Terrence Malick may be the least prolific filmmaker ever to inspire a cult following, and New Line’s slim homevid package for “The New World” is enough to set any devoted acolyte’s teeth a-gnashin’. Absent either the original 150-minute cut or a three-hour director’s cut reported to be in the works, Malick’s lushly romantic retelling of the founding and despoiling of America arrives on DVD in the tightly focused 135-minute version that played in theaters. One can only hope this richly expansive work will receive its proper enshrinement at some later date.
Leaner, more expository and less prone to poetic digressions than the version screened for critics and advance auds, this version serves as an ideal introduction to this remarkably open-ended film and Malick’s oeuvre in general. Yet it reps only one part of what the film’s passionate devotees will likely consider a Holy Trinity of director’s cuts. (And make no mistake — for some, “The New World,” with its dreamlike structure and rapturous engagement with nature, is not just a movie but a transformative religious experience.)
It would have been folly to expect so much as a director’s commentary from a figure as notoriously reclusive and resistant to explanations as Malick. Yet the failure to make the earlier edition available for side-by-side comparison suggests a missed opportunity that should be redressed at some point, especially if the film’s reputation as an overlooked masterwork continues to grow.
Trailers and teasers aside, the lone bonus feature is an illuminating making-of documentary that depicts the film’s incredible behind-the-scenes verisimilitude: the construction of a life-size Jamestown settlement; the distinct body movements the actors had to absorb to embody the Algonquian tribe; the meticulous dialogue coaching young Q’orianka Kilcher went through to play Pocahontas. Though it lacks the film’s hypnotic sense of composition and musical layering, the doc achieves something similarly mysterious — a mystical conjuring of two different civilizations, a willful immersion in a paradise long lost.