The New World opens at the dawn of the 17th century, just prior to the European colonization of the Americas when the North American population consisted primarily of indigenous American Indian tribes, and isolated Spanish colonies. In 1607, three maritime vessels approach the unfamiliar continent, with 103 sailors on board. As members of the Virginia Company, these adventurers carry a royal charter to found a colony on the edge of the new continent. John Smith sits chained below one of the decks. He has been sentenced to death by hanging upon the ships’ docking because of his mutinous grumblings. Nevertheless, Captain Christopher Newport acknowledges Smith's ability to aid with exploration and pardons Smith as a result.
Upon landing, Smith seeks assistance from the Algonquian tribes with colonization, but runs into a hostile band of warriors and is brought to Chief Powhatan as a prisoner. Just as Smith is about to be clubbed to death by a warrior, a young beautiful Algonquian princess, who is curious about the English strangers, steps in between the executioner and Smith. The young girl, Powhatan’s youngest daughter, Pocahontas, persuades her father to spare Smith’s life. John Smith learns of the Indians' peaceful and happy lifestyle by spending time with Pocahontas, and eventually they fall in love. Their relationship makes Chief Powhatan uneasy.
Eventually Smith returns to Jamestown with a band of Pocahontas’ villagers, who intend to aid the hungry men of the Virginia Company. Soon Smith, whose usual aggressiveness has been calmed by Pocahontas and the tranquility of her world, encounters conflict with his fellow Britons. The tension between the settlers and the Native Americans builds, and a battle erupts between them. Before the battle, Pocahontas went to inform Smith; as a result, her father exiles her, and she is sent to the realms of her father's cousin in the North. While she is there, the Chieftain trades her for a copper kettle so the men of Jamestown can hold her as a captive to stop the massacres. Smith doesn't agree with taking her as the hostage, but his fellow took over the captainship from him and took her in.
Smith meets her again to reconcile, but soon decides to leave her for another conquest project commissioned by the King of England. At the requests of Smith, a fellow settler is forced to lead Pocahontas into believing that Smith is dead. Pocahontas spends the rest of her life living with the British settlers. She soon adopts the English way of life and is later baptized and renamed “Rebecca”. In her grief for Smith, the Algonquian princess has retreated into a world of solitude, and she refuses to speak to anyone. In a few months she accepts the hand of plantation owner John Rolfe in marriage, and the couple runs its homestead and eventually have a son. After a few years Pocahontas is invited to England with her family. The Lady Rebecca is an instant sensation among the British aristocracy, and she is amazed by the new sights she sees in the country. She meets Smith once more before deciding that she will remain loyal to Rolfe with whom she has fallen in love. Before she can return to Virginia she sickens and passes away, leaving Rolfe to care for their son, Thomas.
The New World is the first studio feature in nine years to be at least partially shot on 65 mm film (for non-visual effect shots). The previous one was Kenneth Branagh's Hamlet (1996), which was filmed entirely in 65 mm.
The film's love scenes between Colin Farrell's character and the then 14-year-old Kilcher caused some controversy, resulting in the film studio deleting several scenes with Farrell to avoid child pornography accusations.Kilcher admitted in several interviews that kissing Farrell during filming was her first kiss.
The film was originally set to be released in November 2005, but release had to be postponed as Malick was still editing the enormous amount of footage he had shot; the director is notorious for editing his films until the last minute, often trimming his films and leaving entire characters out of the final print, as is the case with The Thin Red Line.
In early December, a 150-minute version was shown to critics for awards season consideration and was released for a week from Christmas to New Year's Day in two theaters each in Los Angeles and New York to qualify for the Academy Awards.
For the film's wide release, which began on January 20, 2006, Malick re-edited the film again, cutting it to 135 minutes, but also adding footage not seen in the first release and altering some of the film's extensive voiceovers to clarify the plot. Substantial changes were made to the first half-hour of the picture, seemingly to speed the plot along.This version is the one released on DVD worldwide. The 150 minute version only saw DVD release in Italy as part of Italian distributor Eagle Pictures 2-disc set containing both the "short" and "long" version of the movie.
New Line has since announced that a 172-minute "extended version", closer in spirit to Malick's intended vision, will be issued on DVD in October 2008.
The effect of Malick's editing also resulted in a partial rejection of James Horner's score. Horner wrote and rewrote his score to scenes that were switched around, massively reedited, or thrown out of the film completely. His score then did not fit the film or did not make chronological sense in the film. For the final version, Malick combined pieces of Horner's music with the prelude to Wagner's Rheingold, Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 23, and other pieces to create the score to the film. Most of Horner's score as written for the film can be heard on the CD release.
Malick's film selectively blends recorded history with popular lore. It broadly follows the known life of Pocahontas, from her youth in the Powhatan village, to a period spent with the English settlers in Jamestown, her marriage to John Rolfe, her journey to London and early death; however, Malick diverges from available evidence in favor of the literary tradition that Pocahontas fell in love with John Smith.
The photography, the locations, the music and the beauty of Pocahontas make this a wonderful film, and shows the shows the world through the eyes of a person at one with nature, and shows the innocence we have lost. There is some criticism of the length and the slow pace of some of the film, but I believe this is making of the film, filming as it happens and in the very 'Spiritual' way in which such harmony with nature and though occurs. We could all learn from this film, theway to live and love.
This article was published on Monday 22 September, 2008.