Sling Blade appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. Though hampered by the source material, the transfer looked pretty good.
Sharpness usually came across well. Some shots looked a smidgen soft, but those instances didn’t dominate. The majority of the flick appeared reasonably concise and well-defined. No issues with jagged edges or shimmering occurred, and the presentation lacked edge enhancement. Source flaws remained quite minor. I noticed a couple of small specks but nothing more than that. Though grain could be somewhat heavy, that came from the original photography and didn’t seem heavier than expected.
As befit a low-key film like this, colors remained cool. The film went with a palette that stayed on the subdued side of natural. Within those parameters, the tones appeared positive. Blacks were dark and tight, while shadows seemed decent. A few interiors seemed a bit murky, but those instances weren’t a substantial concern. You won’t use this disc to show off Blu-ray to your friends, but it represented the source material fairly well.
Similar thoughts greeted the very laid-back DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtrack of Sling Blade. Nothing extraordinary occurred here. A chatty movie, dialogue dominated. Occasional snatches of score presented decent stereo music, and effects provided a moderate sense of environment. If anything memorable popped up through the flick, I didn’t notice it; this was a decidedly subdued soundfield.
For the most part, audio quality was good. Speech had some mild concerns due to some edginess at times. Nonetheless, most of the lines were accurate and clean. Neither music nor effects remotely taxed the track, though some intense heartbeats provided decent bass. All elements showed good reproduction and represented the information in a positive way. Between the edginess and the lack of ambition, I thought the track deserved a “C+”, but I can’t say that the audio disappointed me, as it fit the story.
Literally hours of extras accompany the film. We open with an audio commentary from writer/director/actor Billy Bob Thornton. He offers a running, screen-specific track that looks at cast, characters and performances, script and story, sets and locations, inspirations and influences, cinematography and other visual choices, music, and various anecdotes from the shoot.
Like the movie itself, Thornton’s commentary proves to be quite low-key. That doesn’t mean it becomes boring, though, as Thornton digs into a lot of useful topics. Despite more dead air than I’d like, we get good insight in this quiet but informative piece.
For a biography of Thornton, we head to Mr. Thornton Goes to Hollywood. In this one-hour, six-minute and 51-second piece, we hear from Thornton, friend/screenwriter Tom Epperson, mother Virginia Thornton, friends/actors John Ritter, Dwight Yoakum, Jim Varney and Rick Dial, high school teacher Vonda West Cranford, filmmakers Steve Gyllenhaal and Dan Hoskins, friend/producer Harry Thomason, executive producer Larry Meistrich, assistant Joe McCracken, composer Daniel Lanois, and actors Robert Duvall and Hank Azaria. “Hollywood” looks at Thornton’s childhood and family, his interest in theater and his development as a writer and actor, his early days in show business, his slow path to success, and the creation of Sling Blade.
“Hollywood” turns into a reasonably comprehensive view of Thornton’s life and career through the mid-90s. I especially like the tales of his youth and initial years in LA, as those offer plenty of entertaining details and help us understand Thornton better. The parts about Sling Blade slow a little – partially because other aspects of the package cover it well – but this nonetheless remains a strong program.
We learn more about the director/writer/actor in the 43-minute and 23-second Bravo Profiles: Billy Bob Thornton. This program provides remarks from Thornton, Yoakum, Virginia Thornton, Dial, Thomason, musician Marty Stewart, producers Bruce Heller and Janet Yang, actress/then-wife Angelina Jolie, childhood friend Mike Shipp, and actor Matt Damon. The “Profile” covers the same kinds of biographical elements looked at in “Hollywood”.
Which means a moderate amount of redundant information in “Profile”, but that’s not the program’s main problem. Created in 2000, “Profile” shows a very different Thornton than the one seen a few years earlier in “Hollywood”. The “Profile” Thornton seems like a much more arrogant, full of himself person; he constantly declares how authentic he remains, but it feels like he protests too much, as he seems much cockier and more in love with his fame. “Profile” throws out some interesting facts, but between Thornton’s arrogance and the constant stream of praise from everyone else, it gets tiresome.
For another extended piece, we head to A Roundtable Discussion with Billy Bob Thornton, Dwight Yoakum, Mickey Jones and Producer David Bushell. This one runs one hour, 15 minutes and 25 seconds as the actors and producer discuss garage bands and music, how they got to know each other, elements of the cast, characters and performances, and a mix of movie-related topics.
Though Thornton dominates – and Bushell barely speaks – this is a more balanced chat than one might expect. Since Thornton was the head cheese behind the flick, you’d anticipate little from supporting participants like Yoakum and Jones, but they chime in with good frequency and add to the spirit of the discussion. We get many interesting anecdotes in this lively and enjoyable program. Too much praise drags it down at times, but it’s too good for that material to cause a significant negative.
Two more actor-focused programs follow. We get A Conversation with Billy Bob Thornton and Robert Duvall (8:31) and A Conversation with Robert Duvall (7:35). In these, we learn of how Thornton and Duvall got to know each other as well as their work together. On his own, Duvall chats a little about Sling Blade and his experiences. Both are good, but the program with both Duvall and Thornton works best. The two actors clearly enjoy each other’s company, and they provide some fun stories.
More chat arrives via the 22-minute and 59-second A Conversation with Billy Bob Thornton and Composer Daniel Lanois. Thoughts about the score dominate this piece, as we find out how Lanois got the gig along with aspects of the music. In addition to their comments, we get some performances from Lanois. They cover aspects of the score well in this useful piece.
We find some behind the scenes bits with the next few components. The Return of Karl goes for three minutes, 40 seconds, as it shows a joke reel of Karl after the events of Sling Blade. It’s not clear where they shot it or why; the disc calls it a rehearsal, but it’s clearly not part of the Sling Blade shoot since Thornton’s hair is wrong for Karl and the character discusses movie events in a self-referential manner. Wherever it came from, it’s fun to see.
Three On the Set Featurettes ensue. These include “Billy Bob at Work” (4:39), “Doyle’s Band: The Johnsons” (1:46), and “Doyle Gets Pummeled” (1:53). All of these show footage from the set without any comments or additional information. That makes them moderately interesting, but they lack the perspective to allow us to learn anything terribly valuable. I will admit it’s kind of cool to see “Pummeled” as a raw take without cuts, though.
Finally, ”Doyle’s Dead” With Introduction by Billy Bob Thornton runs four minutes, 23 seconds. “Dead” provides a deleted sequence intended to appear after the end credits. Thornton’s intro lasts two minutes, 34 seconds, so the odd and comedic “Dead” goes for a mere one minute, 49 seconds. It’s definitely goofy.
The disc opens with a few ads. We get promos for Extract, Adventureland, Miramax Films and Blu-ray Disc. These also appear in the Sneak Peeks area along with clips for Confessions of a Shopaholic and Lost. No trailer for Sling Blade pops up here.
Billy Bob Thornton entered the public consciousness in a big way with 1996’s Sling Blade. In spite of – or maybe because of - its slow pace and low-key nature, the film offers a fascinating character study. The Blu-ray provides pretty good picture, acceptable audio, and a rich collection of extras. This becomes a nice release for a satisfying movie.