In 1998 Harvard and AFI Conservatory educated Terrence Malick’s The Thin Red Line hit cinemas. The film featured an all-star ensemble cast, sharp editing, and glorious naturalistic cinematography. Despite mostly positive reviews from critics, the slowly and oddly paced WWII film was not a hit amongst audiences. True, the film nearly doubled its $52 million dollar budget, but reactions at prominent movie sites such as imdb.com and rottentomatoes.com tell another story. Audiences felt as though the story simply lacked physical action and a definite connecting vein to the characters. All of the aforementioned is certainly present in Malick’s latest film The Tree of Life.
Notice that Malick’s education is mentioned in the first sentence of the first paragraph. Obviously the man is intelligent, but far too often certain filmmakers make films as a representation of their intellect rather than for an audience’s entertainment. The Tree of Life is one of the grandest examples of what an odyssey could possibly be. As the trailer and synopsis indicates, the creation of the heavens and earth, dinosaurs roaming the earth, tragedy within a small family, and the afterlife are all present within the 139 minutes of running time. For 139 minutes the viewers are treated to splendid visuals and superb acting. The problem lies in the fact that there is minimal dialogue and frequently it is left up to the viewer to decide what has happened. The ending of a film left up to the viewer is sometimes acceptable, but not scene after scene. Even Sean Penn of The Tree of Life has stated that the screenplay did not transcend as well unto the screen as he expected.
Emmanuel Lubezcki will most likely receive (and rightfully so) an Academy Award nomination for his photography. But all of the moments captured were mostly desolate locations of volcanoes and mountain peaks. There are the stern but nurturing scenes of Brad Pitt being the patriarch of his family. But all of the character scenes are equally as random and non-engaging as the evolution scenes. As a film fanatic I would like to further study this film. As a moviegoer I can only recommend it for other enthusiasts and film students.
It is very strange that Douglass Trumball has not yet won an Academy Award for his stylistic yet highly realistic special effects that have made Blade Runner and 2001: A Space Odyssey some of the front runners in the genre of science fiction. I admire that Malick summoned Trumball to assist with the effects, rather than depend on computer-generated imagery. I only wished that this great looking, well edited, and wonderfully acted movie had more emotional charge and physical action. Not “Michael Bay shit explodes for no reason action”, but just simply…action. In regards to 2001: A Space Odyssey, Terrence Malick’s latest effort will be cherished by critics and selected for preservation someday. But it will never enjoy the leisure screenings like other intelligent films such as Minority Report and Source Code. This is because the filmmakers of the previously mentioned films knew that they had an audience to please.