In 1999, Terrence Malick’s Thin Red Line resulted in two types of audience reactions: love it or hate it. There was no middle ground, and his tone-poem approach to showing World War II in the South Pacific either felt too long and slow, or was a beautiful visual treat – depending on how you approached it.
With his latest film, The New World, Malick takes on the story of Pocahontas. At the beginning of the film, John Smith (Colin Farrell) arrives to help found the Jamestown Colony. He is sent up river to get help from the natives, and ends up meeting and falling in love with the princess Pocahontas (Q’Orianka Kilcher). But the natives don’t want the “invaders” to stay, and so after a few months, they decided to try to fight them – and it doesn’t quite work. Smith later decides that he can’t commit to Pocahontas, and so he leaves – and arranges to have Pocahontas told that he died on the crossing back to England. Heartbroken, Pocahontas mourns, but slowly assimilates into the new colony life, until John Rolfe (Christian Bale) arrives. He falls in love with her (but she’s not quite feeling the same way) – so they marry, have a kid, and a few years later, go to England. There she encounters Smith again, decides that she no longer loves him, and happily moves on with Rolfe. However, she falls ill and dies before going back to the Americas.
Ok, that took you like what, 1-2 minutes to read? Well, that’s the whole film. But the movie runs about 150 minutes long. Why? Because it’s another tone-poem! The imagery is beautiful – every shot is worthy of being framed and hung on a wall. It also lingers. The story moves along so slowly that you might get restless. There is very little dialogue. The music is comprised mainly of Wagner and Mozart, with much of James Horner’s score tossed into the dustbin and unused. (He released a rather full 79-minute soundtrack, with a lot of unused music, including an end credits pop song!)
Did I like The New World? Well, as a movie-going experience, no. It was slow, plodding, and boring. But as a visual treat, it was a sight to be hold. You felt transplanted into this virgin world, and it was really quite neat. The voiceover narration is done poetically, and it’s a very nice piece of art – just not a very good movie.