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The New World (2006)

Action & Adventure and Drama movie directed by Terrence Malick

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Awe: The Quiet Curiosity and Fear When Worlds First Meet

  • May 13, 2006
  • by
Terrence Malick is a master of understatement and it is that quality of his writing and directing that makes THE NEW WORLD so luminous an experience for the viewer. Though the historical material in this film has been told and written and filmed to exhaustion, Malick finds that awe and wonder as the Old World of the King James' England puts ashore on the pure and unsoiled land of Virginia of 1607 to an audience of naively innocent 'naturals' who are as fascinated with the arrivals of the visitors as the English are curious yet fearful of the 'savages' they may face in this new place. This is an interior film that just happens to be filmed in the wonders of the meadows and rivers and seaside of nature resplendent.

Malick has wisely elected to have the meeting between the naturals and the English remain in their own languages: the Indians speak a beautiful language that is not translated for the audience, a fact that adds to the feeling of 'the other' on both sides. And it is this separateness that makes the story credible. Upon landing Captain Newport (Christopher Plummer) cancels the scheduled hanging of Captain John Smith (Colin Farrell) and sets rules for the newly formed Jamestown, which he soon leaves to return to England, leaving Captain Smith in charge. It is Smith's duty to meet with the naturals in an attempt to gain needed food supplies. The magic that occurs with this meeting of 'the stranger' with the naturals is the epitome of discovery. Smith is saved from execution by the Chief Powhatan's (August Schellenberg) favored daughter Pocahontas (Q'Orianka Kilcher) and lives with the naturals, learning their innocence of spirit and falling in love with Pocahontas.

But Smith is returned to his fort, suffers misadventures among his own men, sustains attacks by the disenchanted naturals, and eventually returns to England, telling his friend to inform Pocahontas that he has drowned. Pocahontas is outcast from her community because of her kindness to the English and is placed in Jamestown where she is 'assimilated' by the new arrival of English. Among the new arrivals is John Rolfe (Christian Bale) who falls in love with Pocahontas and though she does not love Rolfe she consents to the arranged marriage because Rolfe is kind and because she believes her beloved Smith to be dead. The two have a child and Rolfe takes his little family to England where Pocahontas is presented at court for her invaluable aid to the English. She discovers Smith is still alive, dies, and Rolfe and son return to Jamestown. No spoilers, these: this is historically accurate reporting of stories we have all known from grade school.

All of this majestic story is told primarily in silence with the stream of conscious dialogue from each character spoken in voice over. The sounds of nature accompany the action in an eerily perfect manner. Many have praised James Horner's musical score for this film and it is a score that contributes to the beauty of the film: the fact is there is little original music here, the use of Wagner's 'Das Rheingold' accompanies the extended opening and recurs for the big moments while Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 23 is used extensively for the quiet moments. Yes, it works, but there is not much other original music to praise.

But that is the only quibble with those who have raved about this film. It does weave its spell under Malick's understanding eye and is beautifully cast with first-rate actors who are asked to render their characters physically and with their eyes rather than words. Farrell, Kilcher, Bale, Thewlis, Plummer and the large supporting cast are exemplary. What, then, Malick has given us in this majestic film is that sense of wonder of the unknown, the thin thread between curiosity and threat that spins the coming together of cultures. And that sense of awe is still propelling the forces of the world today. If only all such interactions would hold the respect of this initial encounter. Highly recommended. Grady Harp, May 06

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More The New World (2006) reviews
review by . January 29, 2009
If you expect The New World to be historically accurate, it's bound to disappoint. If, however, you approach it as a 17th century love story/adventure, there is much to admire. And the title runs in two directions. The world is a new one for the English settlers, but also for the natives, especially Pocahontas, who journeys to old England and experiences a world she could never have imagined.   It's puzzling why an actor of the stature of Christopher Plummer would accept the role of Captain …
review by . September 24, 2006
posted in Movie Hype
THE NEW WORLD is supposedly a film about John Smith, Pocahontas, and John Rolfe. I say supposedly because even though the plot of the film is centered around the love triangle between the three, the film really has very little to do with them. That's because this is a film written and directed by Terrence Malick. Malick's movies have a style completely of their own and there is no other filmmaker who makes movies the way Malick does. Malick's movies are like viewing a piece of continuous art that …
review by . June 18, 2006
posted in Movie Hype
'The New World' envelops the viewer with laguorous grandeur. The story is familiar; we have known since our earliest days the story of Captain John Smith and his people's pilgrimage to the new world. But the presentation in this film shakes the dust off our familiarity. The camera shots and acting are expert for making us feel like we, too, are on that same journey with all its awe and innocense. Refreshingly, the portrayal of natives and pilgrims is not clearly drawn as just heroes and villains …
review by . June 05, 2006
Actually The New World was beautifully filmed. I had expected it to be the same ole historical recounting of events - on teh contrary, it was organic and meserizing. For some odd reason the romantisized script added an intriguing depth. While maybe not completely factual, the film interjected soulful characterization into one of America's first romantic stories.     Pocahontis (I can't remember the actress' name) was luminous and enchanting. Collin Ferrall seemed a little lost, …
About the reviewer
Grady Harp ()
Ranked #96
Grady Harp is a champion of Representational Art in the roles of curator, lecturer, panelist, writer of art essays, poetry, critical reviews of literature, art and music, and as a gallerist. He has presented … more
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About this movie


The legend of Pocahontas and John Smith receives a luminous and essential retelling by maverick filmmaker Terrence Malick. The facts of Virginia's first white settlers, circa 1607, have been told for eons and fortified by Disney's animated films: explorer Smith (Colin Farrell) and the Native American princess (newcomer Q'orianka Kilcher) bond when the two cultures meet, a flashpoint of curiosity and war lapping interchangeably at the shores of the new continent. Malick, who took a twenty year break between his second and third films (Days of HeavenandThe Thin Red Line), is a master of film poetry; the film washes over you, with minimal dialogue (you see characters speak on camera for less than a quarter of the film). The rest of the words are a stream-of-consciousness narration--a technique Malick has used before but never to such degree, creating a movie you feel more than watch. The film's beauty (shot in Virginia by Emmanuel Lubezki) and production design (by Jack Fisk) seems very organic, and in fact, organic is a great label for the movie as a whole, from the dreadful conditions of early Jamestown (it makes you wonder why Englishman would want to live there) to the luminescent love story. Malick is blessed with a cast that includes Wes Studi, August Schellenberg, Christopher Plummer, and Christian Bale (who, curiously, was also in the Disney production). Fourteen-year-old Kilcher, the soul of the film, is an amazing find, and Farrell, so often tagged as the next big ...
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Director: Terrence Malick
Genre: Action, Drama, Adventure
Screen Writer: Terrence Malick
DVD Release Date: May 9, 2006
Runtime: 150 minutes
Studio: New Line Home Video
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