The New World
This singular vision of early seventeenth-century America from Terrence Malick is a work of astounding elemental beauty, a poetic meditation on nature, violence, love, and civilization. It reimagines the apocryphal story of the meeting of British explorer John Smith (Colin Farrell) and Powhatan native Pocahontas (Q’orianka Kilcher, in a revelatory performance) as a romantic idyll between spiritual equals, then follows Pocahontas through her marriage to John Rolfe (Christian Bale) and her life in England. With art director Jack Fisk’s raw re-creation of the Jamestown colony, Emmanuel Lubezki’s marvelous, naturally lit cinematography, and James Horner’s soaring musical score, The New World is a film of uncommon power and technical splendor, one that shows Malick at the height of his visual and philosophical powers.
The Criterion Collection goes all out in presenting Terrence Malick’s The New World on Blu-ray, delivering three different cuts of the film: the extended the cut, the theatrical cut, and the first cut that premiered at film festivals. All three versions are presented in the aspect ratio of 2.35:1 and each is presented in 1080p/24hz high-definition on its own dual-layer disc in this three-disc set.
Though it was released on Blu-ray previously by Warner Bros., Criterion has done an entirely new 4K transfer and restoration of the extended cut using the original 35mm negative, along with a 35mm interpositive and the 65mm negative where needed. Unfortunately, for the other cuts, it looks like Criterion is using the previously prepared masters used for previous home video releases (though not available in North America prior to this, the first cut was at least available on DVD in Italy). This will be bad news for people who prefer either one of the other cuts: though acceptable to a certain extent, the level of quality between the extended cut and the other two is vast, and you don’t need to do close-up comparisons of screen shots to notice the differences.
Though there isn’t a vast difference between the theatrical cut and the first cut themselves in terms of presentation, it’s clear that the theatrical is the worst looking of the bunch, and I assume it’s more because it was put together with DVD in mind and not Blu-ray. Detail is severely lacking as it appears noise reduction has been applied generously, obliterating film grain in the process. Textures weak and depth is pretty limited. There are a lot of shots of grassy fields, trees, and other vegetation (though not near as much in comparison to the extended cut), and close-ups manage to deliver some detail and textures, but long shots present big blobby messes, definition and detail severely lacking to the point where you can have a hard time distinguishing between objects. There’s a long shot early on where a group of Natives are moving through a field and each individual is a blobby mass lacking much in defining features. Faces in long shots, in particular, look really waxy, while close-ups look so-so. Some shots also have a faint mosaic, painting-life effect look to them.
Banding can pop its ugly head up here and there, usually in darker scenes where some light source is coming through and some edge-enhancement is also present. There can also be a bit of a jitter in places and the image certainly doesn’t flow as smoothly as the new 4K transfer does. So at best it really only looks like an above average DVD presentation. What it does have going for it are colours, which are at least bright, and black levels are okay, though crushing is evident.
The first cut is a smidge better, and I really mean a smidge, but only because the noise reduction has been dialed back a bit: if the noise reduction knob was set to 11 on the theatrical cut, it’s probably around 8 here, and this allows film grain to be a little more apparent. The opening shots of the water already show a noticeable improvement: the subtle ripples in the water during the first few seconds are a bit more evident here, where they’re almost completely invisible in the theatrical cut. Colours also look to be rendered about the same, nice and bright, and black levels are fine. And though definition is certainly better in long shots, details are still limited. Faces don’t look as waxy and that mosaic effect that popped up in places in the theatrical cut isn’t too bad here. It also has a certain level of jerkiness to it, particularly when there is fast movement. Ultimately it does look better in comparison to the theatrical cut, but again it’s only a little bit better.
The issues of the other two become far more obvious, though, when you watch the extended cut. The improvements, the level of detail, the overall look is astounding and this one offers the most film-like presentation and clearly trumps the other ones in pretty much every way. Just the level of detail, though, is incredible. Long shots look so much better. That aforementioned scene where the Natives are moving through a field, you can make out distinct details of each individual far more than what you could pick up in the other versions. Textures look far more life-like and natural, almost like you can reach out and touch them: tree bark, clothing, armour, even the dirt, it all looks incredible. Some long shots where grass and/or fields looked like indistinguishable blobs now present fields where you can make out some of the individual blades, and objects are so much better defined. The scene where Smith first sees Pocahontas in the field is probably one of the better scenes to compare just for this: where you can make her out fine enough in the other versions, she still sort of blends in to her surroundings, but in this presentation she’s clearly distinguishable from the field surrounding her.
Overall definition and clarity is superb. Film grain, pretty much missing from the other versions, is present here, though very fine, and it’s rendered incredibly well. The image also moves far smoother than the others, that jerkiness that was evident in places now gone (and you can even make out more details in the moving objects, now less of a blur than before), and the overall digital presentation is solid, lacking any of the digital artifacts present in the other versions. Black levels also look better and I didn’t find crushing to be a big problem, allowing for excellent shadow delineation.
One other big difference between the versions are the colours. They’ve been regraded here and do look different. Scenes with overcast can look a bit grayer and drearier here, while daytime scenes may not be as vivid as their counterparts in the other version, but I think they look a bit more natural here. Greens, which were really green in the other versions, have admittedly been toned down but they do look more natural here: honestly, even in the state of Washington, I don’t think I’ve seen greens as vivid as the ones present in those other cuts. Something tells me there will be complaints, but I really feel they look better here.
I’m a little disappointed Criterion didn’t at least offer the same love to the theatrical cut, which is a version I know many prefer. In comparison to the extended version it’s incredibly subpar, and it’s up just showing how far digital presentations have come (I’m pretty sure Criterion is using the same master that would have been used for the original DVD). As it is, though, the extended cut really looks amazing. It’s a beautiful, filmic presentation that does justice to the film’s photography. Criterion has gone all out and has done an incredible, incredible job on this one. I guess I just wish they did the same to at least the theatrical version.
The New World (20050): 10/10 The New World (20050): 6/10 The New World (20050): 5/10
All three versions present their soundtracks in DTS-HD MA 5.1 surround. In all three cases they’re very full experiences, richly mixed to take advantage of a home theater set-up. It’s not an overpowering experience, still fairly quiet, but it’s still active. Music is almost always filling the environment, sounding crisp, clear and rich with terrific range and fidelity. The sound effects from nature (insects and birds chirping, the wind rustling the trees, etc.) sneaking in there, coming from various directions, while the voice overs always seem to be hovering from above. On screen dialogue is also clear for the most part, though there is some overlapping at times, at least in the extended cut.
I want to say the extended version’s soundtrack sounds better, and I’m pretty sure clarity and depth is better, sounding sharper and clearer with better volume levels and range, but at best all I could do was jump back and forth between discs, which made it a bit harder to compare rather than jumping between audio tracks. I could be deluding myself in that regard, but in the end they do all sound very good. Clarity is still excellent, the mix is quite active, and the tracks are very clean.
Criterion’s three-disc isn’t as packed with material as one would hope, though there’s certainly still quite a bit worth digging through here. The biggest draw will probably the inclusion of three different cuts of the film: the 150-minute first cut, the 135-minute theatrical cut, and the 172-minute extended cut, the latter of which was released on Blu-ray by Warner Bros.
As mentioned in the picture portion of this review only the extended cut gets a new restoration (it does sound like this is at least Malick’s preferred cut), while what are obviously older masters were used for the other two cuts, the theatrical cut looking worst of the bunch. I actually like the extended cut so I’m not entirely bothered by this: chances are I would come back to that version anyways. But I know there are those that prefer the theatrical cut, or maybe would have found the first cut a happy medium of sorts, and they will more than likely be let down that their preferred version hasn’t been ideally handled, maybe wondering why Criterion even bothered.
I still think the other cuts are worthwhile inclusions, though. Supplements on here do go over the film’s editing so seeing the multiple cuts gives an idea behind Malick’s thinking process.
The first cut was released for film festivals but New Line apparently asked Malick to cut 15-minutes from the film, fearing Malick’s style might not entirely gel with audiences at its current length. The extended cut was born later when Malick returned to the editing room.
Watching all three versions was actually a bit of a surprise: despite the fact they really all do follow the same narrative (in terms of sequence of events), they are fairly different films, and it’s really in the more subtle, almost unnoticeable edits where this is possible. The first cut and the theatrical cuts are closest to one another in terms of feel, though the theatrical version can feel a little more rushed in places (for Malick, anyways) in building the relationship between Smith and both Pocahontas and the Natives. There are some cut sequences but I think most of the edits are simply trimming down these montages, though it’s still not as simple as that. In one feature on this release editor Mark Yoshikawa explains that Malick came at the theatrical cut with the intention of rebuilding it, and a lot of these sequences and montages aren’t simply trimmed down, but do use alternate takes or have shots rearranged (that same feature has comparisons so you can see side by side how the same scenes differ). It’s really fascinating watching how what are ultimately mostly subtle differences change the feel of the film.
The extended cut, on the other hand, is really a completely different beast, and is really far more experimental in comparison to the other two versions, more in line with his later films like Tree of Life, To the Wonder, and I assume Knight of Cups (I still haven’t seen it). Some sequences missing from both previous versions are added in, like a final conversation between Pocahontas and her uncle, as well as a moment where John Rolfe has to justify his marriage to her. But a lot of the extended edition is, well, extending a number of already existing scenes and montages. Because of these extended bits I also think it better develops Smith and his relationship with Pocahontas and the Natives, which actually makes later events even more tragic.
On top of the extended moments the voice over narrations become longer and far more abstract and random as well (in the versions feature Yoshikawa even admits to having that “what the hell?” feeling while helping Malick with it). These, on top of the even more abstract and sometimes disorienting edits, create a more stream-of-conscious feel. There is still an easy to follow “plot” and the narrative still hasn’t changed all that much, but this version obviously requires a different way of coming at it than the others because this version is really trying to tell the story more through mood and feelings than the other versions. I can see where it would be frustrating, but I think once you click with what Malick is doing the film is much easier to sit through.
As mentioned there is a feature that goes over all this in a decent amount of detail, but still being able to actually the three versions in their entirety, one after the other, is a pretty invaluable in looking at what editing can do. It’s also interesting to see how Malick really just messes with the little details to create different feelings and mood. The bulk of the films are really the same, but the fine tuning, the stretching, and even the shortening of not just scenes but individual shots, make the films feel quite different. It’s really quite fascinating and I’m happy Malick felt inclined to allow Criterion to include all three versions to live in one release. Of course, again, I do sort of wish Criterion could have at least redone the transfer for the theatrical version.
The rest of the supplements are then spread out over the three dual-layer discs. The first disc, which contains the extended cut, the longest version of the film, surprisingly holds the lengthiest set of features, most notably the 81-minute documentary The Making of “The New World,” which has been carried over from the previous Warner DVD and Blu-ray editions of the film. This documentary is actually better than most studio produced making-of features. Most are really just self-congratulatory features with everyone saying how great everyone else was, but this one really aims to get into the nitty-gritty in how the world of this film was created. There is a lot of footage of Native actors and performers rehearsing how their characters would move about, dance, and fight, and there’s even a real concern about posture, making sure no one is seen slouching in a more 21st century manner. There’s a bit about casting Q’orianka Kilcher, including audition and test footage, and we also get to see her learn Algonquin, and then also practicing pronunciations when her character is learning English (which is really a lot harder than one would think but Kilcher pulls it off beautifully). But the best stuff would have to be around the building of Jamestown. Production designer Jack Fisk put in a lot of research (as did everyone else for their assigned duties) and tried to recreate the settlement exactly as described in historical records, right down to using the same materials (of course they do cheat with the use of a backhoe and other tractor equipment). There’s also a few interviews with the cast, Christopher Plummer and Christian Bale talking mostly about how Malick would follow them around, filming them, even when they weren’t in a scene being shot; Plummer jokes he feared that Malick would have followed him during bathroom breaks if he could, and Bale explains how he decided to have a bit of fun with this.
It’s divided into ten chapters, each focusing on a certain aspect of production and can be individually watched on their own as mini featurettes, but you do also have the option of watching them altogether as one long documentary, and it flows well this way.
This disc then closes with the theatrical trailer and the teaser trailer, which is just a shorter version of the other trailer. I don’t think either capture the film, really (as a bonus, it contains the “foot touching down on the new land” shot that Yoshikawa mentions in his interview, thinking it would be that big shot of touching down on the new land, only for Terry to decide to for the big shot to be fennel fields, of course).
Disc two includes the theatrical cut and this one is devoted to general cast and crew interviews. The first interview piece features Colin Farrell and Q’orianka Kilcher, both recorded separately. Kilcher talks first about being cast in the part, the film’s presentation of Pocahontas, working with her costars, and the overall experience of working on a Malick film. Farrell talks a bit about how he came to be involved (Sissy Spacek approached him saying her “friend” wanted him to read a script), and he shares stories similar to those from other actors about how Malick would follow him around and simply wander off with the camera to cover something else. Farrell found it an incredibly rewarding and different experience. Kilcher also shares some amusing stories, particularly the tick checks her and others would have to go through after shooting. I was hoping maybe Bale or Plummer would show up (at least they’re in the other documentary), and it probably would have been amusing to get the likes of maybe Jonathan Pryce to talk about the film, since his role, which I assume was bigger, was relegated down to really just a cameo, but these two give a fabulous idea of what it’s like shooting a film for Malick. It runs 30-minutes.
The next interview compilation is with members of the production crew, including production designer Jack Fisk, producer Sarah Green, and costume designer Jaqueline West. Disappointingly West only contributes a bit but she and Fisk talk about the extensive research the two did to accurately recreate the clothing and setting. Fisk had to do a lot of guess work on a number of things, though, since they weren’t documented, like where most of the sawing for creating the fort would have been done. He explains how his research of forts in general and a little common sense made his decisions easier, but he proudly claims that historians contacted him later saying they found evidence he was right in most of these cases. For Green this was her first film with Malick, and she admits to being a bit lost, even scared, at first, but she realized if she just gave Malick enough freedom and enough film it would all work out. Surprisingly it’s a bit short at 36-minutes, but it too gives it a great amount of perspective in what it’s like working on a film with the director.
Disc three presents the first cut of the film, and the features on this focus on the editing of the film. The first feature presents interviews with editors Hank Corwin, Saar Klein, and Mark Yoshikawa. Yoshikawa was recorded separately while Klein and Corwin were recorded together. Short of the documentary this is the lengthiest feature on the set, running 40-minutes, and it’s for good reason: since Malick “finds” the film in post-production (as everyone keeps saying), the editors really have to put a lot into it. Corwin and Klein have both worked with Oliver Stone (between them they’ve worked on JFK, Natural Born Killers, and U-Turn) so they’re no strangers to unconventional editing, but they admit here they still felt out of their element, which they’re sure Malick did on purpose, giving them scenes they usually wouldn’t be comfortable with, having to edit around voice overs adding to the difficulty. But it forced them to think and work a way they hadn’t before. It ultimately sounds as though most everything ended up going through Yoshikawa in the end, and they admit now they have trouble telling who did what when they look at the film but they’re obviously still all proud of what they did.
Yoshikawa contributes a bit, talking about working closely with the director and talking about getting a bit more experimental with some choices, using the confrontation between David Thewlis and Farrell as an example. But the real meat to the feature is through Klein and Corwin. All three are very open, and they do laugh a bit about the experience and in sharing the eccentricities of the filmmaker, but Klein and Corwin are easily the most honest and forthcoming, expressing the frustrations they felt through the time (amusingly I think Corwin wants to hold back to not offend Malick, but Klein tells him that Malick told him he wouldn’t be watching any of the features anyways, to which Corwin expresses astonishment in what could have been edited into a great spit take). When they then talk about music and sound editing, Corwin actually becomes visibly agitated bringing up James Horner, who openly complained and mocked the film, the director, and its editors (calling them a “bunch of incompetents”), because the score he wrote no longer worked with the film and was pretty much dropped. Corwin is still obviously holding back but he doesn’t speak very kindly of the composer, and then, a bit unwittingly, we get to see how people from various departments of film production think of people in other departments. This was an absolutely wonderful feature, easily the best one in the set, and if you only feel inclined to watch one feature surely make it this one.
The final feature is about the different versions of the film, hosted by Editor Mark Yoshikawa. Yoshikawa gives backstories to the versions and the stress of having to cut the film down 15-minutes after its premiere (he was making notes during the screening on what to cut) and then explains how Malick came at each version, which, despite again containing key sequences that play out pretty much the same, sound to have been each started from scratch. And as we learned in the last feature (it was estimated there was at least 185-minutes’ worth of footage) there was plenty to work with. Yoshikawa probably worked a little more closely with Malick than other editors, and was the only one to work on the film right from the beginning, so he probably offers the best idea of what it was like to put the film together with him, and from that perspective it may be the more personal feature on here. And Yoshikawa (also seeming to not want to offend Malick) does admit to various frustrations about the experience, but he’s very good natured and good humoured about it. We also get a lot of comparisons between the various versions, seeing the differences between certain sequences, some differences being subtle, others being rather large. What is most interesting is that, based on the scenes compared, the theatrical cut and first cut are not too far removed from one another overall, but you can easily see that the extended cut is, as I said before, an entirely different beast, with sequences that technically play out the same, but don’t share any of the same edits, sequence, or even shots. Another invaluable inclusion, served even better by the fact you can watch all three versions here. (Though I doubt it needed to be confirmed, Yoshikawa does mention there is a longer edit for Tree of Life out there.)
The release then comes in a nice looking digipak and includes a rather gorgeous looking 44-page booklet. It features a fairly lengthy essay on the film and its images, paying attention to the photography and editing in creating the mood. Not surprisingly the disc lacks in scholarly material, which is similar to other Malick releases from Criterion, but the essay does make up a bit for that. There is also a reprint of an interview with Emmanuel Lubezki from American Cinematographer magazine, published in January 2016, after the film’s release, where the man talks about the shoot and the free-but-sorta-not nature of working with Malick (it’s more free for Malick), and mentions how they usually filmed until the reel ended, mentioning they had no “short ends.” The booklet’s best feature, though, is probably the pages devoted to the film’s research, focusing on paintings that inspired, which are served up with images of the film’s production notes, summarizing some of this research, including poems, and quotes. A really nice collection of material. (Edit: I had mistakenly combined the Lubezki interview and essay in a previous version of this review. I have since corrected it here.)
It does feel like there could be more admittedly, though I’m not sure how much of the issue is Malick limiting what Criterion could do. It’s possible he’s blocking more scholarly material or more historical context, which would seem like something that would have been a no-brainer here (the essay on the booklet is scholarly, though really leans more on the technical side of things I felt). Still, the material is good, and I still think the inclusion of all three versions is an incredible addition.
Criterion has put together a beautifully put together edition: getting the three versions of the film is a significant feature of the release, though it disappoints that only the extended cut got the new restoration (and what a sharp looking restoration it is!) Packed with a few new enticing features, including a great interview with the editors, I think any fan of the film or Malick’s work in general would get a lot out of this release. Highly recommended!