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"The Thin Red Line" and More DVDs

"Terrence Malick's epic war-film daydream The Thin Red Line (1998) is already out on DVD, but it is being reissued this week from The Criterion Collection, and when Criterion steps up to the line, you salute and say yes, sir." Michael Atkinson for Movieline: "Malick's film remains an underseen masterpiece, the ignored eccentric twin to Saving Private Ryan (the B.O. ratio in 1998 between them was six to one), and a confounding experience for mainstream audiences used to having their hands held.... The freeflowing narration is not exposition but interior-monologue poetry, spoken by unspecified characters. Meanwhile, it's spellbinding visually — if there's a central figure, it's not quite Jim Caviezel's beatific Witt but the Guadalcanal landscape (shot in Australia and the Solomon Islands), the wildlife obliviously feeding on itself, the endless hills and sky and sun and sea. Three hours later, even the unwilling viewer emerges burned and humbled."

"A former journalist with a philosophy degree, Malick began his directing career with two of the defining American movies of the 1970s, Badlands (1973) and Days of Heaven (1978)." Dennis Lim in the Los Angeles Times: "Then he took a 20-year break, during which there were whispers of a few abortive projects but for the most part total silence. He returned to a Hollywood very different from the one he'd left, and it boggles the mind that, after all that time away, Malick was able to put studio resources and an all-star cast in the service of a deeply personal, practically non-narrative film, a lyric poem as much as a war epic, the kind of movie the industry had long stopped financing. Adapted from James Jones's 1962 novel, which was in turn based on the author's own combat experiences in World War II, The Thin Red Line follows the attempts of an American Army unit to seize control of Guadalcanal, a Japanese-held island in the South Pacific."

And it's "arguably the greatest war film ever made," writes David Sterritt for Criterion, "a masterpiece — a Malick masterpiece, telling a powerfully written, superbly acted story that casts new light on his characteristic themes of nature and culture, thought and language, humanity and inhumanity, paradise lost and transcendence found."

Back in May, Paul Maher wrote a piece for PopMatters gathering just about everything known to humankind outside of Malick's inner circle about the long-anticipated Tree of Life, currently set for a theatrical release early next year. This week, Maher explains why the 20 years between Heaven and Line aren't quite as mysterious as many assume and relates tale after tale about the making of Malick's epic poem.

Gary W Tooze: "This is the type of film that seems restrained on DVD and, like Days of Heaven, is one of reasons to own a Blu-ray player. An unforgettable film with the highest caliber of audio and video transfer — an absolute must-own for any cinema fan."

Updates: "The overall effect of The Thin Red Line is to leave us by its end feeling as though we've been pushed through something, bore witness to something grandiose that only the cinema can offer," writes Josef Braun. "We feel closer to a particular vision, at once infernal and beatific, at once helmed by a single and singular artist and the portrayal of a difficult to fathom experience shared by hundreds. There's almost nothing like it."

"Can any war film rival the dual spiritual uplift and ethereal horror of The Thin Red Line?" asks Rob Humanick in Slant. "Through image, sound, and words, Malick's third feature... fuses a complex spiritual inquiry to its narrative arc, the resulting thematic/dramatic path among the most fully realized philosophical contributions yet afforded by the cinema."

Update, 9/29: Ryland Walker Knight at GreenCine Daily: "If Malick's The New World uses a river, and how it meets land, as its structural metaphor, The Thin Red Line no doubt find trees and grass — things that rise from the earth — as a defining framework; both branch, but rivers tumble and vegetation grows."

Update, 9/30: "I wonder if it's better to have worked for Malick and been cut, than to never have worked for him at all." Ryan Gilbey's account in the New Statesman of all the actors who worked awfully damn hard on this film only to see most or all of that work left out of the final cut is more than a little disheartening.

 

MORE DVDS

This week in the New York Times, Dave Kehr reviews John Mackenzie's The Long Good Friday (1980), "a prescient portrait of the Thatcher years, created just as they were getting under way," with "a star-making performance by Bob Hoskins," as well as a batch of "older, lesser known British films" released by VCI Entertainment, including "Michael Anderson's crazy mélange of genres, Hell Is Sold Out, from 1951... further proof that the British cinema was more rich and strange than it has generally been given credit for" — and another "intriguing oddity, Where Love Has Gone, is a 1964 product of a Hollywood studio system at the end of its tether, gingerly sticking a toe into 'adult material' but clinging to old habits of sexual decorum and artificial, soundstage mise-en-scène."

DVD roundups. Paul Matwychuk and Heather Noel, Noel Murray (LAT), Stephen Saito (IFC), Slant and Michael Tully (Hammer to Nail).

Update: Chuck Stephens for Criterion on "Takeshi Kitano's face. The face of one of Oshima's greatest pupils, destined for his own glory as a filmmaker, not to mention enshrinement in supercelebrity as perhaps the most recognizable face in all of modern Japan, its beaming son and sun, the face upon which Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence begins, ends, and depends."

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