DVD Review: A worthwhile look at 'Badlands'

Terence Malick had already sold a couple of screenplays when his feature directorial debut, "Badlands" (1973), created an art-house sensation.

Inspired by the story of 19-year-old Charlie Starkweather and 14-year-old Caril Ann Fugate, it told a tale of a friendly sociopath and his teenage girlfriend on the run, killing people and dodging the police. Martin Sheen — looking spookily like his son "Tiger Blood" Sheen — is Kit, who kills his girlfriend's dad (Warren Oates) and takes her (Sissy Spacek, in her breakthrough role) along for the big ride.

Some of what made "Badlands" so striking at the time may have lost its force through its subsequent influence on later directors. At the time, its look — as flat and affectless as its characters — was new. Since then, it's shown up in Malick's next film, "Days of Heaven" (1978), as well as films by Jim Jarmusch, Aki Kaurismaki and others.

The new HD transfer looks much like it did on the big screen, though inevitably some of the beauty of the CinemaScope frame is lost on even widescreen TVs. Criterion conducted interviews last year with several key contributors: There are separate interviews with producer Edward Pressman and editor Billy Weber, but most of the material can be found in "Making Badlands," a 42-minute reminiscence by Sheen, Spacek and Spacek's future husband, production designer Jack Fisk (who seems to remember the names of everyone who worked on the film after 40 years). All are worthwhile.

"Badlands" (Criterion, Blu-ray, $39.95; DVD, $29.95)


ANDY KLEIN is the film critic for Marquee. He can also be heard on "FilmWeek" on KPCC-FM (89.3).

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