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THE NEW WORLD

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Colin Farrell, Christopher Plummer, Christian Bale, August Schellenberg, Wes Studi, Q’Orianka Kilcher
Director: Terrence Malick
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Surround
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio: New Line Cinema
Features: See Review
Length: 135 Minutes
Release Date: May 9, 2006

“Mother…now I know where you live.”

Film ****

Film critic Richard Roeper said it best; “We seem to change President’s more often than Terrence Malick makes a film, but it’s always worth the wait.”

Few filmmakers are capable of striking the viewer’s senses the way that Terrence Malick does. He’s only made three films in a twenty five year time period. His first was 1973’s Badlands, a lovers-on-the-lam-from-the-law road movie. The second was 1978’s Days of Heaven, a great depression saga featuring Richard Gere in one of his first film roles. His third film came twenty years later, in the form of the The Thin Red Line, which is to this day the most absorbing World War II films ever made.

Now Malick has returned with his latest opus, The New World, a bold and ultimately haunting film which recreates the Jamestown discovery, in particular the romance the sparkles between English settler John Smith and a young Native American woman named Pocahontas. Chances are you’ve seen the Disney animated take on the story. But in terms of authenticity and magnificent filmmaking, Malick’s film is as brilliant and as precise as it gets.

Like Malick’s other films, the primary ingredient in the overall power of the story is the eccentric way in which he implies images and heavy doses of voice over narration provided by the central characters. By implying these devices, the story does nothing short of transporting the viewer to the period. If you saw The Thin Red Line and were captivated, then you’re likely to feel the same effect when watching this film.

The film opens with English settlers approaching a newfound piece of land in the year 1607. The land would later be known as Jamestown, but as the settlers move in to claim the new discover, Smith (Colin Farrell) is awestruck by the sight of the Pocahontas (Q’Orianka Kilcher). Once Smith is attacked held captive by the Powhatan tribe, she pleads with her father to spare his life. He does so, on account that the two share their culture with one another.

As they teach one another about their cultures, Smith and Pocahontas find themselves drawn to each other. It’s a feeling of love that neither can deny, although Pocahontas is afraid of the dangers it will bring if the English get word of it. Her people are much more accepting of the romance, but they too fear the worst.

As the story progresses, the two find themselves in a conflicted situation. Battles are fought between the English and the Natives, putting Smith in the worst type of predicament. Later in the story, Pocahontas’ crosses paths in England with John Rolfe (Christian Bale), a tobacco farmer who vies for her love. Unless you’re familiar with the story, you may find yourself surprised by how the love story plays out in the end.

The film boasts powerful and outstanding performances from its cast. Colin Farrell, who I’ve always liked, delivers the first true performance to illustrate to the masses that he is a serious actor and much more than the tabloid magnet everyone suspects him to be. Christian Bale, coming hot off the heels of his dynamic turn in Batman Begins, turns in a remarkably subtle turn as John Rolfe. Finally, newcomer Q’Orianka Kilcher delivers what was really the star-making performance of 2005 as Pocahontas. How incredible that the Academy ignored her magical presence.

It’s a pure shame that the film was mostly ignored altogether at Oscar time. Thank goodness it managed to get recognized in the Best Cinematography category, which if it hadn’t it would’ve been a pure crime against cinema. But the main reason, I think, that it didn’t get its deserved shot at Oscar glory was the fact that Malice, at the last minute, was persuaded to cut the film by 15 minutes after its initial premiere last December. The newly cut version arrived in theaters the next month, shortly before all Oscar considerations were finalized.

This is quite simply a pure masterpiece of cinema. Terrence Malick is a filmmaker whose work is not for the impatient. However, those who appreciate visual filmmaking should not miss this monumental piece of work. It is a film experience that will stay with you long after you experience it.

Video ****

New Line has not only delivered perhaps one of the best looking discs of their catalog, but one of the most beautiful looking presentations to ever grace DVD. What’s more, for film like this, that’s pretty much what you’d expect of the presentation. Terrence Malick’s visionary eye results in some of the most amazing images to ever be displayed in a single film. The anamorphic picture does the film justice entirely, with a persistently clear and crisp picture, full of wondrous detail and containing no images flaws whatsoever. An outstanding piece of work that matches the haunting aspect of the visual quality.

Audio ****

The 5.1 mix is just as absorbing as the visual quality. Sound is another aspect which Malick focuses on greatly in his films, and this may just be his finest execution to date. The slightest hints of nature’s surroundings play a pivotal role in the sound. And words simply can’t express the reaction you’ll get when hearing the rousing selection of music for the film, especially the opening and closing segments in which Richard Wagner’s “Das Rheingold: Overture” is played. It’s one of the most magnificent selections of music I’ve heard in any film. Indeed, one of the best sounding presentations of the year!

Features ***

Featured on the disc is a nicely made, ten part documentary titled “Making The New World”, which covers multiple aspects of what it took to get the film made. Also included is a theatrical teaser and trailer for the film, as well as bonus previews of additional New Line releases.

It’s been rumored that somewhere down the road, there will be a three hour plus director’s cut edition with much more extras to spare. Let us cross our fingers and pray that it is entirely true.

Summary:

Terrence Malick is our most gifted cinematic artist, and The New World is another remarkable accomplishment. It’s more than just a movie, it’s a transportation to another time and another place, done in such way that is rare to execute. Truly one of 2005’s greatest film offerings, as well as one of the best DVD presentations you’ll come across all year!

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