Malick started work on what was to become "Voyage of Time," unbelievably, in the 1970s when he got the idea to make a film about the origins of life on earth. Working sporadically in between projects, some early footage found its way into his miraculous, stunning "The Tree Of Life," previously here. And the film was clearly a labor of love as he continued work on the concept for the next nearly-forty years.
And finally in 2016, we saw the release of "Voyage of Time," in two versions no less! A 35 mm 90-minute version narrated by Cate Blanchett was screened at the Venice Film Festival but word is that version will not be playing anywhere else. The second version, a 45 minute cut narrated by Brad Pitt was released through IMAX and played in many super-large IMAX theaters around the country, which is where I got to see it. I was lucky enough to see one of the only handful of screenings at the IMAX dome of the Tech Museum in downtown San Jose, heart of Silicon Valley. I am so glad I got the chance to see this apparently rare Malick film, since it is clear there won't be many chances in the future. If I hadn't, it would have forever been "the Malick that got away." But in a way, it still is the Malick that got away.
First, let me say that I adore Malick and his films, and while "Voyage of Time" is impeccably filmed with gorgeous analog and digital scenes, and while I certainly understand the overarching concept, the final product, after all this time, feels truncated. Perhaps that has something to do with recent nasty lawsuits filed from Seven Seas, the backers of the film, claiming that the production company had blown through $6 million without a film to show for it. Maybe in an effort to show that there was indeed a product, "Voyage of Time" feels cobbled together. Of course the production company has filed a countersuit claiming that Seven Seas never had the finances to support the film to begin with. Whatever the reason, we have only a 45-minute, painfully condensed tour of the story of creation. We witness pristine digital images of what must be the birth of the universe, of this reality. But there's an awful lot of time and space to cover, and while we move from prebiotics to single celled life, through some truly breathtaking footage of places like Iceland which stands in for the ancient Earth, to jelly fish and dinosaurs, we only see the briefest manifestation of human beings. And I have to wonder why the only city--out of all the major cities in the world--we ever see is Dubai. Humanity feels like an afterthought, but when one looks at the time line of this planet, we are pretty new here. Maybe Malick's point is that we are not the point!
Given the mind bogglingly expansive subject matter, I was expecting a grand statement, something visually, mentally, and spiritually transcendent. "Voyage of Time" is beautifully filmed, in the meditative style Malick is known for, and it certainly does give one space for thought and contemplation, but at the end, I felt like I had watched a film at a pavilion at a World's Fair...albeit a lovely, thought provoking film. But I have to wonder if this is truly what Malick had in mind, what he wanted and hoped for this film, for decades.
The good news is that the IMAX version will be released in a super wide screen format in selected regular theaters around the country this month, December, 2016. Officially titled "Voyage of Time: The IMAX Experience in Ultra Widescreen 3.6," the film has been re-cut without any narration which is, according to Variety, how Malick originally intended the film to be shown.
Recommend? Yes, it is a thing of beauty. Don't let my musings put you off. Keep an eye out for it and if it is near you, do make an effort.