4K UHD Review: Days of Heaven [The Criterion Collection] | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Thursday, February 29th, 2024  

Days of Heaven 4K UHD

Studio: The Criterion Collection

Dec 07, 2023 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share

A chain of boxcars rumbles into the Texas panhandle, cutting a sharp path through plains that stretch endlessly to the horizon, and depositing hundreds of itinerant workers from far-off cities onto the surrounding fields, eager for difficult but fair-paid work. Among them are Bill (Richard Gere), his kid sister Linda (Linda Manz), and his lover Abby (Brooke Adams). They eke out a meager existence working a sprawling wheat farm, until Abby catches the eye of the wealthy landowner (Sam Shepard), a handsome yet lonely man in declining health. Having fallen for the ruse that Bill and Abby are brother and sister, the farmer falls for her—and Bill, believing that the man will soon die, pushes her to mislead him into marriage. As the seasons pass and the farmer’s health shows no change, the friction between the three grows—as does the farmer’s suspicions about the true nature of Bill and Abby’s relationship.

With a timeline that can only be measured by the changes in season, the events of Days of Heaven (1978) play more like parables than a traditional story. The farmer is never even given a name, and characters’ intentions are rarely spoken out loud. It’s a film that requires its viewers to read faces, or just to feel a mood—Terrence Malick famously changed course regularly throughout the tumultuous shoot, throwing out much of the remaining dialogue during the movie’s long, two-year editing process. It’s cliché to compare a film to a painting—especially one like this, considered to be among the most striking films ever made—but it’s the easiest comparison to draw regarding Malick’s approach on this film, which was made in an exploratory manner but with studio backing. The troubled shoot was just the first layer of oils on the canvas; Days of Heaven is a movie that didn’t know what it wanted to be until Malick spent years refining and painting over large parts of it in the editing room.

One choice made late in the edit cements the film’s fable-like sensibility, that being the addition of Linda Manz’ narration. Increasingly worried that he wouldn’t be able to salvage a sensible storyline from the footage he retained, Malick asked the teenage Manz to improvise narration, in-character, as she watched parts of the film. These childlike observations, which often ramble and sometimes only loosely comment on what we’re seeing on screen, are what ultimately tied the film together—and give it the lived-in feel of a tale being retold from memory. We’re made to interpret events through a child’s point-of-view, where details are hazy or formed by conjecture.

The visuals themselves are poetry, and every bit as beautiful as the film’s loft legacy would suggest. With shooting days that—to the crew’s frustration—were often scheduled around the magical-looking light of dusk, Days of Heaven is set in a world where nature is at its most beautiful. It’s unreal, and breathtaking; it’s how places look in our memories, after time has ironed out their imperfections. There’s not a moment in Days of Heaven that isn’t gorgeous. Everything is made into an object of beauty, from faces to the farmstead, wildlife to wheat fields swaying with the breeze. This isn’t just a film that’s jaw-dropping in 4K, but one of those ones that should encourage film fans that haven’t adopted the format yet to do so. An easy 10/10 for picture, if we were ones to give out ratings.

Although it will inevitably be overshadowed by its stunning imagery, Days of Heaven’s sound mix is a powerful one. This Criterion release presents the film with a 5.1 DTS-HD surround track that merits being played loud. At sufficient volume, the sound is as immersive as the picture, with winds that whip across the frozen plains, churning farm machinery, and honking geese that pass overhead on their way south for the winter. (It adds an incredible sense of terror to the film’s most biblically apocalyptic scenes—the swarming locusts, the roaring wildfires—that makes viewers feel like they’re there, unable to make out the workers’ pleas over the deafening chaos.) Dialogue is clear in quiet moments, and Ennio Morricone’s Americana-flecked score is moving but never overwhelming.

Days of Heaven was already one of the most visually extraordinary films in The Criterion Collection. In their upgrade to the 4K UHD format, they’ve made its home video presentation that much more stunning with their new digital restoration and boosted audio track. This release is a must-own, and absolutely worth the double dip for those who already own their 2010 Blu-ray edition.



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