Friday, May 12, 2006

The New World (DVD)

Directed and written by Terrence Malick, the talented artist behind The Thin Red Line (1998), great anticipation surrounded the release of The New World. The project was bold and ambitious enough to peak one’s interest, but unfortunately, the film could not deliver on its promise. Entire scenes drift by with nothing in particular being achieved to either advance the plot, the theme, or the premise of the film. Unfittingly, the soundtrack featured blaring snippets of concert music reminiscent of Richard Wagner, which would be great if The New World took place in 19th Century Venice instead of 17th Century America. Much more should be expected from James Horner whose brilliant work has enhanced such films as Field of Dreams, Braveheart, Legends of the Fall, and Titanic. The New World soundtrack is disaster almost on par with the latter film.

The rest of film isn’t much better. Although it vividly illustrates the limitless possibility of early Jamestown and the majesty of the unspoiled wilderness surrounding it, the visual images are offset by poor dialogue and what seems to be an overly zealous attempt to manufacture a poetic awe-inspiring masterpiece of a film. Nevertheless, The New World does manage to summon images of the first European settlers and the hardship they must have faced. From this standpoint, one can say it has some reflective value for those who appreciate human history…

The New World begins by following the life of Captain John Smith (Colin Farrell). Landing in the New World with a convoy of Englishmen, he happens upon the Native American kingdom of Powhatan (August Schellenberg). Of course, most of the world knows the basic plotline. Smith’s life is spared when his body is covered by Powhatan’s beautiful daughter, Pocahontas (Q’Orianka Kilcher). Kilcher certainly displays the requisite physical beauty to portray the princess, but the script gives her little with which to work. Although a subject of controversy among historians, the film plays up the angle of a possible love affair between Smith and Pocahontas, but it accurately records her eventual marriage to John Rolfe (Christian Bale) and the couple’s celebrated trip to London. But The New World’s problems don’t stem from historical accuracy, but rather from the fact that the preceding paragraph is a detailed account of everything that happens in a tedious two-hour fifteen-minute snoozer. In short, it’s long and boring.

As much as the film failed to live up to expectations, this much can be said for The New World: it accurately portrays the landscape of southeastern Virginia. That alone makes it immensely superior to Disney’s Pocahontas which featured non-indigenous animals and forests peppered with waterfalls. Unfortunately, an entire generation of children gathered their personal knowledge of local geography from that film. From the perspective of set design, wardrobe, historical underpinnings, and the mere beauty of its images, The New World is a film to behold. However, from the standpoint of dialogue, plot, direction, and performance, The New World is an utter flop. Unless you’re a history buff, and specifically a Jamestown junkie, avoid the film at all costs…

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