There’s no doubt that filmmaker Terrence Malick has evolved his style significantly over the past few years. The Tree of Life feels like it may be the last narrative-driven feature film Malick will ever make, as the writer/director has since been altering the artform, approaching film more as a tone poem than traditional cinema. That’s not necessarily a bad thing—To the Wonder tells a compelling story with evocative imagery and voiceover. But when it comes to Malick’s long-in-the-works documentary Voyage of Time: Life’s Journey, it results in a hugely disappointing swing and a miss.
With Voyage of Time, Malick aims to chronicle the entire history of the Earth and its inhabitants, from the formation of our galaxy to the eventual death of the sun, which in turn will wipe out all life on Earth. It’s a cyclical process, you see, and Voyage of Time drives this theme home over and over and over again, never really rising above “The circle of life is cruel and awe-inspiring, isn’t it?”
The Creation sequence from Malick’s masterwork Tree of Life was but a mere prelude to Voyage of Time, as this documentary essentially expands that section to feature length. This subsequently moves to the formation of rocks, the oceans, the first organic life, dinosaurs, early humans, and cities over the course of the film’s 90-minute runtime. This nature footage is interspersed with grainy camcorder segments that Malick seems to have accumulated throughout the 90s. They aim to capture life in motion—old, young, healthy, sick, religious, etc.—with everything from the slaughtering of bulls to a Jewish marriage ceremony.
Oh, and Cate Blanchett’s here too. The Knight of Cups actress provides voiceover “narration”, if you can call it that. In reality, Blanchett sounds like she’s reciting a 90-minute-long poem directly addressing Mother Earth and/or our creator. Hushed sentences that begin with “Mother…” abound, most of which convey the same message. And that’s kind of Voyage of Time in a nutshell—a lot of repetition that amounts to the thematic resonance of a fortune cookie.
Don’t get me wrong, there’s some absolutely stunning images in this thing. There are really cool fish in the sea! The universe is scary! But at 90 minutes in length and a whole lot of circling the wagons, Voyage of Time will certainly test your patience. Indeed, there are two versions of the film being released—Life’s Journey, and a 45-minute IMAX cut simply called Voyage of Time: The IMAX Experience, narrated by Brad Pitt. I do think the film could more than get its point across in half the time, so perhaps the IMAX version of this is superior.
Malick is fascinating. He’s made truly remarkable movies in his career, and when he’s on, he’s on; his ambition in attempting to push the limits of cinema is admirable. But gorgeous imagery pondering our existence can only sustain so much of a film’s runtime when the thematic undercurrent is this simple. Even the most devoted Malick fan may find himself or herself bored to tears by Voyage of Time: Life’s Journey.
Voyage of Time: Life’s Journey does not currently have a release date. Voyage of Time: The IMAX Experience opens in theaters on October 7th.
To catch up on all of our TIFF 2016 coverage thus far click here, or peruse our list of reviews below:
- A Monster Calls
- American Pastoral
- The Bad Batch
- Free Fire
- The Magnificent Seven
- Nocturnal Animals