NOTE: This is a review of the 44 minute IMAX version of the film titled Voyage of Time: The IMAX Experience.
Terence Malick’s latest film comes across as an afterthought. Conceived as a documentary about the origin of the universe and the wonders of the cosmos, it served as a companion piece to The Tree of Life. However, at over twice the length of the creation sequence in The Tree of Life, Voyage of Time doesn’t manage to do anything more than The Tree of Life already achieved.
It’s a visually gorgeous film and does a good job of not reusing any of the images from The Tree of Life. There are a few similar images, but most are distinguished enough from the film and approach some of the similar moments of evolution from a different perspective.
As a visual spectacle, this is as majestic as any of Malick’s other films. Since it deals with a time and space beyond our experience, there’s an ethereal otherworldliness to the imagery that is breathtaking. It’s one of the rare uses of modern visual effects that inspire awe and wonder instead of excitement and spectacle.
The problem is at 44 minutes, the film doesn’t have time to develop. There’s a 90 minute 35mm theatrical version I’ll catch up with at some point and I hope that one delves deeper into some of those ideas. I was hoping this would be akin to a 21st century Koyaanisqatsi that spanned all of space and time. Instead, it feels like a taste of a bigger idea.
And I think this is where we see the unfortunate result of Malick having his hand forced by the lawsuits. When his financial backers began to pursue legal recourse for his continual delays to releasing the film, among other issues, he quite unceremoniously dumped the film out into the world and it feels rough around the edges and half-baked. Granted, the 35mm theatrical run could smooth out some of these edges.
The narration also feels superfluous. Brad Pitt’s musings lack character. All of Malick’s other films have compelling narration because they are tied to a person’s ethnography. Here, it’s some disembodied Godlike voice musing about creation that the audience has no kind of emotional connection to at all. It’s impersonal.
However, in the context of IMAX documentaries, Voyage of Time is a visually magnificent film that treats its audience with respect as opposed to the typical documentary that condescendingly rattles off what is being seen and gives the audience no space for dialogue or interpretation. It’s a work of art, albeit a deeply flawed one, as opposed to a primarily educational tool. Both have value, but I prefer one much more than the other.
© 2016 James Blake Ewing