I caught this movie last Sunday at the Arclight, its final showing before it was pulled from release. As with any film made by the reclusive writer/director Terrence Malick, there are plenty of rumors swirling around about it, in this case about why it was pulled. A friend of mine who works in film marketing says that this original cut was rushed to get it out for awards consideration, and that a new cut that is twelve minutes shorter will be released in theaters. Ain’t It Cool News also picked up a rumor that a third cut, even longer than the original, will be surfacing in theaters.

Continue reading about The New World (no spoilers)…Whoever made the decision to recut the film, Malick or the marketers, it was the right one. This film has some amazing sequences, but the storytelling is disjointed. Of course, one could say the same about The Thin Red Line, Malick’s last film, and the first of his brief oevre I ever saw. (I haven’t seen Days of Heaven, but I adore Badlands.) His trademark habit of cutting to scenes of nature and having inane stream-of-conscious voiceover worked against The New World, in my opinion. There are plenty of places where the acting (especially by radiant unknown Q’Orianka Kilcher) and the cinematography express everything already. The one exception would be the actual quotes from Smith’s writings, which fill in a great deal of what is going on when he lives among the Powhattans, or at least what he assumes was going on.

Perhaps the worst part of the editing was the classical music selections (Wagner & Bach, I believe) that underscored the film. They seemed entirely out of place, trying to force the beautiful images on screen into a box that they didn’t belong in. This is not a case like 2001, where the famous music seemed wonderfully redefined. This is a case of a piano being tinkled while two young lovers frolic in a wilderness that never had a piano, nor needed one.

As it stands, the titular metaphor could mean a number of things. The British colonists’ new world gives way to the new world of love, which in turn gives way to the new world of England as seen through the eyes of ‘the princess,’ who in turn uncovers a further new world, the one Shakespeare called an “undiscovered country.” As far as a re-telling of the Pocahontas myth (there is no historical basis that she and Captain John Smith were lovers) this one does an amazing job with the period detail and even glances at being a tragic love story with the dramatic heft of Romeo & Juliet. I don’t doubt that a heftier movie exists in Malick’s footage, if he can find a way to cut it together, and thus I ultimately recommend seeing The New World when it returns to theaters.

UPDATE 1/13/06: NYTimes Caryn James has the latest on the new New World cuts.
UPDATE 1/30/06: GreenCine has a round-up post shorter-cut release

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