The New World: The Extended Cut
Directed By: Terrence Malick
Cast: Colin Farrell, Q'Orianka Kilcher, Christopher Plummer, Christian Bale, August Schellenberg, Wes Studi
|Studio: New Line/Warner Bros.|
Year: 2005 (Original Theatrical) 2008 (Extended Cut)
Film Length: 172 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
Subtitles: English, English SDH, Spanish
Release Date: October 14, 2008
Terrence Malick's The New World premiered in late 2005 in New York and Los Angeles at a running time of reportedly 150 minutes. By the time it was released widely, Malick had trimmed it down to 135 minutes. When rumors began swirling about a possible DVD release of the an extended cut, I presumed that it would be that 150 minute premiere version, but in fact, this is an even longer cut that runs 172 minutes. Prior to this release, I had not seen any of the theatrical cuts, so I will not be able to do any comparing or contrasting below.
The New World tells the familiar story surrounding the establishment of the Jamestown colony in Virginia in the early 17th century. The film begins with the arrival of the English settlers led by Captain Newport (Plummer) and including Captain John Smith (Farrell), who arrives in chains due to accusations of non-specified mutinous activities. Spared from the hangman's noose by Newport, who is planning to return to England for additional provisions, Smith is given a chance to redeem himself. He is asked to act as a military envoy to the local "naturals" when violence begins to escalate between the colonists and the natives. Smith is captured and sentenced to be executed until Pocahontas (Kilcher - although her character's name is never mentioned in dialog), the daughter of the chief intervenes on his behalf. Smith spends several weeks living with the tribe, bonding with them and growing closer to Pocahontas, before being released back to his own people. With conditions in the colony deteriorating due to disease and a lack of food, Smith becomes a leader almost by default. He is upset with the lack of industriousness of the settlers, who seem more interested in digging for gold than planting crops, but eventually improves conditions with the aid of Pocahontas, who brings much needed food to the colony as it faces starvation and a harsh winter prior to Newport's return. As the colony establishes itself and the Native Americans realize that they intend to stay, violent conflict occurs, leaving Pocahontas and Smith caught between their obligations to their hearts and their people. Matters are complicated further when colonist tobacco planter John Rolfe falls in love with Pocahontas during a long absence by Smith.
Anyone familiar with the films of Terrence Malick knows that his style is more or less immutable. His films to date are designed to be visually impressionistic, deliberately paced, contemplative, filled with meticulously rendered period detail, and more interested in the poetic and philosophical possibilities of their plots, characters, and environments than in narrative momentum. The fact that so few Hollywood films of any scale get made from a perspective even resembling his approach arguably makes him one of the most important American filmmakers of the last few decades. Even those who find his films tedious tend to acknowledge that he exploits the film medium in a way that his peers seem to have all but abandoned.
Given the uniformity of style, Malick's films succeed or fail based on how well they lend themselves to his approach, and The New World is a very good match to his methods. Anyone familiar with the story of John Smith, Pocahontas, and John Rolfe, will find an only slightly skewed (by movie standards) telling rendered with a strong eye for period detail. Dramatic embellishments include the conceit of portraying Smith and Pocahontas as lovers which is employed by nearly every dramatization of the story to date, increasing the age of Pocahontas (via casting - her actual age is never discussed), and portraying her Native American tribe as more idealistically peaceful than they actually were. The latter is likely related to Malick's intention to dramatically extrapolate the interior lives of his characters, largely through his favored device of interior voiceover first person narrative. Smith would not necessarily be aware of the tribe's history of conflict, and living with them during a time of peace, he could understandably have perceived their society as something of an unspoiled Eden.
Visually, Malick emphasizes the "stranger in a strange land" aspects of Smith's experiences through suggestions of an infinite uncorrupted wilderness outside of the Jamestown settlement. Pocahontas' fish out of water experiences are represented in similarly vivid terms, particularly in the final reels when the action moves to London. During these sequences, most exterior shots emphasize the urban structures of the city. When any sort of fauna is viewed, it is usually highly trimmed and shaped trees and hedges suggesting man imposing his will over nature.
With minimal dialog and maximal first person voiceover, one could cynically assess the actors job in this and any other Malick film as consisting of little more than staying in frame and hitting their marks. In fact, the cast is required to do a specifically cinematic style of acting that is heavily reliant on movement and expression without degenerating into broad pantomime. Colin Farrell's John Smith carries the first third of the film, although it is almost 20 minutes before he has a word of spoken dialog. The film's middle third gradually brings Q'orianka Kilcher's Pocahontas to the fore, making her the central character for the final third. Both Farrell and Kilcher work successfully in concert with the deliberately poetic visuals to convey the inner lives of their characters in a way consistent with Malick's vision.
The 16:9 enhanced 2.35:1 transfers suffers from near constant ringing along high contrast vertical edges. The ringing is low in intensity, but becomes very obvious on large projection displays, obscuring rather than enhancing fine detail. This is a disappointment in an otherwise excellent transfer that renders Malick's "visual poetry" with solid color and contrast, natural light film grain and decent video compression.
Audio is available via an English Dolby Digital 5.1 track and an English 2.0 matrixed Pro-Logic track. Both tracks are reportedly optimized/re-equalized for home theater viewing. The 5.1 track is outstanding, supporting the visuals with an immersive mix filled with ambient sounds and restrained use of score that strongly complements the visuals. Part of Malick's signature style involves heavily immersive soundtracks that work in concert with the poetic shots of natural beauty. The crickets almost deserve a credit in the cast list - or at least SAG cards for their speaking parts.
There are no on-disc extras. The disc comes packaged with an insert with a code that will allow viewers to download a Windows-compatible digital copy of the film. iPods and Mac computers are not supported.
The DVD comes in a standard Amaray case with an insert containing the code for unlocking the digital copy. The case is inserted inside a cardboard slipcase that reproduces the art for the hard case exactly with no enhancements or embossments.
Terrence Malick's The New World is a visually poetic, meticulously detailed rendering of the familiar story of Captain John Smith, Pocahontas, John Rolfe, and the Jamestown Virginia colony of the early 17th century. This extended cut of the film is presented on disc with visuals marred by frequent ringing along high contrast vertical edges. Audio is outstanding with an enjoyably immersive Dolby Digital 5.1 track with excellent fidelity. There are no extras on the disc, although it comes packaged with a code that unlocks a download of a digital copy of the film.