Blu-ray Review: Days of Heaven (Criterion Collection)

If ever there was a film many would say deserved the high-definition treatment on Blu-ray I’m sure Terrence Malick’s Days of Heaven would be one of them. Then again, instead of just saying “if ever there was a film,” perhaps the best phrasing of that question would be to ask, “If ever there was a filmmaker that deserved the high-definition treatment who would it be?” Malick’s films are first and foremost seen as moving pieces of art. While I would say Badlands is the one film of his that doesn’t have the same picturesque impact as films such as Days of Heaven or The Thin Red Line, it’s also the one film of his that has been relegated to a one-time, old school DVD release and has never found its way home in the best of condition. Perhaps one day, as later this year Criterion will surely wow us by giving the Blu-ray treatment to Malick’s Thin Red Line, but for now let’s look into his Days of Heaven.

In 2007 I bought Criterion’s DVD release of Days of Heaven and it was a blind buy. The film had received so much praise around the Internet from bloggers and journalists I respected I gave it a purchase without a second thought and wasn’t let down. It’s a spectacular feature that lives up to the visual feast many describe it to be, but on top of that it’s a beautiful tale of love and loss in the midst of hardship. This 94-minute film proves to be an epic film you don’t need a three hour runtime, it feels as vast and expansive as they come and does so with as little dialogue as possible as fields burn, locusts swarm and jealousy rears its head.

Set in 1910, the film begins in the Chicago steel mills as Bill (Richard Gere) accidentally kills his supervisor. Along with his girlfriend (Brooke Adams) and his young sister (Linda Manz), they flee to Texas where they find work harvesting wheat for a rich farmer (Sam Shepard). Bill and his girlfriend pose as brother and sister, a decision that results in a love triangle that guides the rest of the story just as much as does Mother Nature all around them.

The Blu-ray edition shows a rather remarkable increase in detail over the previously impressive DVD release. Colors show improvement as do black levels, bringing out a supreme richness in texture and depth. The audio doesn’t show as much of an improvement, but as anyone that has compared a DTS-HD track to a standard Dolby Digital 5.1, there is a noticeable difference to those that are listening.

The feature set remains the same as on the DVD, although they are now all presented in HD. It’s a solid group of video interviews with cinematographers Haskell Wexler and John Bailey, actor Sam Shepard and Richard Gere adding an audio interview coupled with an audio commentary that includes editor Billy Weber, art director Jack Fisk, costume designer Patricia Norris and casting director Dianne Crittenden.

I would recommend beginning with the interviews and would also recommend starting with Gere and moving to Shepard as Gere mentions several things, especially Malick’s directorial style, all of which are looked at from a different perspective, or at least a different understanding, by Shepard. The video interviews with the cinematographers Wexler and Bailey are a pleasant bonus that lends well to the audio commentary.

The audio commentary is more conversational than most Criterion commentaries usually are. It doesn’t have as much of a scholarly approach as much as it has an informational joy to it. Several details of the shoot are touched upon and others in great detail even to the point Weber says he believes Malick understands film stock better than anyone, including his cinematographers and even Kodak. It’s a compliment to be sure.

On DVD, Days of Heaven was a blind buy for me and I never regret it. If you are a fan of Malick’s works such as The Thin Red Line and/or The New World this is an obvious no-brainer and it should already be in your Amazon shopping cart. It’s a film that will stand the test of time and on Criterion Blu-ray it certainly looks good doing it.

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