Days of Heaven


Widely regarded as one of the most beautiful films ever photographed, writer/director Terrence Malick’s second feature film, Days of Heaven, is a dramatically minimalist affair elevated by its often jaw-dropping visuals. The plot involves a long con by penniless lovers Bill (Richard Gere) and Abby (Brooke Adams) who set their sights on a well-heeled farm owner, posing as brother and sister so that she can marry their way into a better life. Bill has a temper that gets him into trouble, and a precocious little sister who handles their nomadic life with remarkable ease.

There’s not a whole lot of story, frankly — in fact it sometimes feels so loose it can seem random (did 15-year-old actress Linda Manz even know that she was in a movie?) but it’s held together by moments of suspicion and consequence. It helps that young Richard Gere and Sam Shepard are almost handsome beyond measure here, and Brooke Adams is rather easy on the eyes.

And the Canadian scenery standing in for the Texas panhandle circa 1916 has never looked lovelier. Cinematographer Néstor Almendros (with a lot of help from Haskell Wexler) won an Academy Award for Days of Heaven, and Criterion’s Malick-supervised 4K restoration from the original camera negative takes full advantage of high dynamic range and wide color gamut. The extensive use of natural lighting and magic hour shooting imparts some magnificently subdued hues and generous shadows and silhouettes, set against blazing fire in one particularly memorable nighttime sequence. A strong yet low-key grain structure is maintained, and the 1.85:1 image is sublimely crisp when it wants to be, for the waving wheat and the sharp lines of the farmhouse. Interestingly, the included HD Blu-ray is framed at 1.78:1, in addition to being noticeably softer.

Presented in remastered DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, the soundtrack has been upmixed from its original 4.1-channel source elements, which is not too shabby for a 1978 arthouse film. The film was Oscar-nominated for Best Sound and Best Original Score, and the musical fidelity across the soundstage is outstanding with rear surround channels hosting well-chosen instruments alongside ominous wind and thunder as the story dictates. The vintage farm equipment also displays an imposing LFE rumble.

Malick lets his crew do the talking on the supplied audio commentary and in some archival interviews, while Gere and Shepard talk about their experiences in their own legacy clips. The booklet features insightful writing on the movie. For fans of great cinematography, Criterion’s new disc is, indeed, Heaven.

STUDIO:Criterion Collection, 1978
HDR FORMAT: Dolby Vision, HDR10
AUDIO FORMAT: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
LENGTH: 94 mins., PG
DIRECTOR: Terrence Malick
STARRING: Richard Gere, Brooke Adams, Sam Shepard, Linda Manz, Robert J. Wilke, Jackie Shultis