Pocahontas at heart of Malick's 'New World'

Critics' Picks : New Dvds

May 07, 2006|By MICHAEL SRAGOW

THE NEW WORLD / / New Line Home Video / / / $27.98

In his remarkable The New World, writer-director Terrence Malick creates the best kind of latter-day "trip movie." He expands the heart and the mind through the eye. His vision of the founding of the Virginia colony at Jamestown in 1607 and the evolution of its savior, Pocahontas, from Indian princess to British tobacco-grower's wife, is both disorienting and revelatory, and, in the end, quite wonderful.

Malick surrounds his players in a dense sensory environment, with the happy result that a viewer can experience a shift in history with the skin-prickling directness of a change of season. The filmmaker sensitizes the audience to the living filigree of flora and fauna, and the different ways opposite communities of English and Indians take in everything from strangers to sunlight.

Thanks to gutsy, sensitive performers like Q'Orianka Kilcher (Pocahontas) and Christian Bale (her husband, John Rolfe), the virtues, flaws and aspirations of the characters spill out as if from some magic cornucopia. Malick depicts John Smith (Colin Farrell) and Pocahontas as lovers, though in real life they were not amorously attached (she was 11 in 1607). Yet the movie makes good use of their fictional affair. It illuminates Smith's despair and desire for escape as he struggles to sustain a starving, clueless group of colonists, and it helps account for Pocahontas' painful yet gratifying development of a European consciousness. Ultimately, the picture belongs more to Pocahontas than to Smith. He must go seeking the East Indies to prove himself. She renews every world she enters.

l Special features: This disc presents the 135-minute cut that ran in theaters when the movie spread nationwide after engagements in New York and Los Angeles. Preferable by far to the original 16-minute-longer version, it still may not be the perfect form of the film. According to newspaper reports, Malick was refining an expanded version for DVD during the theatrical release. Hard-core fans may want to wait for a "special edition" until they make their purchase. If they can't wait, at least they'll find on this handsome widescreen disc a refreshingly artful hour-long documentary, Making the New World, including interviews with the terrific design team - production designer Jack Fisk and costume designer Jacqueline West - though none with the ever-elusive Malick.


MUNICH / / Universal / / One-disc edition, 29.98, or two-disc limited edition, $39.98

Although Munich alternately disappointed and dismayed me as historical drama and as cinema, I looked forward to the DVD. I hoped that its special features would illuminate the choices that director Steven Spielberg and screenwriter Tony Kushner made when interpreting the Israeli government's program to target and kill Palestinians who had planned, aided or participated in the massacre of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich. Sadly, even on the "collector's edition," all we get is pseudo-journalistic blather about Spielberg's addiction to research and Kushner's supposedly prodigious reading in politics and philosophy. When Spielberg instructs his audience that artists must extend their empathy to all sides, it's as if he's jockeying to win the Nobel Peace Prize. He doesn't do himself any favors. If I were a betting man, I'd put my money on Bono.



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