Sunday, December 3, 2006

"THE NEW WORLD"

Colin Farrell, Christopher Plummer, Q'Orianka Kilcher, Christian Bale

"Once discovered, it was changed forever"

Pocahontas


Someone gifted me this film for my birthday last October. I am certainly not a fan of Colin Farrell but the giver knows I like films with contemporary history themes. I finally managed to sit down and endure it, last night. It is directed by Terrence Malick who also pegged "The Thin Red Line" which I loved and ranks among my favorite 'war' movies.

As for "The New World", I felt decidedly mixed. It was a good idea to sort of present much of the story through the eyes of Pocahontas. Although throughout the entire movie, she is not addressed by her Native American name. It is only later in the film when she is baptized as "Rebecca" that she is spoken to by her Christian name. But it would have been very easy to just tell the whole story from Captain Smith's perspective.

Overall, the Native American Indians were quite well-represented, very animated, childlike and unselfconscious, all of which seemed convincing and compelling. The colonizers called them "The Naturals" which implied some level of respect for being the first inhabitants of the newly discovered land as opposed to being "Natives" which would portray them as some savage/brutal tribal band of people.

England is shown from an American Indian's perspective (Pocahontas/Rebecca's), the cultivated gardens and scenes in the royal court made to seem very strange and fanciful (one of the best parts of the film, I thought). She is very curious about everything that she seemed like a child discovering something new for the very first time.

The cinematography was powerful at times, though the style really began to wear off for me after two hours because it was very expansive with minimal dialogue and merely a musical score to guide your eyes through vast scenes of topography.

Unfortunately, the story is really carried by the voice overs. A narrative style I normally appreciate in films. A bad idea in this case because it consisted of mostly mumbled lines from Colin Farrell fraught with loud music. For the life of me, I cannot grasp the way he enunciates words in every single movie he stars in. Unfortunately, VCDs don't come with a subtitles feature so most of the time I was grappling with the remote control to rewind the scene to understand what he mumbled. It was very frustrating to say the least. His portrayal of John Smith also started to wear thin on me. He seemed to only have one expression on his face for most of the film — a kind of wounded puppy dog look. The courtship between Smith and Pocahontas was also quite tastefully done, not much words spoken but still quite visually expressive through their gestures. But as the relationship evolved, it seems that suddenly, miraculously, Pocahontas can speak and understand English quite well.

Finally, the construction of the film started to make me impatient. Although beautiful, there are long stretches in which there aren't really scenes, but rather sequences in which each shot jumps forward in time. This continues for long periods, and one doesn't really get any sense of dramatic tension or build-up. There's no modulation, just a kind of steady forward movement.

But if you watched "The Thin Red Line" then you would know that this is the normal style of directing for Terrence Malick. You really need a lot of patience to endure this long film (135 minutes) and maybe grab a DVD copy so you can read the subtitles of the dialogue. It would certainly help a lot.

But I give props to the film for being as historically accurate as possible and not some romanticized version of a story. A tale not so much of an ill fated romance but a narrative about discovering a new world, driving away its original inhabitants into extinction, building a settlement/community with fresh hopes and dreams for its newly transported residents - all seen through the eyes of a naive young girl named Pocahontas.

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