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Terrence Malick
Martin Sheen, Sissy Spacek, Warren Oates, Ramon Bieri, Alan Vint, Gary Littlejohn, John Carter, Bryan Montgomery
Writing Credits:
Terrence Malick

He was 25 years old. He combed his hair like James Dean. She was 15. She took music lessons and could twirl a baton. For a while they lived together in a tree house. In 1959, she watched while he killed a lot of people.

Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacek play young lovers on a shooting spree across 1950s South Dakota in Terrence Malick's turbulent, gut-grabbing masterwork. Kit Carruthers, a young garbage collector and his girlfriend Holly Sargis from Fort Dupree, South Dakota, are on the run after killing Holly's father who disagreed with their relationship. On their way towards the Badlands of Montana they leave a trail of dispassionate and seemingly random murders. A very intriguing narrative without judgements, and lacking the usually sensational approach of this genre. Very good acting and directing, and beautiful photography. The script was based upon the true story of the Charles Starkweather and Caril-Ann Fugate murders in 1958.

Box Office:
$450 thousand.

Rated PG

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1/16x9
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
English Dolby Digital 5.1
French Monaural
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 95 min.
Price: $12.97
Release Date: 4/27/1999

• None


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Badlands (1973)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (February 26, 2013)

For Terrence Malick’s debut film, we go to 1973’s Badlands. Set in South Dakota, aimless Kit Carruthers (Martin Sheen) loses his job as a garbage man on the same day he meets teenage Holly Sargis (Sissy Spacek). Kit immediately falls for Holly, but they encounter snags because her father (Warren Oates) doesn’t want her to date Kit due to both his low-rent status and his more advanced age.

Kit and Holly sneak around behind her dad’s back, but eventually he catches on and punishes her. Kit tries to persuade Holly’s dad to let them date, but this doesn’t go the way he wants so Kit shoots him.

This sends them on a wild path. Kit fakes their deaths to keep authorities off their trail, and he and Holly hit the road together. They set up camp in the woods but have to flee after they kill bounty hunters who come after them. This sets them on the lam again, and we follow their trail as more and more deaths add up along the way.

Loosely based on the killing spree committed by Charles Starkweather and Caril Ann Fugate in the late 1950s, Badlands definitely provides a more linear, narrative-based effort than the average Malick flick. Malick’s next movie – 1978’s Days of Heaven - became the template for the rest of his career, as it provided lovely images but lacked a concise plot. Malick’s fans seem to love his loosey-goosey sense of storytelling, but others can be driven a bit bonkers by the heavy emphasis on visuals to the exclusion of all else.

This doesn’t mean Badlands lacks any of Malick’s standard sensibility, though, as it still shows a definite pictorial emphasis. However, it does try harder that his subsequent films to tell an actual narrative.

That makes it much easier for the “average Joe” to invest in Badlands. Malick brings a good sense of depth to the movie and avoids simplistic elements. While the film easily could’ve been cartoony – ala Oliver Stone’s Natural Born Killers - it maintains a reasonably serious take on matters. No, I wouldn’t view it as documentary-style realism, but it brings a feeling of substance that it could’ve lacked.

In an interesting move, Badlands tends to paint all of its characters as nuts, not just Kit, the most obvious psychopath. For instance, Holly just throws away some sick fish, and her father shoots a dog to punish her. We get a sense of disposable life as background, which allows the movie to lack the judgments we’d expect. No, Malick doesn’t excuse the murderous actions, but he offers context – and keeps this from the silly surrealism in which Stone would wallow two decades later.

Malick also manages to create a narrative that moves at a pretty good pace. While not exactly action-packed, the film does go along at a reasonable clip and allows us to invest in the characters and events. Badlands delivers an unusual and involving story.

The DVD Grades: Picture D/ Audio C/ Bonus F

Badlands appears in both an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 and in a 1.33:1 version on this double-sided, single-layered DVD; the widescreen image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Only the letterboxed picture was reviewed for this article. You’ll find few positives in this mostly awful transfer.

Sharpness was never better than mediocre. While a few shots delivered acceptable definition, most seemed soft and blurry. General delineation appeared weak across the board, and prominent edge haloes added to the lack of clarity. The image crawled with digital artifacts. No issues with jagged edges or shimmering occurred, but print flaws were a definite concern; throughout the film, I saw scores of specks and marks. A few scratches and nicks cropped up as well, but the white spots/specks were the worst.

Matters didn’t improve with the film’s dull palette. The flick opted for a fairly brownish feel, and it lacked any appealing colors. Instead, they tended to be drab and faded. Blacks were loose and inky, while shadows seemed a bit dense and opaque. I found virtually nothing that merited praise in this ugly presentation.

The film’s Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack fared better, though it was fairly lackluster. I’m not sure why the DVD’s producers decided to deliver a multichannel remix this low-key movie, but it worked reasonably well. The soundfield remained fairly conservative throughout the film, as the track usually stayed focused on the front center. Some effects occasionally spread to the side, but music remained essentially monaural; if the track did anything with the back speakers, I didn’t detect it.

Audio quality varied but seemed generally good for the film’s era. Dialogue could be a bit thin and light, but the lines sounded intelligible and clear. Effects often lacked depth but came across as acceptably realistic and lacked distortion. The music worked about the same; it showed decent clarity but not much more. This ended up as an average mix for its age.

Expect no extras here, as we get none – not even a trailer.

Significantly more narrative-based than subsequent Terrence Malick films, Badlands becomes arguably his most satisfying effort. It creates an unusual and rich portrait of young killers that never resorts to simple concepts. The DVD offers acceptable audio but suffers from terrible visuals and an absence of bonus materials. While I think this movie deserves a look, the DVD presents it in a terribly substandard manner.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.75 Stars Number of Votes: 24
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