Daily | Revisiting BADLANDS


Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacek in ‘Badlands’

“Criterion brings Terrence Malick’s masterful Badlands to 1080P Blu-ray with a new restored 4K digital transfer, approved by the director,” begins Gary W. Tooze at the top of his review of the new release at DVD Beaver. “The most obvious difference from the past DVDs is the richness of the colors on the HD transfer. Contrast is also notably improved and hence detail rises—there is some depth in the outdoor sequences. There does seem to be a shade cropped off all sides of the frame on the Blu-ray, but it is negligible. There is no noise on the 1.85:1 frame and overall I would say this is a big difference from the digital version we have had in the past.”

“Terrence Malick’s Badlands is a subdued, lyrical masterpiece concerning a killing spree undertaken by a politely intransigent young man named Kit, accompanied by his passive, elfin fifteen-year-old girlfriend, Holly, who narrates the tale,” writes Michael Almereyda for Criterion. “It’s Malick’s astonishing first feature, completed in 1973, fifteen years after the real-life exploits of Charles Starkweather and Caril Ann Fugate, a photogenic teenage couple who captured national attention during a nine-day rampage that resulted in ten murders.”

“What is Badlands if not a meditation on the scarcity of identity of a notorious murderous couple mythologized for his charisma and her alleged innocence, and who better to pose such questions than a philosopher?” asks Tina Hassannia in Slant. “Malick’s first feature film, written after a brief career in academia and a stint at the American Film Institute, is frequently touted as part and parcel of the 1970s New American Cinema (on the surface, it contains the post-western mythos of road movies and on-the-run-romance flicks like Easy Rider and Bonnie and Clyde), but it’s also distinct from those films insofar as it presents a new form of storytelling that’s more interesting than its subjects.”

“Malick’s film executes a tricky balancing act,” argues Steve Erickson in Slate. “It depicts murderers in love without romanticizing their actions.” More from Kim Hendrickson (Criterion) and Rodrigo Perez (Playlist).

Along with their “Three Reasons,” Criterion’s posted the original trailer, the first four minutes of the film, and this, an excerpt from an interview with editor Billy Weber, who “describes how the voice-over in Malick’s first film came to be, how it was influenced by Truffaut, and how the collaborators’ process evolved when they worked together again on Days of Heaven.”

More viewing. The first part of All Things Shining, Matt Zoller Seitz‘s 2011 series of video essays on Malick for Moving Image Source, focuses on Badlands.

You also might want to poke into the Badlands category at One Big Soul, or revisit Jonathan Rosenbaum‘s 1974 review, or Michael Nordine‘s, which appeared as part of a 2011 special on Malick at Not Coming to a Theater Near You. In 2010, Mike D’Angelo, writing at the AV Club, attempted to “wrap my head around a brief scene from Terrence Malick’s Badlands that took up permanent residence in my psyche many years ago.” Then there’s Jason Bellamy and Ed Howard‘s 2011 conversation at the House Next Door.

Update, 4/6: “Spacek’s heroine is more canvas than paint, guilty only of allowing her girlish infatuation get the better of her unformed sense of right and wrong,” writes Scott Tobias at the AV Club. “Her terror and lust keep her held in Sheen’s orbit, but she’s no more corrupt or malicious than the bystanders unfortunate enough to stand in their path of destruction. In just his first film, Malick displays the unique sensitivity to his character’s inner life—to say nothing of the magnificent outer life of the landscape around her—that has made him a singular filmmaker. His visual poetry has the effect of extracting the pulp while heightening the horror.”

For news and tips throughout the day every day, follow @KeyframeDaily on Twitter and/or the RSS feed. Get Keyframe Daily in your inbox by signing in at

Did you like this article?
Give it a vote for a Golden Bowtie


Keyframe is always looking for contributors.

"Writer? Video Essayist? Movie Fan Extraordinaire?

Fandor is streaming on Amazon Prime

Love to discover new films? Browse our exceptional library of hand-picked cinema on the Fandor Amazon Prime Channel.