Site created 12/15/97.
review added: 5/25/00
1973 (2000) - Warner Bros.
review by Dan Kelly of
The Digital Bits
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
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
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.