Terrence Malick has made four films in the last 32 years. The man likes to take his time. His newest effort, The New World, is a familiar story in a new context. Based on the well known the story of the founding of the Jamestown settlement and the fabled love story of Captain John Smith and Pocahontas, but audiences have never quite heard or seen it like this.
The film starts off well enough, introducing to our captive Captain, John Smith (Colin Farrell) and his crew as they embark from England to Virginia. A quick setup already has viewers foreseeing the potential for what will be the turmoil between the Europeans and the “naturals” (the Native American locals). It’s not too surprising when the film then veers off course and focuses on the entangled relationship of Smith and his inquisitive “natural,” Pocahontas (Q’Orianka Kilcher).
The story of Captain John Smith and Pocahontas is Malick’s main dish. Any viewer gets the feeling Malick could spend hours having these two gush over each other without a hint of development or even a line of dialogue.
Consisting of mostly banal, toneless voiceovers by the main characters, The New World’s strength is in the beauty it finds within these character’s reactions with one another. There isn’t so much a story here as there are emotions and picturesque montages of nature. Each frame is filled with lavish scenery; it almost explodes like a bad impulse. Malick never restrains himself from showing as much as he can.
The New World is hard not to admire and, at the same time, hard to defend. It’s taxing two-and-a-half hour running time (20 minutes shorter than the original cut) sets audiences on a arduous journey that will result in numerous sighs and midpoint stretches. Even veteran historians might have trouble with the film’s pace.
The New World is a film to be respected more than enjoyed and it was clearly made for serious film connoisseurs and historians. For those who fall into those two titles, it’s worth a shot. For everyone else, it’s a dead end.
Danny Gordon can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.