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Site created 12/15/97.

review added: 5/25/00

Days of Heaven
1978 (1999) - Paramount

review by Dan Kelly of The Digital Bits

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

Days of Heaven Film Rating: A+

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): A/B+/D

Specs and Features

93 mins, PG, letterboxed widescreen (1.85:1), 16x9 enhanced, single-sided, single-layered, Amaray keep case packaging, theatrical trailer, film-themed menu screens, scene access (10 chapters), languages: English (DD 5.1 and 2.0) and French (DD 2.0), subtitles: French, Closed Captioned

Days of Heaven is Terrence Malick's second masterpiece. It is so filled with rich, beautiful visuals and lush (yet simple) camera work, that it could very well be a silent film. It does have a well-written story to support the picturesque images of pre-World War I Texas, but the visual presentation alone is enough to make both parts of the film strong enough to stand on their own. It's only slightly over an hour and a half long, but it feels like an epic of old Hollywood, Gone With the Wind-style proportions

The story takes place in 1916. Bill (Richard Gere) is leaving Chicago with his lover, Abby (Brooke Adams) and sister, Linda (Linda Manz, the story's narrator) after getting into a deadly altercation with a factory worker. They board a train headed toward Texas and pick up work as farmhands in the wheat fields of a wealthy, sweet-natured farmer (Sam Shepard). Bill is very close with Abby and shows affection to her openly, which alarms some of the other farmhands. As far as they know, Bill and Abby are brother and sister.

Soon after they arrive in Texas, the farmer starts to fall in love with Abby, and she too develops feelings for him. Bill sees a way out of their meager living when he overhears the farmer talking with his doctor. It seems the farmer only has a year to live. Bill is willing to sacrifice a year of his relationship with Abby to give them a better future. He encourages Abby to allow the farmer to pursue her, and eventually the two of them get married. The rest of the seasonal help has left, but Bill, Abby and Linda stay on in their new home.

Not long there after, the farmer starts to wonder about the extent of Bill and Abby's sibling relationship. The light kissing and handholding hasn't stopped, and the longer Abby and the farmer are married, the more time she spends with Bill. Jealousy starts to bubble over, not only with the farmer, but with Bill as well. Sooner or later, one of them will have to confront the other about their feelings for Abby.

During all of this, it is Linda who fills us in on the details of the love triangle. She is on the inside, but she is also third party to the love affair. Sure, she sees what is going on among the three adults, but she is not completely aware of all that is happening. As is often the case, she only gets bits and pieces of the story from adults that are not willing or capable or explaining their emotions. The rest, we as the audience, are left to figure out and contemplate.

All this is done across the gorgeous backdrop of the limitless fields of early 20th century Texas. Long steady shots of the land show how extensive the area is, while simultaneously showing how confining it feels to Bill and Abby. Often, awards for cinematography mistakenly go to the film with the best locations. There's no denying the beauty of the area, with golden sunsets that blend in with the foreground, but Nestor Almendros and Haskell Wexler take full advantage of the location to create some truly unforgettable images.

Paramount has prepared a very good-looking transfer of Days of Heaven. Presented in its original aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1, this film simply looks amazing. The anamorphic transfer is almost completely free of source-related defects, which allows you to concentrate on the amazing cinematography. Images are so crisp and detailed, with only slight edge enhancement, that the DVD retains a very cinema-like, three-dimensional look. A good example of this is noticeable at the 7:58 mark, and also at the start of chapter 2. The film has a natural amber tone to it, to reflect the golden color of the Texas wheat fields, and this too is shown with a lot of detail and movement, without ever being too blurry or soft. Colors are nicely detailed without any bleed to them and flesh tones are rendered naturally. You'd never guess from the transfer that this movie is over twenty years old.

The audio mix is also good (created from the original six track surround recording), but it's not nearly as good as the video presentation. Surprisingly, there is a lot of bass in this new 5.1 mix. There are plenty of deep rumblings during to the field scenes, as tractors thrash through the crops. Individual surround channels are also used to good effect, during some of the more sonically active passages, like the grasshopper attack on the wheat field. My main issue with the sound mix was with the dialogue track. It was, for the most part, very well maintained, but there is some noticeable drop off at the beginning and end of some of the dialogue. It was a little distracting, but given that this is not a really chatty movie, it shouldn't be too great a diversion.

The only feature this disc is the theatrical trailer, shown in 1.85:1 non-anamorphic widescreen. Malick is known for his reclusiveness after completing this movie, so I guess any participation from him on the DVD was pretty much out of the question. Still, some sort of featurette or even some production notes on the film's much-trumpeted cinematography wouldn't have been a bad idea.

Paramount should be commended for their effort in bringing this highly regarded film to DVD, even if it is a shameless cash-in on Malick's return to film with The Thin Red Line after a twenty-year absence. I can't say enough about how well this transfer captures the magnificent look and feel of the film. A lot of the appeal in Days of Heaven is in its visual presentation, and this marvelous DVD transfer is the perfect way to the experience a modern classic of cinema at home.

Dan Kelly
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