Sunday, March 27, 2011

Countdown to nirvana

In a career that spans nearly four decades, reclusive filmmaker Terrence Malick has made only four feature films: Badlands, Days of Heaven, The Thin Red Line and The New World. The fifth, The Tree of Life, will be released to U.S. theaters on May 27, 2011 – two months from today. Count me among the legion of fans who CAN'T FUCKING WAIT.

The Thin Red Line knocked me out when I first saw it as an 18-year-old college student. That's the best moviegoing experience of my life. The first 10 minutes – showing Private Witt (Jim Caviezel) living with the natives on an island in the South Pacific – are among the most beautiful in the history of cinema. I'm not alone in this assessment; filmmakers like Martin Scorsese and David Gordon Green speak about this movie with reverent awe.

I'm also a huge fan of Badlands, while I merely admire Days of Heaven and The New World. We don't know a whole lot about The Tree of Life, but judging by the trailer and what some of the filmmakers involved have had to say, I'm confident the film will be on the same level as The Thin Red Line.

From the trailer, we know the main action will take place in the Midwest in the 1950s, with Brad Pitt and Jessica Chastain playing the parents of an 11-year-old boy, Jack (Hunter McCracken); Jack will be played as a grown-up by Sean Penn. The trailer includes jaw-dropping cutaways to outer space, and comes tantalizingly close to confirming rumors that the film will incorporate prehistoric scenes featuring dinosaurs. We also know the characters will speak in the kind of poetic narration/internal monologues ("Unless you love, your life will flash by") that have become one of Malick's signatures.

Malick has brought iconic special-effects supervisor Douglas Trumbull out of retirement, after a 30-year absence from the movies. Trumbull is responsible for the groundbreaking FX in Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey and Ridley Scott's Blade Runner, and his work on The Tree of Life suggests this may be Malick's most visually ambitious movie to date. Trumbull recently spoke with Mark Juddery of the Australian about teaming up with a fellow film legend.

The film will feature an original score composed by Alexandre Desplat. The French composer (Birth, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button) spoke with AlloCine about Malick's unusual approach to film editing; you can read the English translation here.

This is pure speculation on my part, but I'm hoping The Tree of Life is actually Q, a screenplay Malick wrote in the late 1970s after he finished Days of Heaven. In one version of Q, the story begins "with a sleeping god, underwater, dreaming of the origins of the universe, starting with the big bang and moving forward, as fluorescent fish [swim] into the deity’s nostrils and out again." Peter Biskind discusses Q – and Malick's other pursuits during his 20-year hiatus from filmmaking – in this Vanity Fair article that ran shortly before the release of The Thin Red Line, The Runaway Genius.

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