Met with a rather lukewarm critical response on release in 2005 and barely managing to make back its $30 million budget at the box office, Terrence Malick’s The New World was later ranked by several critics as one of the best films of the decade. As with any of Malick’s films, the film was evidently a lot to digest and took a long time for many to process – and with a new Blu-ray release from Criterion dropping in the UK 15 years after release, it seems like people are still reappraising the epic historical drama.
With the usual arresting and poetic visuals Malick is known and loved for, The New World is a slow and often unfocused yet poetic journey through the early 1600s. Following the timeless tale of Pocahontas, Captain Smith and John Rolfe, the film is a much more fleshed out and powerful adaptation of the ground covered by Disney’s 1995 hit. Described as a visual novel, The New World is a colossal work with the Extended Cut clocking in at just shy of three hours. While it is, at times, arguably rather sluggish, it is always visually beautiful and hypnotic in its sweeping, poetic delivery.
Despite a supremely talented all-star cast including Colin Farrell, Christian Bale, Christopher Plummer and more, the real star of the show is Q’orianka Kilcher who delivers a stunning, transfixing performance as the iconic Pocahontas. Her awards-calibre performance leaves the rest of the cast in her shadow.
The Guardian’s John Patterson called The New World a “bottomless movie, almost unspeakably beautiful and formally harmonious” despite its critical reception “characterised for the most part by bafflement, condescension, lazy ridicule and outright hostility”. Don’t let that reception fool you – this is a towering, beautiful work that has since earned its place in cinema history. In a 2016 international critics’ poll by BBC, the film was voted the 39th greatest film since 2000 and this new Blu-ray release certainly shows why. Encompassing three cuts of the film and a wealth of special features across three packed discs, this beautiful release will delight fans of the film and enthral newcomers who approach it with an open mind and heart.
Full to the brim with Mallickian splendour, this tender and thoughtful epic is the finest cinematic adaptation of the Pocahontas story. Take that, Disney!