The theatrical version of The New World was near perfect. It was visually stunning and filled with amazing music and some terrific performances. Director Terrance Malick reportedly cut out over 30 minutes for theatrical release. That cut was released on DVD, and now for the first time we have his original version of the film. This extended version of The New World adds a lot of new footage, but most of the new footage was best left on the cutting room floor by Malick. It turns out he was right to shorten The New World considerably. What was once an ethereal and well-paced (slow to many though) look at John Smith and Pocahontas has now become a ponderous, self-indulgent, and unruly mess. It’s worth seeing once, and does not ruin the film by any means, it just feels like an unnecessary release that will appeal to hardcore Malick fanatics and not to a wider audience in the least.
The New World is about John Smith’s (a low-key Collin Farrell) arrival in the Jamestown settlement and his romance (if that is the right word) with a very young Pocahontas (amazing newcomer Q’orinaka Kilcher). We all know the story (legend, perhaps) about how Pocahontas falls for Captain Smith and how she asks for his life to be spared. Later on, she meets another man, a wealthy tobacco farmer named John Rolfe (an excellent Christian Bale), who asks for her hand in marriage. The film is really about Malick’s disdain for expansion and greed (many shots of still waters and land disturbed by the rumbling and stomping boots of the settlers) and a love of nature. All these shots that were so beautiful in the theatrical cut, now seem too long because of the footage that was added back in. There’s just too many shots of Pocahontas playing hide and seek with John Smith or prancing in fields to gorgeous classical music. There was just the right amount in the theatrical cut, and it was charming, but now it just feels grating.
The DVD looks and sounds gorgeous. The widescreen picture is pristine and amazing. The musical score feels alive with feeling and the dialogue-free passages of the film are hypnotic. The extended cut DVD also has a cheesy cover that has Smith fighting a Native American on the cover, it doesn’t represent the film at all. The original cover with Smith and Pocahontas embracing is far better and representative of The New World than this photoshopped disaster. The DVD contains no extras and does not include the theatrical version (a big mistake), so it becomes hard to recommend this DVD over the previously released version.
The New World is a terrific film and a wonderful movie-going experience, but there’s no denying that this extended version feels unnecessary. It’s a version of the film to be watched once and Malick enthusiasts will be pleased that its finally available. For everyone else, the previous DVD release of The New World (which is readily available for like 10-15 bucks) is the DVD to buy. It has some good extras and the preferred version of the film with a running time of 2 hours and 15 minutes. The extended cut runs 2 hours and 50 minutes, and though worthwhile, is just not as good as the theatrical version of the film.
Extended Cut DVD Grade: B
Theatrical Cut Grade: A-