- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 19, 2006

“The New World” is the fourth feature completed by Terrence Malick during a directing career that began in 1972 with “Badlands.” Though one of the least prolific filmmakers of his generation, Mr. Malick has beat the competition to a quadricentennial romantic spectacle about the founding of the Jamestown colony, incorporating such fateful aspects as the bond between Indian princess Pocahontas and English adventurer John Smith, the heroine’s marriage to settler John Rolfe and her premature death in England following a kind of celebrity tour of her adopted country.

This durably stirring chapter of history, encompassing about a decade that begins in 1607, overmatches Mr. Malick as a historical dramatist. Indeed, he has never excelled as a dramatist at all. His forte is evocative imagery emphasizing settings and portents rather than character delineation or social conflicts. The early sequences of the movie, actually shot in the Tidewater region, are so enamored of waterways and woodlands that they would suffice as a pantheistic tone poem.

A recent history, David A. Price’s “Love and Hate in Jamestown,” reminds you of what a gripping narrative might be derived from John Smith’s intrepid and wily efforts to preserve the colony against its own slackers and defeatists. Someone else will need to capitalize on that struggle.

As it transpires, Mr. Malick owes more to the Disney studio’s animated glorification of Pocahontas than to scholarly sources. Like the Disney romanticists, Mr. Malick trusts love at first sight as the emotional power source of his fable. Pocahontas is introduced as a coltish Miss Curiosity in the person of teenage newcomer Q’orianka Kilcher, half-Peruvian and exotically photogenic but desperately in need of direction when maturity catches up with her character. (Irene Bedard, who dubbed the voice of the title character in the melodic “Pocahontas” of 1995, is cast as the mother of Mr. Malick’s heroine.)

Several stumbling blocks mess with Mr. Malick’s matchmaking. His leading man is probably meant to help things smolder, but Colin Farrell’s stumpy, taciturn Capt. Smith is less attractive than Christian Bale’s tall, shyly deferential John Rolfe, a more promising cinematic suitor and visual match with Miss Kilcher. Since Capt. Smith began systematically familiarizing himself with the Algonquian language and became a publishing phenom after returning to England, a little more effort might have gone into portraying him as an articulate hero.

Mr. Malick recruits a commanding figure from Michael Mann’s “Last of the Mohicans,” Wes Studi, to portray the heroine’s uncle, Opechancanough, who was destined to succeed her father Powhatan (August Schellenberg) as the chief of chiefs — and mastermind of the most destructive Indian massacre of the settlers, in 1622. Knowing this calamity looms in the future makes Mr. Studi’s presence on the voyage to England with the Rolfes an effective element of dramatic irony.

Mr. Mann’s depiction of battle sequences remains the ferocious standard for all other movies about the Colonial period. Unfortunately, Mr. Malick’s shortwinded flareups never rival the Mann standard.

Mr. Malick’s pictorial expressiveness elevates the concluding episodes, when he manages to suggest that the English countryside and court make a “new world” impression on Pocahontas and Opechancanough comparable to the impact felt by Capt. Smith when exploring Virginia. The director finds scenic affinities between wilderness and formal gardens, for example, that are poetically effective even if the idea of their similarity remains a stretch.

At such moments Terrence Malick’s peculiar evocative skills shine through. Unfortunately, two hours of groping and inadequate dramatization separate the undeniable scenic highlights of “The New World.”

Editor’s note: The version of “The New World” reviewed here was 16 minutes longer than the newly edited 135-minute theatrical version opening nationwide today.

**

TITLE: “The New World”

RATING: PG-13 (Occasional nudity and graphic violence )

CREDITS: Written and directed by Terrence Malick. Cinematography by Emmanuel Lubezki. Production design by Jack Fisk. Costume design by Jacqueline West. Music by James Horner. Some dialogue in Algonquian with English subtitles.

RUNNING TIME: 135 minutes

WEB SITE: www.thenewworldmovie.com

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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