A trailer for our planet – if it were filmed by aliens.
Say what you will about Terrence Malick – that his dialogue is insufferable; that, since The Tree Of Life (which was iffy at best) the quality of his work has been on a tremendous downward spiral; that his reclusive status was preferable to the kind of navel-gazing, celebrity-showcasing rubbish that he puts out regularly nowadays – say anything you want about him, but one thing remains true:
The man knows how to film a visual spectacle.
Subtitled, ‘The IMAX experience’, and screening now at Melbourne’s IMAX theatre, Malick’s Voyage of Time is best described as a lengthy trailer for planet earth – if it were filmed by aliens. Throughout the film’s 45 minute runtime, in which the entire history of the universe and our planet is covered from the big bang to skyscrapers, Malick’s camera looks with lingering awe at waterfalls, barren landscapes, teeming microbes and ‘pre-mammalian’ lizard-y things. These visual marvels are offset by Brad Pitt’s cringe-inducingly insipid narration, as he muses with childlike wonder on the nature of things, and life, and how it all came to be. It’s an awkward clash that makes for an interesting viewing experience, made worth it because its director is so bloody good at filming waterfalls.
Malick reportedly took 40 years to conceive of the idea, get funding for the film, settle lawsuits with the original investors, and almost ten years to film it. He and his team have flown all over the world to capture some truly breathtaking footage using those irksomely huge IMAX cameras. Shots of the natural world are interspersed with CG interplanetary sequences that look like Enter the Void’s trippiest moments if they were rearranged by aerospace engineers. For this stuff, and for the sheer scope of the thing, it has to be commended. On the IMAX screen, it looks truly breathtaking, sometimes frighteningly so, with the orchestral score elevating its sense of divinity present in the film.
Why, then, must Brad Pitt refer to the audience as ‘child’? Why must he continue to ask ‘Life – what is it?’ with no intention of following up? The film is supposed to be a documentation of the creation of life on earth, but if that’s what you want, watch Neil deGrasse Tyson’s Cosmos. It’s informative and features a far more charismatic host.
Voyage of Time is visually spectacular and features moments of true beauty. It deserves to be seen, but you might do better to sit in the theatre, pick an atmospheric album (try Brian Eno’s ambient masterpiece Thursday Afternoon) and slip in your earphones for the duration. The film is a marvellous visual spectacle. As far as the dialogue goes, it’s one better left unheard.
Tom Bensley is a freelance writer in Melbourne who reviews anything he attends, watches or reads. It’s a compulsion, really. Follow him @TomAliceBensley.
Voyage of Time: The IMAX Experience is now screening at Melbourne’s IMAX theatre. The venue is wheelchair accessible.