Days of Heaven appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.78:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. Fans will feel delighted with this excellent image.
Sharpness was strong. Due to the film’s style, a few shots looked a smidgen soft, but that just went with the flick’s dreamy feel. Overall clarity was positive, as the majority of the movie was accurate and concise. No issues with shimmering or jaggies popped up, and edge haloes were minimal. Source flaws failed to appear in this clean transfer.
The lush palette of Days came across well here. The movie gave the colors a subdued but natural look that seemed lovely throughout the flick. Indeed, the hues became a highlight of the transfer. Blacks were reasonably deep and firm, and shadows demonstrated nice clarity and visibility. A few “day for night” shots seemed a smidgen dense, but even these were perfectly acceptable. Virtually no concerns arose during this presentation.
Days came with a “new” DTS-HD MA 5.1 track. Since Criterion prefers to go with the original soundtracks for its releases, the presence of the 5.1 mix surprised me. At least it offered a pleasant surprise, as the audio was above average for its era.
The soundfield provided a rather engaging setting. A few loud scenes like the opening sequence in the factory and shots of big farm vehicles created the best material. These used the front channels in a broad, vivid manner and also spread to the rears with useful reinforcement. Other segments weren’t quite as strong, and at times the mix became essentially monaural. Still, most of the flick provided good spread to the material and opened up things well.
Audio quality was generally positive. Effects were usually surprisingly dynamic and accurate, and bass response was very good; the low-end of the louder bits seemed really deep. Speech was acceptably natural and concise, while music appeared smooth and vivid. This was a strong soundtrack given the age of the material.
How did the picture and sound of this Blu-ray compare to the film’s DVD version? Both demonstrated improvements. The DVD’s Dolby audio was very good, but the Blu-ray’s lossless track seemed smoother and more dynamic. It wasn’t so much superior that I felt I should bump it to an “A-“, but it was close; the DTS-HD audio was quite impressive and nearly forced me to give it “A”-level consideration.
As for the visuals, they did jump from a “B” to an “A-“. The picture looked crisper, more vivid and cleaner. I felt thoroughly impressed by this high-quality transfer.
All the set’s extras come from the earlier DVD. We open with an audio commentary from editor Billy Weber, art director Jack Fisk, costume designer Patricia Norris and casting director Dianne Crittenden. The first three sit together for a running, screen-specific track while Crittenden’s separate remarks get edited into the piece. The chat looks at cast and performances, sets and locations, costumes, props and period details, editing and cinematography, working with director Terrence Malick and the atmosphere on the set, and a mix of other production issues.
Though the commentary starts slowly, it soon builds up a head of steam and becomes involving. The participants offer an honest appraisal of their experiences and give us a good look at the production. I must admit I feel somewhat vindicated to hear that Crittenden agrees that Sam Shepard was too young and handsome to play the farmer; that nugget alone made the experience worthwhile. But that’s not the only good moment as this becomes a generally satisfying and interesting commentary.
The disc also includes a collection of interviews. First comes an audio interview with actor Richard Gere. In this 21-minute and 52-second chat, Gere goes over his career at the point Days came to him, what appealed to him about the project, the film’s visual style, cast and crew, working with Malick, his take on his character, location shooting, and some other filming specifics. Gere provides a nice look at his experiences on Days and makes this a pretty informative little conversation.
Next we find three video interviews. The first comes from actor Sam Shepard and lasts 12 minutes, 32 seconds. Shepard discusses how he got cast in the film, impressions of Malick, thoughts about the era in which the flick is set, and the movie’s characters and story. Shepard throws out a few decent notes, but like Days itself, he usually waxes more philosophical than factual. Other than some info about Malick, it’s not an especially interesting chat.
Visual elements dominate the final two interviews. We hear from camera operator John Bailey (20:26) and cinematographer Haskell Wexler (11:34). From Bailey, we learn about interactions on the set, the film’s visual style, sets and locations, camera, lighting and technical issues, some effects, and general thoughts about the experience. Wexler talks about coming onto the set after the departure of cinematographer Nestor Almendros and how he then worked on the film.
Bailey’s chat proves to be the more useful of the two, as he gives a more nuts and bolts look at things. Wexler is less involving, but he still offers some good notes about the shoot, especially in terms of Malick’s unconventional style.
Finally, the package presents a 44-page booklet. This production includes essays by Monash University senior research fellow in television and film studies Adrian Martin and Almendros as well as photos and credits. No one does booklets better than Criterion, and this is another fine compilation.
Whether you’ll like Days of Heaven depends on how much you like Terrence Malick’s impressionistic filmmaking style. If you enjoy his preference for visuals over narrative, you’ll dig it. If you find that form to be frustrating and meandering – and I do – then you’ll probably not find much to enjoy here. The Blu-ray provides excellent picture and surprisingly good audio along with a smattering of pretty informative extras. I don’t care for the movie itself, but this Blu-ray provides the definitive rendition of the film.
To rate this film, visit the Criterion Collection review of DAYS OF HEAVEN