'The New World' is a film that will draw out one of two very powerful emotions: Love or Hate. I really don't believe there is a middle ground in this case. I think it is quite possibly the most beautifully photographed film I have ever seen. It is astonishing. The score from James Horner is, in my opinion, his greatest work. He's a wonderful composer but he has exceeded himself on every level. This is a movie that can be watched like art (because it is) and listened to as a symphony (it might as well be one). Very few movies leave me stunned and 'The New World' is so luscious that I think it is worth the journey, even if it is only to look at how beautiful it is and listen to how glorious it is. Is that a superficial way of looking at things? Perhaps, but they are the film's two most brilliant qualities.
'The New World' does have problems and I think it falls very much into a 'buyer beware' category. Malick's movie is long -- very long -- and feels every moment of it. I don't mind these things because I found it enchanting; many in the audience with me did not. These are not people who are 'dumb,' or who 'don't get it.' They are people who are used to 99% of the films that you will see. 'The New World' is very self-indulgent at times. No one can reasonably defend the pace of the film. I want to and I can't. This is a movie so full of substance that it is detrimental. It is so rich and textured that it would be hard to say where things could have been improved, but aside from the first forty minutes which deal largely with the question of whether or not the Europeans can survive the first winter or not, the dramatic 'action,' that is, the engine of a script that pushes one scene into the next, is idling at best. 'The New World' has a plodding pace and it took me on a nice quiet stroll that I enjoyed immensely. I can not, in good conscience though recommend to the man on the street that he go to see it. If less than a third of the theatre I was in walked out, I'd be stunned. I lost count because so many people left. Mostly the middle hour and a half of the film is to blame. Scenes drift from one to the next -- they're stunning and textured and personally I enjoyed them -- but they involved a lot of hanging out. Two people hanging out in the woods. I understand that the film has deep meditative and philosophical meanderings about man's relationship with nature and how one impacts the other. I get it. But a lot of the love story is about two people hanging out in the woods. All the time. If one of them had said 'Let us go watch the grass grow for the afternoon,' it would have been the most honest line in the entire film. It is the only thing I will fault Malick for here because it really does kill the film for a lot of people. His intelligence should not be questioned. I wish only he'd tried to focus the script a bit more and been specific rather than general. Can two people from different cultures be together? We get it already. We got it an hour ago. Oh, more grass growing ... must watch ... ha! Forgive my little joke.
The argument to be made though is that this film has not been made for everyone (the studio is no doubt surprised to learn this and will be scrambling to recover their money -- they did a good thing in making it but they're going to lose their shirts). It was made by Terrence Malick for Terrence Malick. I'm glad to have seen it but I spoke with twenty people who were not. There will be constant arguments on the user boards here at the IMDb. The film is going to have rabidly fanatical supporters who think everyone else is just too stupid to get it. And it is going to be criticized by many, many others who died a thousand deaths just trying to sift through the movie.
Two final thoughts: the first is that I hate myself for having to say anything negative about Malick or his film. He's a special film-maker and his films make it worth going to the theatre. 'The New World' is great but flawed and it is dishonest for anyone to pretend otherwise -- such behaviour is deceitful and pretentious.Thought number two is that although the film is equal parts challenging and rewarding (as great movies should be) it is especially important in the case of 'The New World' to see it in the theatre. It is so majestic in scope that I don't believe the greatest home theatre can do it justice. It is truly epic in its cinematography and score. If it doesn't win Oscars for both we will have witnessed a massive artistic injustice. NOTHING this year, NOTHING has come close to being a threat to 'The New World' for either of those two categories. Appreciate them as they were intended to be seen.