Monday, 25 July 2016

THE NEW WORLD - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Malick's Last Real Movie on Criterion Blu-Ray

Terrence Malick's last real movie.
The New World (2005)
Dir. Terrence Malick
Starring: Colin Farrell, Q'orianka Kilcher, Christopher Plummer, Christian Bale,
August Schellenberg, Wes Studi, David Thewlis, Yorick van Wageningen, John Savage

Review By Greg Klymkiw

The New World is the last real movie made by Terrence Malick prior to descending into his "I Talk To The Trees" cinematic dementia which began with the pretentious The Tree of Life and followed by the risible To The Wonder, Knight of Cups (Malick's nadir) and Voyage of Time (it has two versions, both awful, though happily the IMAX edition is very short). For this reason, one must be truly thankful to the Criterion Collection for issuing the gobsmackingly gorgeous "Director-Approved Special Edition" (3-Disc Blu-Ray, 4-Disc DVD) of Malick's haunting and moving take on the Pocahontas story. (This edition includes a terrific documentary by Austin Jack Lynch, especially illuminating in the sections devoted to training the indigenous Native actors in period body language.)

The New World has had a curious release pattern with no less than three different versions of the film. There is a 150-minute cut which played briefly in America to qualify for Oscars (and long available on an Italian DVD), then the contractually-obligated 135-minute cut which was the only one most of us saw for awhile and finally, a 172-minute extended cut that has never been theatrically released.

Luckily, this lovely box set (with gorgeous new cover artwork by Robert Hunt) has all three cuts. I like them all, frankly. The shortest version was all I knew for awhile and it's the sleekest of the lot, while the slightly longer version expands on both poetic qualities and sharpens narrative clarity. The longest is a real treat. Though it has far more early hints of Malick's tree-staring and soulful voiceovers, they are all in service to a compelling narrative.
Pocahontas: Lost in Love.
Many of us are familiar with the historically-rooted story of Native Princess Pocahontas via any number of literary and film renderings (the most horrendous being the animated Disney musical), but Malick has definitely delivered the most vital and successful dramatic look at this fascinating figure.

After some lovely underwater nude swimming shots of the gorgeous Pocahontas, we're introduced to the dashing figure of military man John Smith (Colin Farrell) who arrives, in chains, with a boatload of various rough-and-tumble types from England, all selected to establish the colony of Jamestown, Virginia and to set up a tobacco trade on the rich, fertile expanse of land in America. Smith is about to be executed for insubordination, but saved by the kindly (and in his own way, equally dashing) Captain Newport (Christopher Plummer).

To the dismay of Wingfield (David Thewlis), a snooty bureaucratic martinet with a major hate-on for our hero, Smith is promoted in rank and charged with overseeing the colony. As the new settlers are beleagured with a lack of food supplies, Smith journeys deep into the wilderness to establish positive relations and trade with the Algonquian "naturals".

Enter Pocahontas (Q'orianka Kilcher), Princess and favourite daughter of the tribe's Chief Powhatan (August Schellenberg). She not only saves Smith's life, but engages in much cavorting through nature with him as they fall madly in love. This allows Malick plenty of opportunity for shots of nature, sky and trees.

There's a whole lotta voice-over goin' on, too.

As Smith "goes Native" and learns the ways of the "naturals", there's a whack o' delicious romance and humour in the proceedings.

There is portent, too.

Powhatan warns Pocahontas to never take sides with the colonists, not even Smith. He fears they are all wolves in sheep's clothing (which, uh, they ultimately are). Smith, though, seems true to his commitment to the "naturals" and between he and Pocahontas, both sides are well served.

Until, there is war.
The dashing Captain John Smith.
Smith is eventually charged with leaving on a long, perilous expedition. The glories of exploration are dangled before him by kindly Cappy Newport and he takes the bait. Smith feels, in his heart of hearts, that his destiny is greater than his happiness. Knowing he'll never return, he asks a trusted associate to eventually lie to Pocahontas that he has died at sea so she can move on without him.

When she is informed of his death, she plunges into a grief that borders on madness. She's "rescued" by the ladies of Fort James who begin a process of colonization in earnest and she's transformed into a "proper" Englishwoman. She eventually meets John Rolfe (Christian Bale), a sweet, gentle and oh-so handsome tobacco plantation magnate. He's smitten with her, but she's still pining for the "dead" Captain John Smith. Eventually she acquiesces to Rolfe's marriage proposal.

When Rolfe and his "Indian Princess" bride are invited to England in order to meet royalty and high society, they journey across the pond. Accompanied by her Uncle Opechancanough (Wes Studi), they become the toast of Dear Old Blighty. Whilst gambolling on manicured British lawns, an old flame from her past materializes. John Smith, it seems, is not dead. Will the peace and love she's come to know with Rolfe now crash and burn?

Malick's screenplay, for all the film's poetic meanderings, carries a surprisingly solid romantic narrative arc and the whole experience of watching the film is filled with genuine wonder. The political implications of colonization and indeed, the gradual assimilation forced upon Pocahontas are always present, even though Malick's approach is never political.

He is clearly at the peak of his powers here as a Master Filmmaker and he's smart enough not to let politics get in the way of spiritual rumination on the beauty of nature, the power of love and creating a world that is richly steeped in history. All of this is bathed in cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki's stunning work (he paints with what appears to mostly be natural light), ace production designer Jack Fisk's muscular work creating both the colonial and old world settings of the early 17th Century and James Horner's lushly romantic score (nicely supplemented with plenty of Wagner and Mozart).

The greatness of The New World is paralleled only by the greatness of Malick's best work. It soars with a most remarkable spirit and it's dappled with more than its fair share of pure passion.

And yeah, the picture gives us an amazing opportunity at the end to squirt copious tears, ever-so Old-Faithful-like upon the screen. When he made real movies, Malick sure knew how to move us.


The New World is available on a sumptuous Criterion Collection 3-Disc DIRECTOR-APPROVED SPECIAL EDITION Blu-Ray with a new 4K digital restoration of the 172-minute extended cut of the film, supervised by cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki and director Terrence Malick and featuring material not released in theaters, with 5.1 surround DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack on the Blu-rays. Included are high-definition digital transfers of the 135-minute theatrical cut and the 150-minute first cut of the film, supervised by Lubezki, with 5.1 surround DTS-HD Master Audio soundtracks on the Blu-rays. PLUS: new interviews with actors Colin Farrell and Q’orianka Kilcher, new program about the making of the film, featuring interviews with producer Sarah Green, production designer Jack Fisk, and costume designer Jacqueline West, Making “The New World,” a documentary shot during the production of the film in 2004, directed and edited by Austin Jack Lynch (this is especially illuminating in the sections devoted to training the indigenous Native actors in period body language), a new program about the process of cutting The New World and its various versions, featuring interviews with editors Hank Corwin, Saar Klein, and Mark Yoshikawa, Trailers, A book featuring an essay by film scholar Tom Gunning, a 2006 interview with Lubezki from American Cinematographer, and a selection of materials that inspired the production.