Cinematic Releases: Voyage of Time - The IMAX Experience (2016) - Reviewed

Ever since the long revered American film director, screenwriter and producer Terrence Malick released his 2011 Palme d’Or winner The Tree of Life, the artist who everyone once drew comparisons to Kubrick and Tarkovsky was now the most divisive filmmaker still working today.  Having formed a new legion of fans while alienating longtime supporters with his newfound abstract approach the still reclusive 72 year old auteur called a legend in his own time was eventually generally dismissed as pretentious and self-indulgent by the film community.  Clearly a formidable artist and among the few remaining filmmakers to truly challenge mainstream notions of film language and narrative structure, there are facets of his recent output that have definitely incurred controversy among financiers and engendered frustration from his always stellar cast members.  While Malick’s finished film having gone through the editing stages rarely if ever resembles the script as shot on set with his actors, there was a time back when he made Badlands and Days of Heaven where he focused on one project at a time and gave his all to each individual film until it was perfected and representative of that project alone and nothing besides.  That time has long since passed as everything from The Tree of Life, To the Wonder and Knight of Cups all bore the distinction of being in production around the same time before spending years in post-production while elements and shots from each of the disparate projects couldn’t help but become repurposed or shared among one another.  Nowhere is that dilemma truer or more evident than in his latest endeavor, Voyage of Time

Originally initiated in the 1970s under the title Q, the project was abandoned while footage shot for it wound up going into the creationism montage of The Tree of Life.  Eventually reignited by Seven Seas with elements and funds of what became renamed Voyage of Time, Malick focused his attention and funds into four other film projects which were simultaneously in production while only merely tinkering with Voyage of Time over the course of six years.  Much like The New World, Voyage of Time bears the distinction of being released in two different versions, one of which is a forty minute G rated version designed for IMAX theaters with voiceover narration by Brad Pitt and a ninety minute PG-13 rated version for general release 35mm theaters with voiceover narration by Cate Blanchett.  Both versions were of course prepared by Malick with the intention of the project playing to different arenas with the long version reportedly containing additional scenes and preexisting footage while the IMAX version showcases all of the painstaking visual effects supervised by special effects wizard Douglas Trumbull with the advent of 65mm resolution and rich, thundering sound akin to IMAX exhibition.  

Intended in some ways to be Malick’s equivalent to Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey or Nolan’s Interstellar, Voyage of Time as it stands is more or less a reworking of the creationism montage in The Tree of Life with images of microphotography, the universe, stars, planets, and reimagining the beginning of time back to the dinosaurs up through the evolution of mankind.  It’s a visually and sonically breathtaking out of body experience which is of course incredibly beautiful to behold but much like Malick’s prior three features following The Tree of Life, there’s a sense of déjà vu watching Voyage of Time.  In other words, Malick’s work is beginning to blur together by more or less repeating itself and revisiting themes already explored in his earlier films.  Much of it is left open to interpretation but while everything up to The Tree of Life bore something completely new we hadn’t seen before, every subsequent Malick film including this one looks and feels like the last.

I enjoyed Voyage of Time as a purely aesthetic pleasure of visual and sonic innovation with images that are staggeringly beautiful and I also don’t feel like the shorter version is a truncation, as from the sound of things it plays very differently than the longer version.  That said, while Voyage of Time is something Malick was kicking around for almost forty years, now that it has arrived in the aftermath of The Tree of Life it isn’t exactly doing anything different.  It’s lovely to see and hear with one of the most realistic depictions of the asteroid which wiped out the dinosaurs striking the Earth that has ever been depicted, but for all its audiovisual splendor and soft whispers peppered throughout the soundtrack it doesn’t feel bold.  Mostly it’s a chance to see what Malick looks like in the IMAX format with epic vistas of the world , the universe and beyond and in that sense I wasn’t disappointed.  In terms of how it stacks up to his oeuvre, Malick is becoming somewhat repetitious and I’m not sure if that’s because of his ideas or the fact that he has so many different projects going on at once that they all tend to blur together.  As an IMAX movie it serves its purpose admirably and does offer up some of the most exquisite images ever displayed in the IMAX format.  As a Malick movie its somewhat underwhelming in terms of content and how it stacks up to Badlands or Days of Heaven, but it was pretty to behold.


- Andrew Kotwicki