father tests Kit's devotion to Holly, Kit calmly and coolly shoots him. Then the two of them set out, without direction, on a cross-country trip, that in the end will leave several people dead and make them media superstars.

At a short 93 minutes, Badlands is more complex than many lengthier and longer-winded films. There's a lot of depth to both Kit and Holly. After knowing each other only a short time, you can believe that she would follow him, even after he shot her father. She knows that if she were to stay with her dad in South Dakota, her life would lead nowhere quickly. She trusts Kit. Though he has a short temper, she knows that his intentions are good, and that he would never direct his anger toward her.

This is not a story of cut and dried good and evil. There are no absolutes. Kit and Holly could have easily been portrayed as an evil murderous duo, but they aren't. They have a strong, cohesive bond that draws them closer to each other and further from mainstream society. Many times, this bond makes them seem out of this world, like they're living their lives in a universe not made for them. At one point, they set up camp deep in the woods, Swiss Family Robinson style. Their twig and leaf home is hoisted high in the trees where they can't easily be found, and they live completely off the land, free of society.

Certainly, one of Badlands strong points is the fine acting by the entire cast, anchored by two bravado performances by Sheen and Spacek. They each hit all the right notes with performances, that give enlightened realism to two very likeable, though flawed, characters. Sheen and Spacek are two of the best actors to emerge from the 1970's, and their work here is nothing short of superb. Spacek is a flawless blend of small-town naivete and blind devotion, and Sheen is so pleasant in his role as the edgy Kit that he never seems imposing or fearsome. Any anger he feels brews beneath the surface and is not shown to us until the very instant that it overcomes him. There is no malice in what they do. They only seen to ensure their safety and innocent happiness.

Without an involving story and masterful direction, talented actors couldn't make this anything other than a retread of a tried and true Hollywood formula. Malick presents every angle of the story (which he wrote, based very loosely on the Starkweather-Fugate murder spree) in a simple and straightforward style, that relies on the actors, rather than a plot-heavy narrative, to convey the heart of the story. He centers his attention on the actors and the vivid landscape they're occupying, to convey the beauty and harsh reality of both with unrelenting attention and detail. In doing so, he has created an unforgettable film experience.

The video transfer of Badlands is pretty average, especially when compared to the excellent job Paramount did when transferring Days of Heaven, Malick's other masterpiece, to DVD. This is an older film and it's really evident when watching the film on DVD. There is some minor scratching and dust on the print, which results in a just slightly too soft look to the picture. There is also some edge enhancement, but the colors are nicely detailed and blacks are mostly solid.

As far as 5.1 mixes go, this one is pretty sparse and boring. Though this is a new mix, it retains a flat monaural sound throughout most of the film. Rear speakers are used sparingly and ineffectively. Dialogue level is also periodically very quiet. There just isn't enough here to pack the punch that most newer releases have when it comes to 5.1 mixes.

As usual with Warner's lower priced releases, this one is completely free of extras. For the most part, I have no problem with the lack of extras on their budget releases. However, since this movie is held in high regard by critics and cinephiles alike, at the very least a trailer or production notes should have been included.

Film fans will notice some similarities between this film and two Quentin Tarantino scripted films. Oliver Stone's Natural Born Killers shares the common subject matter, glorifying the action and parodying the media that doggedly pursues this ratings-heavy material. And True Romance holds the same "two bad kids fall for each other" theme, complete with cross-country trip, sweetly simplistic musical score and female voice over narration. Badlands, on the other hand, takes a simpler, more natural approach and focuses instead on the realistic, nurturing relationship between two people, who (for at least a little while) are meant to be together. By all means, skip the pan and scan VHS copy and pick up the DVD version instead. Part of the glory of Badlands is the scenery, and with a priced to own DVD, you can't lose.

Dan Kelly
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