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VINE VOICEon October 23, 2007
MOVIE:
Terrence Malick is one of the greatest filmmakers alive, and after Sergio Leone he is my second favorite director of all time. In his career that spans almost 40 years he has only made four feature length films. What I love about Malick's films is that they are poetry; they break all the conventions of filmmaking. When you sit down to watch a Terrence Malick film you are readying yourself for an experience. The way he examines human nature in every single one of his films is extraordinary. Every one of his films also deals with man's impact on nature and he slowly erases the lines between sanity and insanity. His directorial debut was with Badlands starring Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacek; a haunting story of lovers on the run from the law. His next film is still undoubtedly one of the most moving pieces of cinema ever created, Days Of Heaven.

Days Of Heaven tells the story of Bill (Richard Gere) and Abby (Brooke Adams); two young people in love trying to make ends meet and find work. The two go around pretending to be brother and sister as to protect themselves from the outside world. At the beginning of the film Bill gets in a tussle at the steel mill and accidentally kills his boss. Now Bill, Abby and Linda (Linda Manz) hop a train to go work on a farm to harvest wheat. The story is told through Linda's perspective. Linda is the real sister of Bill and she is barely a teenager. It's interesting that Malick lets the story unfold through the eyes of an innocent child; I think it gives complex situations in the film a simpler point of view. As the story unfolds and they work on the farm Bill finds out that the owner of the farm is dying of a terminal illness. The farmer is played by Sam Shepard in his first major role. Bill hatches a plan for Abby to get the farmer to fall in love with her. That way when he dies he will leave all his assets to her and they will become rich. As can be imagined after a full year passes the farmer is still alive and tensions begin to grow that leads to an inevitable climax.

The number one aspect of this film that garners so much attention is the cinematography. The story goes that Nestor Almendros started the picture but about a fourth of the way through he had to leave due to a prior commitment. Cinematographer Haskell Wexler came in and shot the rest of the picture according to Almendros's standards, but in the end didn't receive any credit on the film. Almendros went on to win the Oscar for Best Cinematography that year. All quarrels aside one can't deny the brilliance of the film's photography. Every frame is crafted with absolute detail that in some cases will give you goose-bumps. They shot most of the film during "magic hour"; that twilight period right before the sun sets. It creates a perfect backlight that if framed correctly can create haunting silhouettes. It seems as if there is always a ring of fire on the horizon that is slowly getting closer, which it in fact does. During the scene of the locust plague a lantern breaks in the wheat fields and the entire farm erupts into flames. It symbolizes rage in the characters as tensions mount, but I don't want to spoil anything for those who want to experience the film for the first time. All in all this film is a visual feast that will stay in your mind's eye.

Since the film is extremely light on dialogue it relies on two major elements. Cinematography being the first thing I discussed and Ennio Morricone's score being the second. Morricone's incredibly dark and foreboding score is a haunting masterpiece. It underscores the human conflicts being depicted in the film and of course has tragedy spelled out plain and simple with the tone right from the beginning. The first time I saw the film I cried because of the subtle power of this Oscar nominated score. The haunting elements of it will resonate with you for quite some time, and honestly this score is the major source of emotion in the film. It accentuates Malick's themes perfectly.

So, what is this film ultimately about? One could spend all their time writing about a Terrence Malick film and every word could be wrong and right at the same time. His films need to be experienced, because it is absolutely impossible to try to describe how his films affect you. In my head I saw this film as an exploration of love and how human nature is a flaw that can allow our emotions to consume our rational side. If you've seen The Thin Red Line, Badlands or The New World then you should have a good idea of what Days Of Heaven will be like. It's a surprisingly short film at only 94 minutes, especially if you compare how long his last two films were. Thanks for sticking with me for this entire review/analysis. I really like to do more than the average critique when it comes to important films like this.

SPECIAL FEATURES:
Audio Commentary:
Since Terrance Malick is the most elusive filmmaker ever (not a single interview ever?) the commentary track features editor Bill Weber, art director Jack Fisk, costume designer Patricia Norris, and casting director Dianne Crittenden. This is a fascinating track that really delves into just how much detail can be found in every single frame of the movie; a must for film enthusiasts.

Audio Interview With Richard Gere:
An interview conducted in 2007 just for this release. Richard Gere examines how he came to doing the movie. He discusses how he really wasn't into film but rather theater. However, he saw Badlands and was immediately interested if Terrence Malick was directing. He does ramble a bit, but he does offer some insight. The fact that it's a 22 minute audio interview set to stills and footage of the movie makes it kind of a bore to sit through.

Video Interview With Sam Shepherd:
This 12 minute interview from 2002 is an interesting look at how Malick got Shepherd into acting. He talks about how he was more into writing at the time, but he decided to do it just for the hell of it.

Video Interview With John Bailey:
Bailey was Nestor Almendros's camera operator and this is by far the most interesting interview on the DVD. It's a 20 minute interview and it is incredibly in depth. He uses a lot of lingo that may go over the head of casual viewers. He explains in detail all the techniques they used and it really opens up a lot. It's a really fascinating interview that uses visual examples throughout as he talks.

Video Interview With Haskell Wexler:
Wexler was the cinematographer who took over for Almendros and in the end received no credit for his work on the film. In this 11 minute interview he explains his relationship with Malick and how he came to take over for Almendros. It's a great first hand account from the man himself.

41-Page Booklet:
The booklet contains an essay by Adrian Martin and a chapter from Nestor Almendros's autobiography.

VIDEO:
When you buy a Criterion DVD you are paying for perfection. This remastered version was supervised and approved by Terrence Malick. The original 1.78:1 aspect ratio is maintained exactly with absolutely zero flaws in the transfer. The new high definition transfer was created from a new 35mm interpositive struck from the 35mm A/B roll original negative. Thousands of instances of dirt and scratches were removed and the resolution is magnificent because they mastered the DVD at the highest bit rate possible. I just wonder when Criterion is going to make the move to Blu-ray?

AUDIO:
A brand new Dolby Digital 5.1 surround track was created for this release. The old track was tossed and this new track was remastered at 24-bits from the original 4.1 magnetic tracks. Every effort possible was implemented to reduce clicks, hiss and crackle. This is fantastic, I love Criterion so much.

BOTTOM LINE:
Days Of Heaven is one of my favorite films of all time and I certainly think it's Malick's best. The film will overwhelm you with its visual power and you certainly won't forget it. Criterion has done a great service by remastering this film and I can only hope that Malick's other films will eventually get the same treatment.
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on July 15, 2004
How fitting it is that the best movie Richard Gere has ever done, and will ever do, is the one where he probably talks the least. Of course, dialogue isn't what's so breathtakingly beautiful about Days of Heaven, one of the forgotten greats of all time. It's the cinematography (maybe the best of all time, sorry I left this off my list, folks), the sad story that runs through the film, and the overwhelmingly aching tone that just resonates from every frame. Days of Heaven is a quiet, meditative film that flies under the radar in emotion and volume for most of the time. The film roams over the open fields of its locale, half-listening to conversations (even important ones) as maybe the watchful eye of God. I saw this movie once before and bought it on a whim, and am convinced more than ever that most great movies don't reveal themselves totally on the first, or even second time. On viewing #2, I can't get Days of Heaven out of my mind. It's a beautiful, sad little tone poem that resonates more than most explosive, violent movies of the '70's. You're missing out if this one isn't on your shelf. GRADE: A+
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on October 12, 2007
A few years ago Paramount Pictures unceremoniously dumped Days of Heaven on DVD with a decent transfer and no extras save a theatrical trailer. While the folks at Criterion haven't quite given it their deluxe treatment, they have provided a brand new, Terrence Malick-approved transfer that is a revelation and a few, yet substantial extras.

While it was too much to hope for a commentary by the media-shy Malick, Criterion has provided us with the next best thing: a commentary by art director Jack Fisk, editor Billy Weber (both men have worked on all of Malick's films), costume designer Patricia Norris and casting director Dianne Crittenden. Weber talks about Linda Manz's inexperience as an actress and how she kept referring to Richard Gere, Brooke Adams and Sam Shepard by their real names. Fisk talks about the challenges of constructing sets with very little preparation time. They all talk about Malick's working methods and provide fascinating insight into the director's creative process.

There is an audio interview with Richard Gere that plays over footage from the film. The actor says that the filmmaker spent a year casting and this drove him crazy and he almost left the film. Gere candidly reveals that Malick didn't really know how to direct actors and this led to some frustration on their part.

Also included is a 2002 interview with Sam Shepard who mentions that Malick was shy and almost embarrassed to ask him to be in the film. Shepard also talks about the filmmaker's attention to detail and how in awe he was of nature and his desire to capture it on film.

Finally, there are interviews with camera operators John Bailey and Haskell Wexler. Bailey says that Malick made a classic, pastoral film but with an edgy, American New Wave style. He also talks about Malick's creative process and the cameras they used. Wexler took over when the film's cinematographer Nestor Almendros left due to a prior commitment. He talks about Malick's connection to nature and his working methods.
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on April 24, 2000
Terrence Mallick's 1978 masterpiece is as strong today as when it was first released...or maybe even better now in comparison to the banal movies of today. The incredible cinematography and minimal narrative create a mood and feeling that very few films would ever even attempt...this is like a poem on film, but easily accessible and amazingly engrossing. Ennio Morricone's score is one of his best and most haunting ever. The entire cast is superb (Gere, Adams, Shepard), but the stand-out has always been young Linda Manz (who also narrates throughout in a subtle almost surreal authenticity)- her low-key performance is absolutely incredible. The minimal narrative has been criticized by some, but anything more would have damaged the mood and emotion of the film. The tragic outcome of events is inevitable...so why clutter it with soap opera? Compare this film to anything else out there and you will see that it is truly one-of-a-kind. Seeing this movie again after almost 20 years reminded me how many great films came out of the 70's. It was a great period for modern cinema --- maybe call them the "days of heaven" for movie-going --- and Mallick's masterpiece stands tall to this day. This is a must see for any serious film buff. The only reason I give it 4 stars instead of 5 is that on the DVD some of the darker scenes are slightly murky...but overall it is still a Very Clean and Nice looking widescreen transfer. The DVD has the original kind of awkward trailer as well. Don't miss this film!
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on October 6, 2007
I saw this movie some 30 years ago at the 1979 Cannes Film festival and I was sure then than it will earn the Golden Palm but, unfortunately, it was the year of APOCALYPSE NOW and THE TIN DRUM and Terrence Malick won "only" the Best Director award. Since then, I watched it every four or five years or so and I must say that DAYS OF HEAVEN stands very well the test of time. Masterpiece.
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on July 30, 2003
Terence Malick's "Days of Heaven" is famous for its breathtaking images and beautiful musical score. It is also known as the last film the great director made before his self-imposed 20-year exile from the film industry. Watching "Days of Heaven" makes you wonder what great works Malick would have produced if he decided to continue filmmaking throughout the Eighties and the Nineties. His absence from the industry truly was a loss for all film enthusiasts everywhere.

"Days of Heaven" is set in the year 1916. America is becoming more and more industrialized as time goes on. In one Chicago steelmill, Bill (Richard Gere) attacks a foreman and is forced to go on the run. He takes along his girlfriend, Abby (Brooke Adams) and his younger sister Linda (Linda Manz) with him to Texas. The three of them find employment as laborers with a wealthy farmer (Sam Shepard) with Bill passing off Abby as his sister. Eventually, the farmer and Abby marry after Bill tells her he discovered that the farmer is ill and will soon die. Once the farmer passes away, Bill and Abby will be able to live off his wealth and leave behind their nomadic lifestyle. However, the farmer manages to hold onto his health and tragedy strikes when he eventually discovers the true relationship between Bill and Abby.

All of the praise "Days of Heaven" has received over its visual splendor is well deserved. Malick has always had an eye for filming nature in all its beauty and the way he employs the sky, the streams, the wheat fields, and the animals of the prairies in his narrative essentially establishes nature itself as a character in the film. The musical score of Ennio Morricone is equally compelling and perfectly captures the varying moods the characters go through. However, the one element that keeps "Days of Heaven" from being considered a true masterpiece is its story. The love triangle that lies at the core of the film is nothing more than a run-of-the-mill soap opera drama. Manz's recollection of the events through her narration gives the events an added dimension as the tale becomes intertwined with the loss of her innocent childhood. Yet, the story unfortunately does not rise to the same level with the images and music that accompany it. Still, "Days of Heaven" should still be watched. There is a power in the imagery of the film that must be seen. Additionally, all of the principal actors are outstanding with the lesser known Adams and Manz being true revelations. One wishes both actresses made more films as their talent shines through in every frame they are in.
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on April 23, 1999
DAYS OF HEAVEN is one of the most original american movies of the last 25 years. Second film of Terrence Malick, the acclaimed director of THE THIN RED LINE, it relates the encounter of three young farm workers and their wealthy employer in 1916.
The director of photography, Nestor Almendros, has obtained an Oscar for his work and the least one can say is that he deserved it. In fact, DAYS OF HEAVEN offers a breathtaking trip in the heart of America. Terrence Malick films as well the most little animals as the vast landscapes in order to emphasize the actions of Man on Nature. The machines brought by the industrial revolution in this idyllic land appear as monsters.
In this - Hell and Paradise - scheme, no wonder that humans seem doomed to sin. Richard Gere and Brooke Adams don't accept the poor and working life they're condemned to and, as soon as the occasion comes, will lie, cheat and kill.
The uneasiness we feel during DAYS OF HEAVEN comes from the strangeness of the commentary of Linda Manz, the 13th year old girl whose voice will haunt you for a long time. Her innocent vision of the events she witnesses is one of the reason DAYS OF HEAVEN stays, 20 years after its theatrical release, as an UFO in Hollywood production.
A DVD for the movie lover.
NB: Ennio Morricone gives here one of the best musical score of his career.
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on December 6, 2002
The director, Terrence Malick, has made few films but his stature is legendary among film buffs and industry players (for different reasons). This film, which he wrote and which is possibly his best, is one reason why so many admire Malick. Winner of a well-deserved Academy Award for Cinematography by the late, great Director of Photography Nestor Almendros (who wrote a wonderful book about cinematography, by the way, called A MAN WITH A CAMERA), DAYS OF HEAVEN does nothing so well as perfectly evoke a place and time. By the way, a previous reviewer was incorrect -- it was not the Great Depression, but pre-WWI. This is a film that does a lot with a little; and it is so beautiful and so well-told that one could turn the sound off and understand the whole story. Don't you dare, though: the soundtrack by Ennio Morricone and others (Leo Kottke, Doug Kershaw, Camille Saint-Saens...) provides perfect accompaniment to this spare and tragic tale.
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on August 29, 2000
I first caught "Days of Heaven" on a lousy VHS tape which was basically inaudible and muddy. And yet it had the power to resonate in my mind weeks and months later. Well, what a gorgeous transfer it's received on DVD -- stunning, in fact! The colors are vivid, the picture razor sharp, and the soundtrack lush. "Days of Heaven" is not a silent film, although it could be. Instead what we have here is a director so comfortable with his material, so sure about his intentions, that he allows the story to unfold almost effortlessly before our eyes. You may never care much for editing and pacing, but after seeing "Days of Heaven" you will. Scenes last mere seconds, yet tell us everything. Building layer upon layer. Is it some form of poetry? Or magical level of artistry? It's both. And the acting is a dream. Superb, understated performances. A film to be watched over and over. Look for the fire and water symbolism, especially. Then look deeper.
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on February 25, 2008
I bought the $9.99 version but then ended up buying the Criterion release and giving away the other one. I was shcoked at the dust, sparkles and grain in the standard release. The Criterion release is so much better. Cleaned up and improved in every way. This is the way every film should be transferred to DVD by the studio. If you are thinking about owning this movie, that is the one to buy. Critereon's quality is so high, I look forward to buying some of there other releases.
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