The New World is an overly romanticized, historically questionable retelling of the known life of Pocahontas, with the main focus on her relationship with John Smith in the new colony of Jamestown, Virginia. Malick doesn't stay with that story, however, intent on pursuing the Princess' tale as far as it can be told. To this end our writer/ director employs some amazing techniques to capture the beauty of a new world. For example, 65 Millimeter film is used, making even the close-up shots appear enormous in scope. Further almost every bit of The New World's two hours and fifteen minutes is shot entirely in natural light. The grays look like real gray, the whites look like real whites and the swamps and trees look like they're really growing before you. There is no plastic and artificial feel in this film, unlike most Hollywood fare. It will come as no surprise to anyone who has seen The New World that Sparky's Cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki was nominated for a 2005 Oscar for Best Cinematography for his complex work on this film.
Unfortunately, Sparky Malick appears to be relying greatly on beauty and light to carry the film and seems to take a hands-off approach to directing. The character of John Smith himself suffers the most because of this. As played by Colin Farrell, Captain Smith mumbles his way from chained mutineer to military leader to Tenakomakah Prisoner to Colony President to Romantic Lead to Colony Prisoner to lovesick tagalong all with the approximate character variation of Marvin the Paranoid Android or Al Gore. Smith's relationship with Pocahontas is given the most screen time here. Historians illustrate that the lady was between ten and twelve years old when Smith landed at Virginia. Here she's played by Q'Orianka Kilcher, who was fourteen years old at the time of this filming (making their love scenes... slightly... less creepy). In all seriousness, Malick does a fine job of balancing today's social mores with those of the past. Still, Malick reportedly had to cut out a bowl full of footage to avoid the potential Blue Lagoon-like controversy.
Our first half feels like a thick and episodic mixture of history, realism, fiction and sensationalism told in a flat, and strangely disconnected manner. This is, of course, in direct contrast to the remarkable surroundings that Lubezki captures within his lens. Must frustratingly, the camera seems to be an almost completely disinterested observer in the actions of our characters. Not that the audience viewing this are idiot enough to need musical cues or ubiquitous visual punctuations in each scene, but there are so many times that an apparently important piece of action takes place without any real attention being paid to it. Hey, it's refreshing to see something that's not the same old obvious thing, but this delves into the fathoms of the dense.
During the second half, when Brooding John Rolfe (Christian Bale) shows up to make an honest woman of Pocahontas (now known as Rebecca Rolfe) things lighten up a little and the love story becomes a triangle. I kind of hoped we could get John and John to fight over her in a sanctimonious Superhero brawl. After all, Bale played Batman and Farrell played Bullseye. Hey, in DC Versus Marvel Batman actually kicked Bullseye's rump roast into the middle of the following week. Can't you picture that? "Pocahontas is MINE!", "No, She is MINE!", "No, she's mine!", BOOM, slap, BANG, "I missed! OOF! Daredevil never hit that hard!". Just me? Another one of my tangents? Sorry. Um...
Sparky also reinvents his filmmaking style into a more conventional approach during this second half, which both makes the movie more accessible, and less unique. Sadly, for all its beauty, The New World never seems to go anywhere beyond the surface, for all its pomp and circumstance. There's a depth to be beheld here, but it never quite translates from Malick's brain to the final cut. Further, the film remains cold, distant and confused right up to the end credits. The Density and the Destiny share equal time as John and John both sleepwalk their way around the animated and glowing Rebecca.
Some of Kilcher's scenes must be observed no matter what, as the fourteen year old really manages to upstage the lot. This says something in a cast that includes Christopher Plummer, David Thewlis and one of our most underrated actors, Wes Studi. Kilcher seems remarkably at ease, especially for an unknown (her biggest claim to fame before this flick was coming in second on Arsenio's Star Search). I'd be shaking in my Steve Maddens, man!
I have to give credit to Terrence "Sparky" Malick, the director, here for experimenting with natural light and the richness of 65 MM film. Much of his use of shadow and the actual sun to portray his moods simply sells the scenes that steal the show. However, a more history-friendly, less romanticized and ultimately warmer and less distant The New World would endear me to Terrence "Sparky" Malick, the writer, just a little more. Three Stars out of Five for the sweet and sandy, sugary and sensational The New World. It may not be the best historical fiction of all time, but you could do a lot worse... that is, if you know what you're looking at when you do it. Now, if you'll excuse me, I think I'm going to head on to more appropriate fare. The Blue Lagoon is on, and I think Brookie's about to doff that top again. Then, I'm thinking I'll watch The Professional. Enough of the jailbait romance flicks. What? See you in the next reel, fat butt!