Sling Blade: Award-Winning Collection [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - America - Buena Vista Home Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: Andreas Petersen (25th September 2009).
The Film

Iím always extremely suspicious of movies directed by well established actors. More often than not, at least in my experience, I feel like cinematic works directed by actors are often over directed. They seem as though they are made by people who watch directing instead of studying it. Feeling this way, I went into "Sling Blade", written/directed by and starring Billy Bob Thornton, not knowing what to expect. I was about 8 when the movie came out in 1996, and I donít remember itís presence at all. All Iíve heard is the occasional "Sling Blade" reference in a TV show. "Sling Blade" was a monumental success, both critically and at the box office. But is the movie still relevant in this day and age?

"Sling Blade" tells the story of Karl (Billy Bob Thornton), a mentally challenged individually who resides in a hospital for the criminally insane. 25 years prior to the filmís beginning, Karl killed his mother and her lover when he was 12, and is now, at the age of 37, being released into the world. He decides to return to his hometown, where he gets a job fixing lawn mowers and befriends young Frank (Lucas Black). Frank takes Karl to meet his mother (Natalie Canerday) whom has an abusive boyfriend named Doyle (Dwight Yoakam). Frank and his mother invite Karl to live in their garage, much to the chagrin of the close minded Doyle, who hates sissy kids, retards, and Frankís momís homosexual friend Vaughan (John Ritter). Karlís insertion into this mess causes everything to stop and everyone to check their lives. Karl grows to love Frank and his mother like family, and begins to hate Doyle with a passion.

Movies focused around a mentally handicapped protagonist are tricky, and to this day, Iím not entirely sure that it has been pulled off correctly. One of the greatest critical accolades "Sling Blade" claims is Thorntonís performance, but I have to say, I wasnít too impressed. I feel like he played an over-the-top character through most of the film, just grumbling a lot and speaking in a deep-southern accent. He slouches and has some sort of semi-grin on his face the whole movie. All in all, I didnít think the performance was that noteworthy. That said, I didnít think the rest of the cast held up very well at all. Ritter and Canerday come off as very simplistic characters, lacking anything deeper than ďIím sad and gayĒ or ďIím sad that my boyfriend beats meĒ. The one actor who truly shined in the film for me was Yoakam, who by trade isnít even an actor. The country music star was the only character I felt had any real depth, which is surprising, because the movie attempts to make you hate him so much. Yoakam brought real emotion to the role, and is truly the performance of the film in my eyes.

Thankfully, Thornton doesnít overstep his bounds as a director in this film. His style is muted and subtle, moving the camera in unextravagant ways that I imagine would have taken me out of the movie. His style is simple, like the main character of the film. Not to undersell a few extremely brilliant scenes, all of which involve a side story relating to Karlís dead brother.

Another aspect of the film that left me bewildered was the score. At times it was twangy, accentuating the southern setting of the film. At other times, it is otherworldly, and almost dreamlike. I grew immensely tired of the guitar tracks, but fell in love with the more dreamy music themes of the movie. My problem is that the film never felt on track because I felt the tone switching so much. The greatest scenes of the movie are the ones in which Karl waxes on his own odd sense of reality, coupled with moments of a genius score. All the while, the weakest moments of the film are coupled with a stereotypical southern guitar riff, and it feels like Iím watching a country song brought to life more than I am a film.

In the end, I had very mixed feelings about "Sling Blade". There were parts I liked, but most of it I didnít. I can see why people would have loved this movie when it cam out 13 years ago, but in this day and age, where the movie going public is as cynical as ever, I just donít know if "Sling Blade" has a place in this generation.

Video

"Sling Blade" is presented in a 1080p 24/fps HD 1.85:1 aspect ratio transfer, and if someone hadnít told me, I would have assumed I was watching a DVD. The picture was clear to some extent, to the point at least where nothing was ever blurry or muddled the way some DVD's are, but for a Blu-ray, this transfer is pretty rotten. There was constant noise all over the screen that didnít let up for a single scene, and at times it was very distracting. Also, some scenes at night or indoors were far too dark, and sometimes, I couldnít see half of what was transpiring on screen. A very substandard transfer.

Audio

"Sling Blade" is presented in an English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mixed at 48kHz/24-bit, and also includes an optional German DTS 5.1 and Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0 surround track. Thankfully, where the picture quality lacked, the sound was nowhere near as bad. All the sounds and dialogue came out clear as a bell, though at times I had difficulty understanding Karl, but I assumed that was just because the character mumbles so damn much. The music also sounded great coming out in my speakers, especially the more dream-like tracks I mentioned earlier.
Optional subtitles are included in English for the hearing impaired and Spanish.

Extras

"Sling Blade" offers a very impressive slate of extras, both in quality and quantity, including an audio commentary, a documentary, a TV special, numerous featurettes, a roundtable interview, a musical performance and bonus trailers.

First up is the feature-length audio commentary with star/writer/director Billy Bob Thornton. Here, Thornton seems very mild and nearly sedated while he waits for each new shot to pop up, and quickly remarking on some aspect of the shot that he liked. Also, he explains certain motifs of the movie, such as color schemes, and how he thinks they turned out in the final product. This to me was a very passive commentary that offered more trivia than insight into the filmís production.

Next up is "Mr. Thornton Goes to Hollywood" documentary, which runs for 1 hour, 6 minutes, and 51 seconds. This is literally a biography of Billy Bob Thornton, starting at his Arkansas roots and spreading all the way to the production of "Sling Blade". Thornton and friends are interviewed to spout stories about the actorís rise to fame. The whole thing seemed so odd to me, because it really didnít pertain to the film, and doesnít really even bring the movie up until the 40 minute mark. The last 20 minutes discuss the major themes of the movie, and how Thorntonís upbringing really bonded him to the story and the character of Karl.

Next up is "Bravo Profiles: Billy Bob Thornton" TV special, which runs for 43 minutes and 26 seconds. For a moment, I was worried I was just going to get another Thornton biography, but this clip was actually rather interesting, being much more akin to the final 20 minutes of the Hollywood feature. This plays out more like a typical making-of, interviewing cast and crew in which they discuss Thorntonís craft, and their thoughts of "Sling Blade" itself.

A roundtable discussion with Billy Bob Thornton, Dwight Yoakam, Mickey Jones, and producer David Bushnell, which runs for 1 hour 15 minutes and 25 seconds, is an interesting feature in which the four members of the filmís production really just sit around and talk about things that happened on the set. This brings in an anecdotal quality that I missed from the commentary.

Next is "A Conversation with Billy Bob Thornton and Robert Duvall" featurette, which runs for 8 minutes and 31 seconds. Here, a moderated conversation between the two stars explains how they met, and what their relationship in cinema is. This was interesting to me, despite Duvallís miniscule role in the film.

Continuing on, "A Conversation with Robert Duvall" featurette, which runs for 7 minutes and 35 seconds, focuses on just the actor, as he explains how he had faith in "Sling Blade" from the very beginning, but goes on to describe how much the film seemed to sneak up on people.

"A Conversation with Billy Bob Thornton and Composer Daniel Lanois" featurette, which runs for 22 minutes and 59 seconds, opens with Lanois performing an acoustic version of the filmís main theme on a slide pedal guitar. This was a theme I didnít care for in the actual film, but here, it just sounded gorgeous. However, as the conversation continues, Thornton does most of the talking, speaking on how he wanted to have more control over the filmís score initially, but eventually let Lanois do his thing. Sadly, I felt as though Lanois hardly ever got a word in.

"The Return of Karl" featurette, which runs for 3 minutes and 40 seconds, is a short feature in which Thornton seems to be taking the role of Karl for a test drive. He walks into a room with three men sitting and chairs, and seems to improve all his lines as Karl, just to get comfortable with the character.

"On the Set" are a series of three short featurettes that show a few scenes from behind the camera. They are:

- "Billy Bob At Work", which runs for 4 minutes and 39 seconds. Here, he get to see the juxtaposition between Thornton the actor and Thornton the director, cutting between him directing scenes he isnít in, and those with Karl in them.
- "Doyleís Band: The Johnsons", which runs for 1 minute and 46 seconds, is some very raw footage of the band from the film just jamming on the patio set, as it seems some crew members are taking measurements.
- "Doyle Gets Pummeled", which runs for 1 minute and 53 seconds, is a play out of the big scene in which Doyle is kicked out of his house, from the perspective of someone standing off stage left.

Lastly, there is ďDoyleís DeadĒ musical performance- with introduction by Billy Bob Thornton, which runs for 4 minutes and 23 seconds. Here, we get to see the performance of the song mentioned at an earlier scene in the movie. In the film, the lyrics are only spoken, but here they are sung, and it sounds pretty decent.

Also included are some bonus trailers, and they are for:

- "Confessions of a Shopaholic" which runs for 2 minutes and 2 seconds.
- "Lost" which runs for 1 minute and 46 seconds.
- "Extract" which runs for 1 minute and 46 seconds.
- "Adventureland" which runs for 1 minute and 35 seconds>
- "Mirimax Films "promo which runs for 2 minutes and 36 seconds.
- "Blu-ray" promo which runs for 1 minute and 2 seconds.

Overall

The Film: C Video: D+ Audio: B+ Extras: A- Overall: C

 


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