'Voyage of Time'
In many ways ‘Voyage of Time’ is the movie that Terrence Malick has been building toward over the last decade of his career. It’s purely a collection of extraordinary nature imagery chronicling the history of the Earth from the Big Bang to skyscrapers. Picture something halfway between an IMAX nature documentary and ‘Koyaanisqatsi’ and you’ve pretty much got it.
The movie is absolutely stunning to behold in the IMAX format, and given that it’s only 45 minutes long in that form, it plays rather wonderfully. That is normally when attention starts to wander in a contemporary Malick picture, so it’s a good end point. There’s also a 90 minute cut in 4K and… well… it highlights why the shorter version is ideal.
This project was originally intended to be an IMAX companion to ‘The Tree of Life’ and sure feels like that, right down to the Brad Pitt narration. In fact, much of the stunning “history of the world” footage from that film was pulled out of this project. In terms of plot (if you can call it that), Pitt narrates the history of the planet as told to a little girl (presumably his fictional daughter). The girl appears briefly, but mostly the movie is comprised of beauty shots. The Big Bang is shown through almost experimental photography. Early planetary life comes from stock footage. There are CGI forms of early life right up to the dinosaurs, only created with stunning detail. Somehow, even the dinos seem to be looking off into the distance contemplating existence. (That’s Malick for ya! Spielberg he ain’t.)
Over the beautiful footage, Pitt’s quiet voice lays out the story of the planet in broad terms. It’s patly a science lecture and partly philosophy lecture, guided by incredible footage that would make even the folks behind ‘Planet Earth’ jealous. Blown up to full IMAX format, the results are hypnotic. In fact, you might almost wish that there was no voiceover at all and the film played as a tone poem. Unfortunately, that would simply be too close to an experimental art film for commercial IMAX release. The movie already blurs the lines between cinematic poetry and conventional educational nature docs. While I’m sure Malick would be pleased to go full art house, that simply wouldn’t be viable in this format.
The longer version of the movie subs in Cate Blanchett for Pitt, and her narration is far more esoteric. It plays like the poetic ruminations from a normal Malick movie, divorced from any sort of plot. Frakly, it feels a little silly. At 90 minutes, there may be more beauty shots, but the viewing experience is also far more tedious. At 45 minutes and in IMAX, this thing is a rather extraordinary cinematic experience. It’s at once a throwback to the old IMAX nature docs that used to dominate the format and those screens before Christopher Nolan and ‘The Dark Knight’ converted those theaters into a blockbuster venue.
At the same time, this is also an uncompromising auteurist piece the likes of which the format has never scene. ‘Voyage of Time’ is a fascinating IMAX experience that will hopefully get a wide enough release to remind people of just how remarkable those cinemas can be when utilized to their full potential. It’s unlikely that there will ever be another experimental IMAX film, and Terrence Malick was certainly the guy to do it. Be sure to seek it out if and when this beautifully pretentious project gets a proper release.