Days of Heaven
One-of-a-kind filmmaker-philosopher Terrence Malick has created some of the most visually arresting films of the twentieth century, and his glorious period tragedy Days of Heaven, featuring Oscar-winning cinematography by Nestor Almendros, stands out among them. In 1910, a Chicago steelworker (Richard Gere) accidentally kills his supervisor, and flees with his girlfriend (Brooke Adams) and his little sister (Linda Manz) to the Texas panhandle, where they find work harvesting wheat in the fields of a stoic farmer (Sam Shepard). A love triangle, a swarm of locusts, a hellish fire—Malick captures it all with dreamlike authenticity, creating a timeless American idyll that is also a gritty evocation of turn-of-the-century labor.
The Criterion Collection upgrades their 2010 Blu-ray edition of Terrence Malick’s Days of Heaven to 4K UHD, presenting the film in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 on a dual-layer, BD-66 disc in Dolby Vision. The 2160p/24hz presentation is sourced from Criterion's new 4K restoration, taken from a scan of the 35mm original camera negative. Criterion also includes a standard Blu-ray featuring a 1080p presentation of the film alongside all of the release’s special features. The disc is the same one released in 2010, using the old high-definition restoration with a 1.78:1 aspect ratio.
The upgrade to 4K from the Blu-ray's 1080p rendition offers a remarkable enhancement, lending the final presentation a more film-like texture than the now-dated Blu-ray version. Notably, depth and detail are significantly boosted, even in the shadows, accentuated by the natural interplay of light within the settings. Film grain appears far more authentic and refined, except for occasional instances where it can look slightly noisy against the sky.
The inclusion of HDR and Dolby Vision further elevates the viewing experience, albeit without reaching an overtly flashy level. While most of the presentation retains SDR-level characteristics with some hot spots here and there (the steel mill, lights in the dark), these enhancements notably improve nighttime exteriors and shadow-rich scenes. For instance, a scene where Gere and Adams sit in the dark with ambient light filtering into the darkness showcases more nuance in the shadows compared to the old Blu-ray. The magic hour skyline shots also exhibit striking colors with seamlessly blended skies.
The restoration efforts have cleaned things up thoroughly, resulting in a consistently stunning and sharply detailed image. The end results deliver a significant leap from Criterion's earlier Blu-ray release.
Note: I could only take screen captures from the first 30 minutes of the film due to technical difficulties.
(The SDR screen grabs are taken directly from the source disc. They have been converted from PNG files and converted to JPG files. While they should provide a general idea of quality, they should not be considered reference quality.)
The audio for the film has undergone a recent restoration, and, like the previous Blu-ray, it's delivered in DTS-HD MA 5.1 surround sound. While Linda Manz's narration might not be the most dynamically mixed element in the soundtrack, the dialogue sounds clear and precise. Ennio Morricone's score showcases impressive range, enveloping the environment beautifully, complemented by the subtle sounds of nature that consistently emerge throughout the film. The audio's range is notably wide; for instance, the opening sequence set in the steel mill exemplifies this excellently through the loud, immersive sounds of machinery and furnaces, which resonate vividly across all channels—a compelling mix on the whole.
The 4K disc lacks additional features outside of the optional audio commentary. All video features can be found on the accompanying standard Blu-ray alongside the film's 1080p presentation. The Blu-ray is a direct port of the 2010 edition, meaning all features have been carried over.
The primary extra is the aforementioned audio commentary featuring editor Billy Weber, art director Jack Fisk, costume designer Patricia Norris, and casting director Dianne Crittenden. Each participant spends most of their time covering their involvement in the film. Weber's insights into editing Days of Heaven and Badlands are particularly captivating, shedding light on excised sequences, incorporating dialogue, and Malick's filmmaking techniques. The commentary also delves into Malick's knowledge of film stock, the challenges faced while filming in Canada (involving border smuggling), and potential alternative casting choices. One of the more significant shocks from the track is Paramount's lack of concern about the film's lengthy editing process, with the participants revealing that the executives love the movie irrespective of its commercial success. It’s still an informative and engaging track, well worth listening to if one hasn’t done so yet.
The rest of the supplements consist of interviews. Actors Richard Gere and Sam Shepard start things off, with Gere's recorded exclusively for this release and Shepard's edited from a 2002 interview. Gere's audio interview, accompanied by film clips and stills, features him sharing his recollections and admiration for the film, its director, and co-stars. He discusses lighting, the extensive editing process, and his initial surprise at how much dialogue (especially his, which did initially anger him) had been trimmed. Shepard's 12-minute interview focuses on his character within the era, drawing comparisons to Charles Foster Kane and discussing Malick's portrayal of nature. Both interviews offer valuable insights, although it is regrettable that a more recent interview with Shepard (who passed away in 2017) couldn’t be found or included.
Additional interviews feature cinematographers John Bailey (20 minutes) and Haskell Wexler (12 minutes), each highlighting cinematographer Nestor Almendros and the film's captivating visuals, especially those captured during the magic hour. Bailey discusses lighting intricacies, while Wexler recalls specific shots and explains how he got his "additional" credit.
The booklet includes the same essay by Adrian Martin and an excerpt from Nestor Almendros' autobiography found in the previous DVD and Blu-ray booklets, the latter excerpt providing further enriching details about the film's photography.
It’s still not a stacked edition, but the commentary and interviews provide significant insights into the film's production, editing, and cinematography.
There is still nothing new in the way of features, but the film has never looked as lovely as it does here through this new 4K presentation.
The film has never looked as lovely as it does here through the new 4K presentation.