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STUDIO: New Line Home Video
RUNNING TIME: 135 Minutes
SPECIAL FEATURES: Making The New World (60 min. documentary)
What? Pocahontas wasn’t a 6’ tall Technicolor Amazon goddess who belonged in Maxim? She didn’t marry ole Johnny Smith? And what?! She didn’t live happily ever after? WTF?! You mean Disney lied??!!
Colin Farrell, Q’Orianka Kilcher, Christopher Plummer, Christian Bale, Wes Studi, David Thewlis, August Schellenberg.
"Is there something wrong my love?"
"Well it’s just that you had much bigger cans in the Disney flick…"
In 1607 Virginia, some of the first illegal aliens arrived in the form English settlers who landed and set up shop in Indian territory. Among them is John Smith (Farrell), who came to his new digs in the brig for an undisclosed transgression and was due to celebrate his new American citizenship with a hanging party. But his captain (Plummer) decides to let him go and it’s not long before they’re building a fort and establishing tenuous relations with local savages. Among said primitives is a young girl who likes to run around and play and who’s never actually identified by name, but whom we all know as Pocahontas (Kilcher). When Smith is separated from his scouting party, he ends up in the midst of the Indians and strikes up a more-than-chummy relationship with the young girl.
As their love grows, it soon comes time for Smith to return to the fort, with the understanding from the Chief and Pocahontas’ father, Powhatan (Schellenberg), that when Spring comes, Smith and the others are to leave or risk getting tomahawk put to head. That’s exactly what happens as the Indians attack and the settlers barely manage to survive. Pocahontas and Smith continue to see each other, even after Pocahontas is exiled from her tribe for helping the settlers and Smith against her father’s wishes. Pocahontas is taken into the settlement and becomes one of them, learning the ways of the English and being rechristened as Rebecca along the way. Soon Smith is called away to explore the Canadian territory by the King of England and leaves word with Pocahontas that he’s dead so that she’ll forget about him. A heartbroken Pocahontas soon finds another John, Rolfe (Bale), and marries him. Eventually, however, she learns that Smith is still alive. Not long after, she journeys to England with Rolfe and their son at the request of the King and Queen and is introduced at court. After a reckoning with Smith, Pocahontas makes her choice between him and Rolfe.
Up front, like Malick’s only other movie in the last two decades, The Thin Red Line, this is simply a gorgeous film, told in Malick’s signature voiceover narration method. He mixes stunning visuals of the Virginia countryside, the settlers’ camp and Indian settlements with the introspective musings of both Smith and Pocahontas to dramatic fashion. His narration style is what sets his films that I’ve seen apart most of all, and it carries you through the film in minimalist fashion as he lets the events unfold and tell the story itself without clogging it up with wordy dialogue. Farrell is decent in the role of Smith, but despite his being the protagonist, the film is ultimately told from Pocahontas’ point of view and the stunning young Kilcher is quite good in the role.
Yet despite how well the film is shot and told, at 135 minutes, it does creep along in a couple of places. And aside from Plummer, who is in about 15 minutes of the film, and Bale, who shows up for the last act as Pocahontas’ husband, many of the rest of the performances are anonymous and ultimately forgettable. There’s so many Indians flying around in war paint that it’s hard to pick any of them out from a lineup and almost none of them are distinguishable save for Pocahontas’ father, and warrior, Opechancanough (Studi). Of course Studi has made a career of playing many Indian characters, but it feels like a backslide of 15 years somewhat to such a minor Indian role here. Irene Bedard, the voice of Pocahontas in the two Disney films, puts in an appearance as Pocahontas’ mother also. James Horner provides the score and it’s understated like Malick’s narrative style and appropriate, if not as memorable as some of his many other works.
I don’t really know that much about Terrence Malick, other than he puts in just enough work to keep his DGA card current and is intensely private. And even though this film is as beautifully told as just about anyone could tell it, I can’t help but wonder why, of all the stories out there, he settles on Pocahontas and Smith. Certainly there’s nothing wrong with telling that story, but it just seems like there’s better ones to tell and theirs is reserved for TV, after school specials or Disney films. Nevertheless, Malick’s ability in spinning a good yarn told in a unique way is undeniable. I wish he’d do it more often.
The movie was nominated for an Oscar in cinematography (D.P. Emmanuel Lubezki), so it looks damn good, especially in 2.35:1. the sound is in an understated 5.1 or Stereo Surround, which isn’t always needed because Malick mostly tells the story visually. The cover art is rather unimpressive when judged against how beautiful the film itself looks (I was kind of partial to the 1492: Conquest of Paradise art myself). There are a teaser trailer and theatrical trailer of the film, but the real treasure is Making The New World, a 60-minute, ten-part documentary covering everything from origins of the story to pre-production and all the way through post. Excellent documentary, even though Malick doesn’t contribute to it.