Visual poetry that touches the soul, Terrence Malick's latest work of art is "The New World", a movie that continues the director's ability to present hypnotic imagery that not only remains as beautiful as a painting, but stirs the senses and gives one an almost extraordinary feel of the time and place. In a era where movies often can't sit still, Malick's camera quietly lingers on the beauty (the director can make a random forest look like paradise) that surrounds the film's characters and the moments that they share together. There isn't heaps of dialogue explaining every little thing to the audience - there's just enough dialogue for the audience to make our own conclusions, which adds to the film's already quite naturalistic feel. There is narration, but it's thoughtful, emotional, dreamlike and never seemed excessive.
The film opens with John Smith (Colin Farrell, in what's probably his best performance yet) arriving in Virginia in 1607 a prisoner. After a few moments, Smith is allowed to go free, because he deserves a new start in the new world. Setting out with a small group to try and trade with the tribe, the Indians that had been watching the new arrivals attack, but Smith is left unhurt, as Pocahontas (Q'Orianka Kilcher) asks for him to be spared.
The young woman soon finds herself falling for the mysterious stranger, and he finds both her and the way of her people fascinating. Yet, he soon finds himself back with his own people as the tension between the Native Americans and the Europeans is rising. Although the two continue to meet during the Summer, it is not meant to be, as she is exiled by her father for helping the settlers and he is eventually sent away on a mission to explore new lands elsewhere.
While it must be said that Farrell is at his most impressive in a subtle, introspective performance here, he's challenged by the sublime talent of newcomer Kilcher, who is dazzling in a graceful, heartbreaking and elegant performance that is remarkably confident for an actress with little screen experience. She more than holds her own against Farrell and, later in the movie, against Christian Bale.
As "World" turns towards its second half, Pocahontas finds herself among the Jamestown settlers and is married to John Rolfe (Christian Bale), who loves her and eventually starts a family with her. However, she misses Smith and while she is cared for by Rolfe, she does not share the same feelings. Now called Rebecca, she feels lilke a stranger - to an even greater degree when she accompanies Rolfe back to England, a world completely and entirely new to her.
"The New World" is going to divide audiences, just as Malick's "Thin Red Line" did several years ago. Some are going to give a chance and find the beauty in it and others are going to lose patience with it and find it pretentious. Cut down from a reported original running time of 150 minutes (the longer version of the movie that was reportedly going to be included on DVD is nowhere to be found here), I really had no problem with the pace of the picture. Malick's pacing here is deliberate and the opening of the film clearly sets the tone.
Technically, the film is remarkable in just about every regard. Emmanuel Lubezki ("Great Expectations", "Ali")'s cinematography offers so much beauty, richness and texture. Production design, costumes and other departments work to create a film where every frame is utterly magnificent to view. Although I've disliked composer James Horner's work on some films in the past, he offers a compelling, memorable score here that fits perfectly with the mood of the scene.
"The New World" is another film from Malick that is not merely meant to be watched, but to be experienced. This is a completely enveloping movie that soaks you in its world from the beginning to the moving, emotional end. Again, it's not going to be everyone's cup of tea, but those who fall under its spell are likely going to find it an absolutely masterful, lyrical work.
VIDEO: The film is presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen by New Line. This is a very fine transfer that does display the film's dazzling imagery quite well. However, the presentation is not without a concern. Sharpness and detail are generally excellent, as the presentation looked well-defined and crisp throughout the show, with no noticable softness or inconsistency.
The main issue with the presentation is that mild edge enhancement is infrequently seen in some scenes. It's a bit distracting and really the only thing keeping this from being a fantastic offering. Print flaws are not spotted, nor are any instances of pixelation. The film's naturalistic color palette is marvelously presented, as colors look well-saturated and rich.
SOUND: The film's Dolby Digital 5.1 is subtle and yet completely immersive. Ambience fills the room from all sides as gusts, insect noises and other elements of nature are nicely spread across the front speakers and also come in from the surrounds. Horner's score is also reinforced quite superbly by the rear speakers. Audio quality is terrific, as the delicate, subtle ambience sounds are all presented clearly and distinctly. Dialogue is sometimes spoken at a low volume, but is presented crisply here.
EXTRAS: The main extra is a 50-minute "making of" documentary that follows the crew as they try to film in Virginia and England. The first part of the doc is especially interesting, as we see Native Americans from across the country come to take part in the production in order to try and keep the film authentic and accurate. From there, we follow along as the production attempts to try and get things done in one of the rainiest periods the area has seen in years. Yet, despite some fairly rough conditions, there is little drama here, as the cast and crew are passionate about the project (there are some insightful, fun interviews with the actors about working on the film and with Malick) and push through.
Final Thoughts: A powerful, poetic and deeply memorable film about love, discovery, nature and clashes between cultures, "The New World" is an elegant, riveting film from Malick. The performances are stellar, as well - especially newcomer Kilcher. The DVD edition doesn't arrive holding the extended edition that many expected to see offered on DVD, but it does present the film with good audio/video quality and one solid extra. Recommended for fans, those who haven't seen it should try it as a rental first.