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Miramax Pictures presents
Sling Blade: Two-Disc Collector's Series (1996)

"I don't reckon I got no reason to kill nobody. Mmm."
- Karl Childers (Billy Bob Thornton)

Review By: Chuck Aliaga  
Published: June 07, 2005

Stars: Billy Bob Thornton
Other Stars: Dwight Yoakam, J.T. Walsh, John Ritter, Lucas Black, Natalie Canerday, Robert Duvall
Director: Billy Bob Thornton

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (adult language, violence)
Run Time: 02h:27m:35s
Release Date: June 07, 2005
UPC: 786936239096
Genre: drama


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A ABB A

DVD Review

The road to stardom for Billy Bob Thornton really took off thanks to the enormous success of this pet project. Having caught Hollywood's eye with his writing and acting talents in the unforgettable One False Move (1992), Thornton was able to get his short film, Some Folks Call It a Sling Blade (1994) turned into a feature film. This longer version, 1996's Sling Blade, picks up where the short form leaves off, even including a newly shot version of the short film's contents as it's opening sequence.

This project went on to make a surprising $24 million at the box office, thanks in large part to its Academy Award win for Best Adapted Screenplay and Thornton's Best Actor nomination. These accolades took Billy Bob from character actor to star in no time at all. He soon starred in the studio pictures Armageddon, Monster's Ball, and Bad Santa, and continues to be among Hollywood's A-Listers.

We first see Karl Childers staring out the window of a "nervous hospital" that has been his home for most of his life. On this, the day of his release, Karl is visited and interviewed by a female reporter who asks him why he is in this mental hospital and how he feels about being released into the strange, outside world.

With nowhere to go and nothing to do, Karl meets a young boy, Frank Wheatley (Lucas Black), with whom he instantly forms a friendship. After the hospital's director lands Karl a job repairing lawnmowers, he meets Frank's mother, Linda (Natalie Canerday), who asks Karl to come live with them. Linda does all that she can to provide for Frank, but she is involved in a relationship with an abusive drunk named Doyle (Dwight Yoakam).

Nearly 10 years after his pop culture splash, the character of Karl Childers has already gone down as one of the most memorable characters in film history. Unlike the Forrest Gumps and Rain Mans of the world, Karl is both loveable and a little scary at the same time. We are told the reason he is hospitalized early on, making our feelings about him conflicted from the get-go. Knowing his story, we are never sure if and when Karl is going to snap and commit a similar, heinous act. Still, his love for young Frank and Frank's mother cannot be questioned, and his general good heart makes it nearly impossible to feel anything but love for him, regardless of what he's done.

There's no question that Billy Bob Thornton gives the performance of his career, but people tend to forget just how amazing country singer Dwight Yoakam is in his portrayal of the abusive, always drunk Doyle. Yoakam's an absolute revelation, remaining completely natural delivering each and every one of his lines and starting fights with just about everyone he knows. This is a thankless role on paper, as it is nearly impossible for anyone to feel even the slightest bit of sympathy for this monster of a man.

The late John Ritter also turns in his most memorable dramatic performance as Linda's homosexual boss and friend, Vaughan. He truly cares for this family, and if he had the courage and strength, I'm sure he would physically do all he could to keep Doyle out of their lives. Ritter makes Vaughan a sympathetic figure who has obviously been ostracized in the community for his sexual preference, and as a result, he also has a slight edge to him, horrible haircut and all.

This new collector's series DVD set is an excellent excuse to revisit this film. The version here is about 13 minutes longer than the theatrical cut, and, unfortunately, this new footage slows the pace down considerably. At 134 minutes already, the theatrical cut was slow in its own right, but the pacing seemed nearly perfect, allowing viewers to take Karl's new journey right along with him. There are extended sequences and a few new ones, including a drunken Doyle with a truckload of people, challenging a police cruiser to a race. This is still a classic film, I just prefer the original theatrical cut to this new one.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: The 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer (the original DVD release is nonanamorphic) is very solid, but not without a few print flaws. These are in the form of grain and some specks of dirt, but the overall look of the film excels in capturing the small-town feel of the story. Colors are intentionally muted, but well-rendered nonetheless, with solid contrast and shadow levels helping out, along with crisp, detailed images.

Image Transfer Grade: B

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital
5.1
Englishyes


Audio Transfer Review: The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio is nice, but this isn't the kind of material that would benefit from a super-lively mix. The most intense audio aspects come into play when Karl is discussing his horrible deed and about to perform another one, with these sequences featuring deep bass and excellent use of the surrounds. The rest of the track is very subdued and dialogue-heavy, with the actors' speech coming across clear at all times.

Audio Transfer Grade: B

 

Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 30 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
3 Other Trailer(s) featuring Bride & Prejudice, Dear Frankie, Miramax 25th Anniversary
1 Deleted Scenes
2 Documentaries
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Writer/Director/Actor Billy Bob Thornton
Packaging: Keep Case
Picture Disc
2 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. A Roundtable Discussion with Billy Bob Thornton, Dwight Yoakam, Mickey Jones, and Producer David Bushell: Over an hour of talk about Sling Blade.
  2. A Conversation with Billy Bob Thornton and Robert Duvall, A Conversation with Robert Duvall, and A Conversation with Billy Bob Thornton and composer Daniel Lanois.
  3. The Return of Karl: Outtake featuring Thornton joking around in character as Karl.
  4. On the Set: Footage of Thornton both behind and in front of the camera.
  5. Sling Blade Reviews: Textual reviews from various print film critics.
Extras Review: It was a long wait for the definitive DVD edition of Sling Blade, but it's finally here. The only extras on Disc 1 are a collection of previews for other Miramax Home Video releases, and an audio commentary with writer/director/actor Billy Bob Thornton. This track is very casual and authentic, with Thornton gushing over what the film has meant to him and his career. He also tells some funny on-set stories and an anecdote or two about his actors.

Disc 2 begins with Mr. Thornton Goes to Hollywood, an hour-plus look at the long journey for Thornton from Arkansas to the filmmaking promised land. There are numerous interviews with fellow actors and even his mother, Virginia reminisces about his childhood.

Bravo Profiles: Billy Bob Thornton is another fairly lengthy (43 minutes) piece about the filmmaker's life, focusing equally on his personal life and his career.

There's an intimate Roundtable Discussion with Billy Bob Thornton, Dwight Yoakam, Mickey Jones, and producer David Bushell, lasting 75 minutes. These friends and colleagues talk about what a big influence music played in the making of Sling Blade. Again, Thornton is very enthusiastic in this discussion, while Dwight Yoakam seems like he would rather be somewhere else.

A trio of interviews comes next: A Conversation with Billy Bob Thornton and Robert Duvall, A Conversation with Robert Duvall, and A Conversation with Billy Bob Thornton and composer Daniel Lanois. These newly recorded segments last a total of 39 minutes and feature quite a bit of reflection on the impact that Sling Blade has had on the respective interview participants' lives and careers.

The Return of Karl is a three-minute outtake where Karl sits down and talks with three unidentified (although one of them is The Shield's Walton Goggins) men.

On the Set is an eight-minute segment of raw on-set footage. It's great, and sort of creepy to see Billy Bob Thornton in full Karl get-up, yet talking like his real self, spouting directions.

"Doyle's Dead" with Introduction by Billy Bob Thornton is a deleted scene that was going to be used after the end credits. Thornton decided not to do this since this clip seemed out of place compared to the rest of the movie.

An uncommon, very interesting feature is the collection of Sling Blade Reviews. These show up as still photos of written reviews from Richard Corliss of Time Magazine, Stanley Kauffman of The New Republic, and Anne Beatts from the Los Angeles Times.

Extras Grade: A

 

Final Comments

Without much fanfare comes this new DVD edition of a timeless film. Now it's much nicer (despite the slower-paced director's cut) to join Karl Childers on his life's new journey, thanks to excellent audio and video transfers and a second disc of extensive bonus features.

 


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