DOASKDOTELL MOVIE REVIEWs of The New World (and Pocahontas)


Title:  The New World

Release Date:  2005

Nationality and Language: USA/UK, English

Running time: 135 min

MPAA Rating: PG-13

Distributor and Production Company: New Line Cinema

Director; Writer: Terrence Malick

Producer: Sarah Green

Cast:   Colin Farrell, Christian Bale, Q’Orianka Kilcher , August Schellenberg, Christopher Plummer

Technical: full wide screen

Relevance to DOASKDOTELL site: history, miscegenation


This account of the Genesis of Virginia and of the eventual nation is Spartan in dialogue to the core. I suspect that the spec script is less than eighty pages. This is another good recent example of a major studio (New Line) funding an “art film.” This is a film to be experienced, on the full wide screen, where the Panavision camera stays in constant focus at different depths into the Tidewater Virginia swamp, almost like 3-D without glasses. The theater did not say so, but I wondered if this was a DLP presentation. The credits give Jim Horner as the composer, but much of the background consists of the opening Water Music from Wagner’s Das Rheingold (as the ships approach at the beginning) and the f#-minor adagio movement from Mozart’s 23rd Piano Concerto. 


And it is a bit like science fiction. The natives (aka “the naturals”) see the three ships approach in the bay, and the effect on them could be comparable to the landing of three UFOs in our civilization. The explorers will gradually encounter the Indians, and enter a world that is as bizarre to us as any alien civilization. John Smith (Collin Farrell) visits a huge thatched common hall, where his body is subjected to some sort of ritual. (It seems in subsequent shots that his moderate chest hair is constantly varying.) He gradually gets to know Pochahontas (Q’orianka Kilcher, only 14). She really does not naively fall in love with him, but she intervenes (bodily) when Powhatan is about to have him executed in the ritual. Slowly, a gentle passion develops, even though it is kept very limited and tasteful. It hardly threatens to get out of hand. Eventually, John goes back to England, and is rumored to have died. Pochahontas takes to living with and marrying John Rolfe (Christian Bale) and eventually sails back to England. The scenes in Britain give us that other planet effect again, as the there is a certain comfort and standard of living in the estates, with their furnishings and spacious gardens (sorry, no electricity or Internet). She will have a mixed-race son, which provides a bit of irony as it would be Virginia that would have to have its miscegenation law struck down in 1967.


Much of the film chronicles the colonists’ building their own town, Jamestown, out of the natural resources (mostly wood) in the area. Life was grimy and most unpleasant. They are constantly dirty, soiled, smelly. They endure a winter which was surprisingly severe for Tidewater Virginia. Eventually, of course, Jamestown would be followed by Williamsburg, a few miles upstream, the site of William and Mary and the beginnings of my own personal debacle in 1961.


Virginia schools, loyal to Virginia history (especially as 2007, the 400th anniversary of Jamestown approaches), emphasize that Jamestown turned out to be a relatively poor location, however chosen for defendability. Another important concept that would develop quickly in all the colonies is the distinction between indentured servants and slaves.  


Pocahontas (1995, Walt Disney Pictures, dir. Mike Garbiel and Eric Goldberg, 81 min, G) is a tuneful and animated rendition of the Pocahontas story. The story is more intricate than in the Malick film, with Pocahontas singing about coming changes for the good and about her love for Captain John Smith, while Smith and Powhatan struggle and Ratcliffe looks for gold.



Related reviews:. The Thin Red Line,  Guess Who


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