A small 'World' after all
Malick still cutting pic
By DAVE MCNARY, GABRIEL SNYDER
Terrence Malick's "The New World" will bow Sunday -- but that doesn't mean the helmer's done tinkering with it.
Just days before its Christmas bow at two venues in Los Angeles and one in Gotham, director Malick has been trimming his historical drama from the 149-minute version shown to critics and advance screening auds.
Newer version is said to include 15-20 minutes of tweaks and trims, but has no major chunks cut out.
New Line will release the longer version this weekend, will show it at awards screenings and has sent out DVD screeners of it to such voting groups as members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences.
New Line execs will see a shorter version soon and decide then which version will go out when the film expands late next month -- around the announcement of Academy Award nominations on Jan. 31.
New Line distribution and marketing toppertopper Rolf Mittweg told Daily Variety the studio will make a decision on the exact release pattern of the new version once Malick delivers the new cut, either later this week or early next week.
"It's all part of the process of working with Terrence Malick," Mittweg added. "He simply wants 'The New World' to be the best possible film that it can be."
Pic, centering on the arrival of the English at Jamestown and the story of Pocahontas, has already been reviewed extensively at the 149-minute length. Critics have delivered mixed reviews, with some carping about languid pacing.
Malick is famous for tweaking his films until the last minute.
Running times have been getting more intense scrutiny in lead-up media coverage. Nearly every review of and pre-release feature about Peter Jackson's "King Kong" has mentioned the ape epic's three-hour-plus length.
The length was cited by studio execs when explaining the giant primate's weekend boost after its slow Wednesday start: Auds may have needed to wait for the weekend when they had more free time to spend at the theater.
Likewise, the 164-minute running time for Steven Spielberg's "Munich," has been a frequent target for critics taking issue with the pic.
What do we make of this? Much as I pray Malick eventually delivers a cut that works, languor and overlength per se weren't the problems for me. Choppiness was. It's just possible that cutting it down further might have ironed out some of the movie's wonkier transitions, though my own nagging hunch was that it really needed to be longer, and that too much of the colonial context was getting short shrift as it was. Either way, I'm pretty keen to see this new cut, if only for academic reasons, and fingers crossed that it's some kind of an improvement.
25 years ago Kubrick did much the same thing with The Shining, which is 15 minutes longer in its US theatrical version than its European one. In that instance I think the shorter cut is the better movie, but it goes without saying that this isn't always so. (Look at Sergio Leone's Once Upon a Time in America for a particularly sad counter-example.)
With The Thin Red Line Malick had a wealth of footage to choose from and still managed to assemble a masterpiece. He's got a different struggle on his hands trying to crystallise The New World down to the very good film it often promised to be, without exacerbating its most serious flaws - rhythmic uncertainty, and unnecessarily confusing narrative lurches - yet further.
Those who haven't yet seen it now have a dilemma on their hands: which version to see first? I rather think that the rabidness of Malick-fandom among this site's regular readers will decide the issue. There's no way you guys are going to be able to wait beyond the weekend, right?
There's probably a discussion to be started, too, about whether it's exactly playing fair to screen one version to critics and voters and then release another. The cynic in me can't help but detect a whiff of New Line panic here. Maybe even Malick panic. I just worry that if he's still trying to find the film at this late stage, it may actually have slipped his grasp for good.