Terrence Malick has perhaps out-mystique’d the great Stanley Kubrick in terms
of his public perception. Famously reclusive, Malick never allows photographs
of himself to be used, and he never appears in “making of” documentaries about
his films. A Rhodes Scholar and a Harvard graduate, he is obviously a brilliant
man. Once he got into the film business, he worked as a script doctor until he
made his first feature, Badlands (1973).
It was critically acclaimed and established Malick as a hot addition to the
“New Hollywood” movement. Next came Days
of Heaven in 1978, also critically lauded.
then... he disappeared. For twenty years.
1998, he appeared on the scene again, and Hollywood was more than ready to open
checkbooks and fund his third feature film, The
Thin Red Line.
takes a lot of mystique for that scenario to happen.
fourth picture, The New World,
continued the director’s journey in exploring what has become signature
stylistic and thematic traits—to make movies in which the plot is secondary to
image, sound, music, and emotion. Malick is more interested in inventing a
different kind of cinema—one that is certainly not mainstream. Terrence Malick
uses film to create visual and sonic poetry, expound philosophy and
existentialism, and touch upon a very basic and primal chord in his audience.
He wants us to feel as well as think,
and to fill us with awe and wonder. But make no mistake—in a Malick film, the
story is not essential to the journey.
director’s work of late is even more elliptical, impressionistic, and free form.
Beginning with The Tree of Life, the
Oscar-nominated treatise on the creation of the world and how that spark is
inside each and every human being, Malick threw down the gauntlet to audiences,
asking, “Are you with me or not?” The believers will follow him wherever he
goes. Most everyone else will scratch their heads and... walk out of the
theater (which happened a lot when I
first saw The Tree of Life!) For the
record, I’m a follower.
The New World has more in common
with The Thin Red Line than Malick’s
more recent works. There is a story
in The New World, it’s just told very
unconventionally, the same way he freely adapted The Thin Red Line into a lyrical piece about war and nature. The New World is also about nature, and
in fact, “Mother” is probably the central character.
year is 1607, and English adventurers have just landed in Virginia. Among them
is Captain John Smith (Colin Farrell). The “Naturals,” as Captain Newport
(Christopher Plummer) calls the Native Americans, at first cautiously welcomes
them. Smith meets the free-spirited Pocahontas (astonishingly well-portrayed by
14-year-old Q’orianka Kilcher) and they fall in love. Then things go sour
between the two peoples. A little later, another Englander, John Rolfe
(Christian Bale), enters Pocahontas’ life, and she accompanies him back to meet
the King and Queen of the United Kingdom. That’s the story in a nutshell.
Malick does with this is extraordinary. With the aid of cinematographer
Emmanuel Lubezki (the first of a collaboration that would continue for the
remainder of Malick’s work), the director presents a collage of spectacularly
beautiful images that emphasizes how fresh and virginal the land of this “new
world” is. In addition, the depiction of the Powhatan people is arguably the
most realistic and accurate portrayal of Native Americans in a Hollywood film, compounding
the notion that they knew how to live with
nature, whereas the newcomers fight
“Mother” the entire way. The film is a meditation, like most of Malick’s work,
on man’s relationship with the earth.
Criterion Collection has pulled out all the stops with this new, lavish box set
of three disks containing three different cuts of the film. The main attraction
is a new 4K digital restoration of the “extended cut” (172 minutes), supervised
by Lubezki and Malick. Also included are high-definition transfers of the
original “first cut” (150 minutes, released for the first time on home video),
which was the version that premiered in L.A. and New York in December 2005 and
ran for a week in order to be considered for Academy Awards, and the
“theatrical cut” (135 minutes), which was the version most audiences saw during
the film’s wide release in early 2006.
version is better? Difficult to say. The extended cut is probably Malick’s
preferred assembly, and if you’re a fan of the director’s work, then this is
definitely the one to watch. The theatrical cut is much leaner, thereby making the
storyline stronger. But the first cut, while only fifteen minutes longer than
the theatrical one, fills out the gaps of the shorter version quite well with
Malick’s elegiac, stylistic choices—it’s a nice compromise between the extended
and theatrical editions.
5.1 surround DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack accompanies all three cuts, and you
can hear every cricket and bird chirp as if they’re in your living room.
include new interviews with Farrell and Kilcher, producer Sarah Green,
production designer Jack Fisk, and costume designer Jacqueline West. There’s an
informative piece on the differences between the three versions as told by
co-editor Mark Yoshikawa, as well as new interviews with editors Yoshikawa,
Hank Corwin, and Saar Klein. Making “The
New World” is an approximately 90-minute documentary directed and edited by
Austin Jack Lynch (David’s son), detailing the production in Virginia and
England. The theatrical and teaser trailers are also included. The thick
booklet contains an essay by film scholar Tom Gunning, a 2006 interview with
Lubezki from American Cinematographer,
and a selection of research materials that inspired the production.
The Criterion Collection always produces quality
material—their release of The New World stands
as one of the company’s most impressive packages.