Criterion Review: DAYS OF HEAVEN [4K-UHD]

Terrence Malick’s epic of human nature majestically returns to the Criterion Collection

Except where noted, all 16:9 screen images in this review are direct captures from the disc(s) in question with no editing applied, but may have compression or resizing inherent to file formats and WordPress’s image system.

From Badlands to The Tree of Life and beyond, Terrence Malick’s cinema eschews typical narrative storytelling for a non-linear, cosmic mode that’s more experiential than experimental. His characters’ identities are derived from near-wordless snapshots of existence, juxtaposed against the beautiful fury of the natural world surrounding them. Breaking free from the modern world and modern storytelling, the characters of Malick’s films yearn for something beyond their material grasp, whether it’s love, fulfillment, or something closer to divine understanding. Through each film’s masterful editing, there’s a permanent metaphysical connection between the characters and the environment, every torrential rainstorm a manifestation of the whirlwind of emotions within them. Their inner search for meaning is reflected in the wild and wonderful world they call home–where every moment, as fleeting as they may be, takes on such a deep cosmic significance. 

Set in the mid-1910s, Days of Heaven follows lovers Bill (Richard Gere) and Abby (Brooke Adams), as well as Bill’s little sister Linda (Linda Manz) as impoverished Americans forced to flee the slums of Chicago after Bill causes a tragic accident. Their refuge: the sprawling wheat fields of the Texas Panhandle, where a wealthy Farmer (Sam Shepherd) hires the trio to work the fields for the season. Amid the shifting seasons and stellar magic-hour sunsets, a love triangle develops between Bill, Abby, and the Farmer; when the Farmer receives a terminal diagnosis, Bill sees an opportunity for he and his family to profit from the Farmer’s affections. Winds and rain whip through the fields as the couples grow closer and apart, building to an apocalyptic conclusion of murder, locusts, and raging fires. 

No film of Terrence Malick’s reflects this unbreakable bond between humans and nature more than Days of Heaven, and it’s the wonder with which Linda (and Malick, by extension) views this ragingly romantic world that puts Days of Heaven in serious contention for my all-time favorite Malick film. It’s an epic love story written in wind and fire across the fields of pre-World War I Texas, where intrigue and heartbreak manifest in stunning sunsets and swarms of locusts. Across 94 spare minutes and a dreamlike yet down-to-earth VoiceOver by young Linda, seasons and memories flash by, making this love story feel both gargantuan and insignificant all at once. While films like The Thin Red Line or The New World pit people against nature as much as against each other, Days of Heaven finds an indelible, intimate connection between the volatility of both emotions and environment in such unmatched, searingly cinematic scope.

Days of Heaven was the first entry of what has become a legendary partnership between the Criterion Collection and Terrence Malick–under Malick’s careful supervision, Criterion has released the famed auteur’s first five features in impeccable deluxe editions, allowing viewers a rare glimpse into the construction of films that are almost impossible to describe. Briefly out of print after a rights shakeup by Paramount, Days of Heaven has made a resounding return to Criterion with a new 4K restoration–and it seems almost kismet that Days of Heaven is also the first Criterion Malick title to receive the UHD treatment. With 2017’s (personally beloved) Song to Song as the only other Terrence Malick film on UHD via the now-defunct Broad Green Pictures, here’s hoping the rest of Malick’s filmography won’t be too far behind.


For this 4K restoration, Days of Heaven is presented in Malick’s preferred aspect ratio of 1.85:1 on the UHD disc, created from the original 35mm negative and supervised by Malick, camera operator John Bailey, and editor Billy Weber. The feature is presented in 4K Dolby Vision HDR on the UHD, with an included 5.1-Channel surround track restored from the original 4.1 magnetic track. The included Blu-ray, ported from Criterion’s 2010 release, presents the feature in its previous HD restoration in 1.78:1, with a 5.1-Channel track. English SDH subtitles are provided for the feature film.

It’s always exciting when a transfer of a Malick film manages to outpace previous releases–and in the case of Days of Heaven, Criterion utilizes the expansive capabilities of an HDR pass to bring Malick’s sophomore feature to life in stunning new ways. Stalks of wheat retain individual clarity even as they swirl together en masse, and the painterly palette of the film’s jaw-dropping sunsets reveals a greater nuance across the color spectrum. Night sequences, notably a celebratory bonfire and the more incendiary climax, have little to no banding or black crush, instead retaining a healthy amount of film grain that doesn’t detach from the depth of the darkness captured. The audio track is further refined from the already-stellar mix on the 2010 Blu-ray, placing Ennio Morricone’s lush, Saint-Saëns-inspired score and Linda Manz’s rustic and whimsical VoiceOver front and center. Malick’s worlds never leave room for unearthly silence–and the rush of wind and chirrup of field animals is richly layered amid the visuals.

Special Features

Criterion has included all of their Special Features on the accompanying Blu-ray, which is a direct reproduction of their original 2010 release of Days of Heaven. The commentary is present on both the 4K UHD and the Blu-ray release.

  • Audio Commentary recorded in 2007 by Criterion, featuring production designer Jack Fisk, editor Billy Weber, costume designer Patricia Norris, and casting director Diane Crittenden. The short yet impactful track is filled with candid recollections of the lengthy shoot that was both rigorously planned and notoriously on the fly, as cast and crew waited hours for fleeting magic-hour shooting windows, pages of dialogue were cast aside, and shooting styles became more experimental and improvisational to capture the film’s ephemeral, timeless quality.
  • Interviews: Utilizing an audio interview with Richard Gere in 2007 and an interview with Sam Shepherd from 2002, the pair of actors reminisce on their experiences working with Malick.
  • John Bailey/Haskell Wexler: Archival 2007 interviews with Days of Heaven’s camera operator and legendary second-unit cinematographer, whose nature shots would eventually overtake first-unit main footage by Nestor Almendros once Almendros left production (Almendros would eventually win an Oscar for the film). 
  • Booklet: Reprinted from the 2010 edition, this booklet includes an essay by Adrian Martin, as well as a reproduction of extracts from Nestor Almendros’ autobiography “A Man With a Camera,” discussing the production of Days of Heaven.

Days of Heaven is now available on 4K UHD, Blu-ray, and DVD courtesy of The Criterion Collection.

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