Release: 20th May 2019
Badlands announced the arrival of a major talent: Terrence Malick. His impressionistic take on the notorious Charles Starkweather killing spree of the late 1950s uses a serial-killer narrative as a springboard for an oblique teenage romance, lovingly and idiosyncratically enacted by Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacek. The film introduced many of the elements that would earn Malick his passionate following: the enigmatic approach to narrative and character, the unusual use of voice-over, the juxtaposition of human violence with natural beauty, the poetic investigation of American dreams and nightmares. This debut has spawned countless imitations, but none have equalled its strange sublimity.
Badlands is universally considered one of the greatest films ever made. But it does not populate this elite category in the sense of, say, The Godfather or Jaws. This is high art. Realised by a fledgling Terrance Malick like the misty lovesick poetry of young love; Badlands is Romeo and Juliet if the former were an overemotional sociopath and the latter a besotted votary. With a seemingly endless list of gorgeous shots, Malick worked some sort of witchcraft that plays directly in to a teenage escapism that can only come from the American dream. From Bonnie and Clyde and beyond, this ‘us against the world’ mentality might drive the events of the film, but its passive distance from emotional connect sets it apart as something more akin to a documentary…albeit a bloody well directed one.
This remaster comes from a 4K scan and is a Criterion release that until now has only be available in region 1, so to finally have it here on UK shores is a gift and a wonder. The image is at its absolute best, and aside from the obvious uptick in detail and colour science, this scan adds texture that further accentuates the film’s ethereal sun-soaked fever dream. There may be more that a UHD release could add to the image and sound, but it will be negligible, because this feels like the perfect presentation and a perfect movie.
Film Grade: A+
All features from the US release are ported over, including an in-depth documentary that was recorded in 2012. But the surprise hit is a documentary on Charles Starkweather and Caril Ann Fugate.
Special Features Grade: B
A great exercise in emotionally intelligent filmmaking presented in its best form.