Voyage of Time : Life's Journey
Courtesy of Venice Film Festival

If you thought Quentin Tarantino had pushed the boundaries of widescreen with the Ultra Panavision presentation of “The Hateful Eight” last year, think again. Terrence Malick has something for you.

The director’s documentary short “Voyage of Time: The IMAX Experience” (a condensed version of the feature that bowed at the Venice Film Festival in September) will be released in an “Ultra Widescreen” format on 21 screens nationwide beginning Dec. 9. It will be presented in a drastic 3.6:1 aspect ratio, far out-stretching the 2.76:1 width of “Hateful Eight” and films like “Ben-Hur” in the past (or certainly the 2.55:1 CinemaScope ratio revived this year in “La La Land”).

Additionally, Malick had not originally intended to use voice over, preferring only music and sound effects to accompany the stunning visuals on display. But that didn’t quite work for IMAX on the initial release, as the company sought to reach a broad audience. This new release will strip away Brad Pitt’s narration and leave viewers with the visual and aural experience the director had hoped for.

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“I am so fortunate to be part of my friend Terrence Malick’s ‘Voyage of Time: The IMAX Experience,'” Pitt said in a statement. “Now, witness first-hand Malick’s vision as he hoped it to be seen, with the newest 3.6 version – a purely experiential film presented in the widest aspect ratio possible.”

In part, the decision to go back out with a re-release was a response to popular demand. While IMAX theaters are institutions across the country, many Malick fans and cinephiles didn’t have access to those theaters when the film first launched on 15 screens in October. This version, officially titled “Voyage of Time: The IMAX Experience in Ultra Widescreen 3.6,” will be in all-new locations, each of them at multiplexes.

The film was conceived with both the IMAX 4:3 ratio and a typical 1.85:1 aspect ratio in mind. “It’s something in cinematography that’s quite common now. You’re framing for 1.85:1 or 2.35:1, but there’s also a television version,” director of photography Paul Atkins says. “I was in the grading suite and Terry came in a couple of times so excited and he said, ‘Look at this,’ and we looked at this super widescreen version and looked at a lot of the shots with it. We were stunned at how it affected you emotionally and how immersive it was.”

The film was scanned at an ultra-dense 11K resolution, and the team would pluck certain shots out in the 3.6:1 ratio. Interestingly, it worked with the majority of shots in the film.

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“That’s because when you’re framing for IMAX, the lower third of the frame is where the audience’s attention is, and that’s how you try to frame it,” Atkins says. “The top of the frame, you don’t often put important information up there. So you can actually extract a more narrow aspect ratio out of that frame and it still works.”

Atkins, a veteran of natural history filmmaking who met Malick in the mid-1990s at a wildlife film festival, says working with the director makes for a fascinating balance of technical specificity and metaphorical communication among artists.

“Terry is interested in the repetitive ebb and flow of life’s energy through the natural world,” he says. “If you learn to see it, you can see it everywhere. This eternal sort of tao of nature is something we were always on the lookout for, and I loved it because he allowed you to interpret it and find it yourself.”

He continues: “You probably noticed there are a lot of jellyfish in the film. Jellyfish are a perfect representation of that tao for Terry. He says they’re one with their world, as they pulse and move with the rhythm of ocean currents. Working with him, I had to learn a whole new way of framing and seeing light that has changed my way of shooting forever.”

Courtesy of Imax

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