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Let me start off by saying that I was introduced to the films of
Terrence Malick in 1998 when I watched and was blown away by 'The Thin
Red Line.' It is one of the best war movies ever made and while I can
rant about it at length, that review belongs on a different page. It
was with great anticipation that I waited for 'The New World.' I was
lucky enough to get tickets to an advance screening and the theatre was
full of people like me. Their take on the film was almost as
interesting as the film was.
'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.
This film was everything I had hoped for and infinite volumes more.
Writer/Director Terrence Malik simply refuses to see film-making as
anything short of an art form and handles his brushes (not to mention
every frame) with the tender care and command of an artistic master.
The warnings are true... if you're looking for standard Hollywood fare, then run away. However, if you were trying hard to remember what film-making is supposed to be about, then this film is an absolute MUST SEE. While it is not forcefully spiritual in its aural narrative, I found this film to be a deeply religious experience in ways that words fail to express.
True to form, Malik affords the world of this film as much character as the humans themselves possess. Long stretches of nothing but ambient, nat sounds. Stunning snapshots of the peripheral influences to each scene (i.e. blowing grass, running streams, towering trees). Even an ending title sequence that lives beyond the narrative... breathing the last breaths of a tale that has managed to regularly transcends words.
Sharp. Detailed. Purposeful. Bold. Brilliant.
I have not been this happy about a film in a very long time. Well worth the money. Well worth the time. You will leave better for having seen it.
I could not recommend it more!
First, let me applaud this film. I have been waiting for Terrence Malick's fourth film ever since I saw The Thin Red Line. Arguably, Malick is one of the most adept and deliberate filmmakers right now. The New World is nearly flawless, and the beauty of Malick's direction adds to the argument that film can still be considered aesthetic. Much has been lost in the last 30 years, but Terrence Malick sticks to what he knows. What some people may complain about this movie are the long silences, the action-less movement, and the poetic voice over. This is what Malick does. He is a modern transcendentalist. What he does with film is comparable to what Emerson did in writing. The color is naturalistic, and the sounds are earthly. It helps that Malick uses natural light for his shots, giving the scenery more life and texture. As for the substance of the film, what isn't pantomimed in subtle gestures and movements is brought to life with flowing poetic voice over. This goes all the way back to Badlands for Malick. But here, we get varying minds contributing. There are some moments in this film when the viewer has to understand the characters by their facial expressions instead of their words. I think that will be hard for a lot of people who are expecting a more vocative and kinetic film. As for the acting, I was very impressed with all involved, particularly Q'Orianka Kilcher. This young woman played the part of innocence beautifully. I also have to give some credit to Colin Farrell, considering I never expect much out of him. Unlike some of his other movies, he was not in it to steal the spotlight. Everyone played their parts without any excessive over-acting. This movie is a historical drama, but I feel like the history aspect is merely a backdrop for the Terrence Malick play. In his production, the flowing waters and the forest canopy are the actors, and the gentle reflections of troubled minds are the words. Truly, this is an incredible film. I have waited a long time for Terrence Malick to wow me again, and he has done exactly that. If you want a movie that tears at your heart strings, then go see something recycled like Brokeback Mountain. If you want a transcendental experience, one that challenges you to go deeper than the surface of the film, then The New World is waiting.
The New World
reviewed by Sam Osborn rating: 3.5 out of 4
Filing out of The New World, completely speechless and without notes, I could fathom only single adjectives to describe the experience. Looking at these listed words on my memo-pad now, they read "Thunderous, True, Beautiful, Solemn, Forceful, Gripping, Honest, and Slow." And for those who watch The New World with a calm countenance, an open mind and a ready cache of patience, Terrence Malick's long-awaited picture will have a similar effect. The film is a masterpiece thirty years in the making.
His goal is plain enough: to affectively and honestly portray the love Pocahontas experienced in those first years that Europeans cut their first, fresh swath from the New World. But Malick goes far beyond a simplistic love story. I was at the screening for Casanova a few days earlier, where the film's objective was essentially the same: to portray the love between Casanova and Francesca in the days of Inquisition Venice. But where Casanova approaches love at a bubbly, comedic perspective, The New World throws itself into a headlong narration of love's sorrow. Every frame of The New World reflects this painful, aching emotion, utilizing the sounds and images of environment to incredible, innovative effect. The first shot of the film--an extended shot several minutes in length--finds the camera staring into a river. It's clear and pristine, carefree and surrounded by the blissful sounds of an unperturbed forest. Soon ripples begin forming, and we notice the quiet droplets of rain pit-pattering around us, causing the water to flow a little, bringing about a contented onslaught of lily pedals. The scene continues on, drawing us farther and farther into Malick's deafening reality with only the sounds and images of nature. He creates a calm within us with these images, a kind of serene canvas for him to later paint the vivid brush-strokes of human love later in the film. In this entire first act, little is even said. But these scenes rarely grow tiring. He finds rich beauty with every situation. His forest is lush and his settlements picturesquely Dickensian. Malick shows great and rare confidence with this picture. Few filmmakers would have the cool audacity to create a film so primarily reliant on nothing being said.
The first and most important of Pocahontas' (Q'Orianka Kilcher) romances is with the infamous John Smith (Colin Farrell). He's brought to the New World bound in a cage, punished for earlier mutiny. But because he's the only soldier of the expedition, Captain Newport (Christopher Plummer) opts to let him free on a strict probation. Their first encounters with the Naturals, as they're called, go coolly enough, with curious interest from the Naturals and tense hesitation from the settlers. And even here Malick plays with flights of romantic whimsy. These scenes of first encounter are shot in windswept, overgrown grassy fields, with Pocahontas dancing and twirling about them with her brother, catching the spry interest of Smith.
Soon the settlers hear of a great city of Naturals down the river, and Smith is sent to investigate. Things have been going badly for the settlers and Captain Newport has left back for London and a new store of food and supplies. Smith's expedition is cut short, however, when he runs into a narrow, maze-like complex of swamps and is ambushed by warrior Naturals. He's taken prisoner by the Naturals, but granted life because of Pocahontas' curious interest and her favoritism with Chief Powhatan (August Schellenberg). This catalyzes our entrance into The New World's most prominent territory. The scenes of Smith's time with the Naturals are Malick's best. They're those first strokes of paint on his canvas and the seeds of that palpable, historical romance.
But admittedly, even with The New World's supreme sense of confidence and slow-moving progression, it sometimes wanders into the realm of self-indulgence. It especially grows tiresome in the final act, when we're brought from Virginia to London, our beloved Smith left behind to be replaced by John Rolfe (Christian Bale) and his stonewall courting of Pocahontas. I'd even venture to say that Malick could have left 30 minutes of these segments on the editing room floor, re-attaching them later to the Extended Cut DVD release that's sure to come. But movie-going patience is the mantra of the Awards season, and so some bottom-dragging in films is what's to be expected.
What was not to be expected, however, was Q'Orianka Kilcher, the debuting actress playing Pocahontas. Few words she says, but dialogue is not always what makes a forceful performance. Her body language and expressions are allowed to do the speaking for her. She's advantaged also by her strong, muscular features that often betray hints of divine femininity. Farrell also does well, particularly in his somber narration. He reads it as though he speaks the words to himself, whispering them almost, for only his imagination to hear. But his physicality is manipulated nicely as well, exuding bubbly chemistry for Kilcher. The two mix ideally. Their sorrow and love and deeply resonated emotions are echoed about with their strong performances and Malick's supreme direction. And although Christian Bale strides into picture in the latter parts of the film, our hearts lie with Smith and Pocahontas, and we find ourselves resentful of Rolfe's advances. But this is just Malick's narrative trickery. We find ourselves raggedly torn between these two equally honorable men, and put almost into the same position as Pocahontas. It's precisely the reason we go to the movies. We've let the director take his grip on us and lead us down the path into characters and identities of his own creation. And with Malick leading our way, and with characters as tastefully dimensional as these, movie-going becomes a deep artistic pleasure.
A quite-literally breathtaking 120 minute montage of sights and sounds evoking the first British contact with North America. The narrative is minimal, even inconsequential, as perhaps it should be in a story that is predominantly about the human need to communicate even when language is a barrier rather than a vehicle to understanding. The performances are universally outstanding, the cinematography and editing award worthy, and the use of 'Das Rheingold' the most inspired use of Wagner ever in a movie. 'The New World' is a genuinely poetic, lyrical, visually stunning and heartbreaking movie. About as flawless as cinema gets. For those still unsure of my feelings, I loved this movie.
I finally saw "The New World" yesterday. It was quite an experience.This film is miles away from any other that I've ever seen before. It's a feast for the senses. Senses are the key to this movie. You either let them guide you or you've missed the whole point. I cannot blame anyone who has complained about how slow, boring or even irritating this picture was. This is not the kind of movie that can be appreciated by intelligent reading. Neither does it belong to the category of highbrow artistic films that aim to an intellectual elite of an audience and shut out the rest of us, poor lesser mortals. You don't have to "understand" this film, you have to "feel" it. Just open up your heart and let the emotions carry you away and elevate you. The plot is simple and far from original. Adam and Eve, paradise lost, human greed and personal ambition coming face to face with the beauty of nature and the joy of pure living. Clash between illusion and reality, dream and fact. The originality of this film lies in the way that these themes are depicted. Muted glances, forbidden touches, light and darkness mingle with the murmur of the river and the rustle of the wind the breath of mother nature. Dialogs are scarce. Mainly voice overs run through the whole picture. I found them neither irritating nor useless. They are uttered in the form of inner thoughts, secret longings, muted prayers and they add to the dreamlike effect of this movie. Acting was actually very good. That was an extra bonus for a film like this, where actors are meant more to help the story and the images unfold, than astound us with their memorable performances. The actors' success in this movie lies in their ability to express their feelings through minor gestures, glances and body language. Q'Orianka Kilcher is a magnificent creature that embodies the essence of nature and beauty. She bends, she submits to the inevitability of assimilation but she never loses her freedom of spirit. Farrell's sad eyes speak volumes of emotion that could never be expressed in spoken words and Bale's kind-hearted demeanor is just perfect. "The New World" is like a poem. What I got out of it was a bitter-sweet taste in my mouth, a swirl of images and sounds in my mind and a wealth of emotion in my heart
This was incredible. I'm living at the moment in the awful urban sprawl of Dublin , Ireland and took myself right into the inner city to see this and, to my surprise, found myself being transported not only to another land but also to another time. When I came out, I was in a trance for the rest of the day, pining for a land and society that is no more and dreaming sweet dreams of angelic Pocahontas, gentle John Rolfe and ruggedly genuine John Smith. All three of course excellently played by Q'uiranka (is that right), Christian and even Colin who, though the accent may have been shaky, captured perfectly what it would have been to be in John Smith's situation. Mallick, of course, is a genius and when his films are this good they're well worth the decade or so of waiting. Also, I don't know who the director of photography was but what a job they did, possibly the most beautiful film ever put on screen. All in all, a masterpiece which I'll carry with me every step I take in this ofttimes sorry world.
Malick's method is to frame films as remembrances. Remembrances of
romantic notions, whether freedom, peace, war or love (as his four
films trace). This way, he can exploit a languorous floating through
remembered reality that never is that gentle or considered in actual
reality. He can use his narration as things remembered, floating over
the sights. To make this as effective as possible, he plays all sorts
of tricks with the sound, having different boundaries of different
types between what you see and hear.
Added to this is a considered approach to framing. You may have noticed that most filmmakers stage the action as if the world arranged itself to fit nicely in the window the camera sees. It makes for nice pictures and clear, precise drama, but we know it for what it is, a theatrical device. Malick is like Tarkovsky; he likes to discover things and if the way the world frames things so that they are off the window we see, so be it.
That's why his battle scenes are unique. With most directors, you'll have smiting and dying nicely so that we can see it. Or alternatively, we'll have point of view shots that are hectic as if we were a participant. These two battle scenes have the camera as a disembodied eye that shifts about as if it were the eye of dreams, or nearly lucid recalling or even retrospective invention. Sometimes hectic as if it were point of view, but never looking at what a combatant would, instead having a poetic avoidance.
I first met Malick when he was a lecturer at MIT and I a philosophy student. He spoke of French Objectivism, and was clearly bothered by how the notation and language constrained the ideas. At the time, I was doing my thesis on Thomas Harriot, who is the hidden motivator behind everything in this story the real story. Malick never saw the thesis because by the time it was finished, he was off to explore this business of experiencing from the "outside" in cinematic language.
But Harriot is likely the inventor of the "external viewer of self" notions that Malick liked (as they reappeared in the French '60s) and uses in his philosophy of film. Harriot suggested he got it from the Chesapeake Indians. So the circle closes: a film about a people using their own mystical memory-visions.
If you take a little time to tune yourself to Malick's channel, you will find his work to be transcendent. I consider this one of the best films of 2005, despite its apparent commercial gloss and the mistaken notion that most will have that it is a love story. It is about remembering and inventing love in retrospect. A world is always new so long as the imagination of recall is supple.
The rest of this comment is of an historical nature. The love story is made up of course, but that's apt for a movie that is about invented memory. The Indians are mostly wrong, the body paint, hair and dress; according to the only document we have, the John White paintings, men and women were mostly nude even in winter and prided themselves on tolerance to the cold. There is no mention of the famous local hallucinogen, cypress puccoon which was widely traded and how a stone age people were able to survive in a land a hundred miles from the nearest stone.
(My original comment was deleted, presumably because there was a note about the unpeaceful nature of the people. Readers may want to consult good histories for that.)
Harriot (a scientist and mage) wintered over with a nearby "holy" tribe in 1585, and after he left, Powhatan destroyed the tribe lest they combine their magic with Harriot's and overcome his stranglehold on taxes. He married the wives of the chiefs he murdered. Matoaka (Pocahontas) was almost surely the offspring of this union and it is why he sent her as a naked 10 year old to negotiate with the Jamestown settlers, who Powhatan thought was Harriot returning.
Powhatan never exiled Matoaka. When negotiations with the settlers failed, he married her off to a satrap in the north to expand his empire. From there she was kidnapped. When he knew that Rolfe had shamelessly promoted his marriage to an Indian princess and arranged an audience with the King, Powhatan sent the two holy men to accompany and protect her, those you see here. She presented to James, her father's cloak that is also shown in the movie. It was designed by Harriot for the his host, the husband of Matoaka's mother.
The scenery is very accurate and was filmed where things actually happened and in a few spots within a few hundred yards of where Harriot wintered over (and I now reside).
The Harriot/Matoaka story is a key source for Shakespeare's "The Tempest," and it is likely that Shakespeare actually met Matoaka when she visited Harriot. One of the accompanying Indian priests had an argument over God with a Nixon-like cleric who subsequently published a list of all the demons thus mentioned. You can see that list of demons appearing throughout "King Lear."
Viewers interested in racial matters may be interested to know that by the time of these events, Spain and Portugal had already imported over a half a million African slaves to South and Central America.
Ted's Evaluation -- 4 of 3: Every cineliterate person should experience this.
"The New World" has an opening five minutes where Natives rush to the
shore to get a view of the massive British ships that are about to land
on what would become Jamestown that are every bit as fantastic as any
of the scenes in Kubrick's "2001: A Space Odyssey". It's a perfect
marriage of sound effects, music and visuals that literally paints
itself onto the celluloid as a jaw dropping work of art. The nature of
"discovery" and the power of film is boldly on display in Terrence
Malick's brave "New World."
Some viewers will undoubtedly get lost in the visual and aural poetry, while others will be annoyed at the lack of a focused narrative and the sometimes sketchy character motives. This is a historical drama, and the amazing sets, costumes, and make-up attest to the wonderful attention to period detail, but there's also a dreamy surreal nature to the pacing that will lull some to sleep who were expecting a more traditional docudrama. This is more about the myth of Pocahantas and channeling ghosts than it is about the actual history behind the story. The dialog is as evasive and minimal as the visuals are overwhelming and painstaking. Plotting is secondary to the mood and meditations on love, discovery, curiosity, innocence, and the clashing of cultures.
Malick does a great job at showing the civilized and barbaric sides of both the Natives and the British. It's a wonderful testament to that first realization that there is intelligent life outside of one's own world. Central to this discovery of the "New World" is the romance between John Smith (a modest Colin Farrel) and Pocahantas (an amazing Q'Orianka Kilcher) which is displayed with just as much wide eyed-wonder and innocence as Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. Christian Bale as John Rolfe and Christopher Plummer as Captain Newport are also very good when they are allowed to act amongst the lush scenery. Composer James Horner, who is probably second only to John Williams in creating unforgettable movie music, outdoes himself as his rousing symphony (coupled with divine music from Wagner) perfectly matches the reverence and awe with which Malick uses his visuals to paint the myth on screen.
Some judicious editing may have benefited the middle portion of the film, which amounts to scene after beautiful scene of two people falling in love while worshiping nature, but there are two more series of scenes (one in the middle and one at the end) that are every bit as uplifting as the opening one and serve as a perfect synergy of visual and aural delights that completely transported this patient viewer to another realm. I'm not so sure that this is what it was really like to live in 1607, but I have no doubt this is what the people of that time dreamed about.
This movie is not only slow and boring, it does not stick to historical fact. While the settlement of Jamestown looks the part, the civility and heroism of its inhabitants overestimates their moral worth. Furthermore, although the myth of the good savage is central to this movie (particularly through the Pocahontas character), the Western violence of the colonialism that comes with it is glossed over. The tragedy of the real Pocahontas is only hinted at.Terrence Malick proves once more how good he is at making pseudo-philosophical movies that make you yawn. He once more uses the long and slow pans of waving grass and the same annoying voice over as in The Thin Red Line.
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