Visitors to the Jamestown Settlement in Virginia can roam through reconstructions of the original Virginia Company colony and its environs, fantasizing about "the unspoiled America," when the possibilities for a fledgling nation seemed limitless. In 2005, writer-director Terrence Malick released The New World, his own interpretation of the founding of Jamestown, and though it was met with mixed reviews and middling box-office, some cinephiles watched it repeatedly—even after Malick cut the running time from 150 minutes to 135—because they were enraptured by the movie's vision of the natural world, and how man struggles to thrive in it. Like the Jamestown tourist attraction, The New World was an immersive experience for some, but one with a stronger command of metaphor.
The New World: The Extended Cut stretches the film to 170 minutes, keeping the clearer narrative structure of the 135-minute cut while restoring some of the more lyrical interludes of the 150-minute version. Typical of Malick, the longer New World can come off as a little aimless, but it's well-balanced, and never feels overlong. The first hour deals primarily with John Smith's endeavors to trade with the Powhatan Confederacy, and his infatuation with the "natural" lifestyle embodied by the lovely Pocahontas. The second hour covers the colonists' growing conflict with the natives, and Smith's subsequent exile from paradise. And then the third hour is about Pocahontas marrying John Rolfe and sailing to England, where she finds a different kind of natural beauty.
Malick elicits strong performances and poetic voiceovers from Colin Farrell as Smith, Christian Bale as Rolfe, and Q'Orianka Kilcher as Pocahontas, but for the most part, the humans are no more significant to the film than the images of grassy marshes swallowing ungainly suits of armor. Every visual and audio element in the film advances Malick's meditation on the question, "Shall we not take what we are given?" Our enduring fascination with the Jamestown story has a lot to do with the meaning of that question, and Malick offers conflicting answers in scenes of Smith being drawn to Pocahontas' primitive society, Pocahontas being drawn to Rolfe's refined culture, and the tall Virginia trees swaying back and forth.
Key features: If you have a PC, good news! You can download a copy of The New World to your computer. Got a Mac? Then ye be cast out of Eden.