What on earth is happening to Terrence Malick? Less than two years after the ponderous art house experiment The Tree of Life (my initial thoughts here) won him the Palme D'Or at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival and earned three Academy Awards nominations (including a director nomination for Malick), he's returned with his latest, and it's already been screened at festivals (notably, last falls Venice Film Festival) and has a distributor (Magnolia Pictures) and a stateside release date (April 13th.) I'm confused and boggled and nearly dumbstruck, and not just in the sense that I'm still kind of reeling over The Tree of Life and it's metaphysical whatsits. First a bit of trivia-- Malick, in his fabled forty career has only released five motion pictures so far and is known and prone to take his time; for a new Malick entry to be ready a mere two years after last one was released and thusly heralded the masterpiece, as it would be, in many corners of the cinematic universe, is unheard of--- craziness. The steadiest he's ever worked before was between his brilliant debut Badlands (1973) and his follow-up, Days of Heaven, which made its way to theaters five years later.
What's to speak of his new found productivity, and as The Tree of Life professed...is it a good thing? So comes To the Wonder, a romantic spiritual something or other starring new-crowned Oscar king of the world Ben Affleck, Olga Kurylenko, Rachel McAdams and Javier Bardem. Some things in the canon of Malick's wonder never change as Rachel Weisz, Michael Sheen, Amanda Peet, Barry Pepper and Tree of Life alum Jessica Chastain all filmed roles that were eventually cut-- a business as usual affair when working for the reclusive artiste (Jim Caviezel famously thought he was the headliner of The Thin Red Line before realizing his part was all but vanished from the final product-- legend states he found out at the films premiere.) But regardless of productivity, To the Wonder as crackled down into trailer format looks more of the same hopelessly beautiful lost art sans narrative that The Tree of Life wrought. Sure, ace cinematography Emmanuel Lubezki is back, and he is any filmmaker's best asset, but will To the Wonder dither away with the same sheen of art house pornography?
The story as described by IMDb states To the Wonder is:
After visiting Mont Saint-Michel, Marina and Neil come to Oklahoma, where problems arise. Marina meets a priest and fellow exile, who is struggling with his vocation, while Neil renews his ties with a childhood friend, Jane.
Early reviews suggest that in the wake of The Tree of Life, perhaps Malick may have lost some of his magic:
Todd McCarthy, Hollywood Reporter
However accomplished Malick's technique might be in some ways, this mostly comes off, especially in the laborious second hour, as visual doodling without focused thematic goals.
Richard Corliss, Time Magazine
A ramble through the ecstasies of the natural world as experienced or ignored by little people on a giant, gorgeous planet.
A bigger question from me is, will there be dinosaurs?