On average, Terrence Malick directs one movie per decade. The seventies were an unusually prolific time for him and he directed two. He then made up for it by avoiding the eighties entirely. In fact, after making his third film, Days of Heaven in 1978, it was twenty years before he made fourth, 1998's The Thin Red Line. Now after another relaxing, extended vacation Terrence Malick has returned to filmmaking with a Pocahontas movie called The New World. Don't worry, there isn't a talking raccoon.
Instead we get a sweaty, dirty, Colin Farrell as John Smith. It's 17th century Virginia and the first English settlers have just landed at Jamestown. They claim the land as their own and begin to set up shop. It's current residents, called Naturals by the Jamestonians (presumably because their warriors have a great swing), are naturally somewhat perturbed.
John Smith is one of the settlers, and he wanders around in the grass for awhile until he meets a native girl. Commissioned to seek out the Natural's King and trade with him, Smith ends up back in her people's base camp, where he teaches important things like English. The girl is the king's daughter, and the pair decides they like each other well enough to wander around in the grass together. So Malick's film meanders around with them as they do interesting things like look at the sky. Just to spice it up a little, sometimes Malick jump cuts away from them to a random shot of a bush or a sunset. I guess he's trying to give the movie flavor.
Most of the film continues on this way, aimlessly wandering as Smith and Pocahontas (who is never called Pocahontas) fall in love and deal with the intricacies of settler/Natural relations. Eventually things go really badly, and John Smith skips right out of the picture. He's replaced by Christian Bale, who magically materializes out of nowhere three fourths of the way through to become The New World's new male lead. Personally, I didn't think Farrell's performance was bad enough to warrant being run right out of the pic.
Malick tells his long, overextended story through layer after layer of jump cutting. He never lets his scenes play out to any kind of a conclusion. Characters stare blankly off into space, Malick jumps to a shot of some random piece of scenery, then jumps to that same character on an entirely different day staring blankly at something else. There's not much dialogue either. Most of the movie's sound is spent on swelling, randomly chosen music. When that's not blaring, the film's completely silent. When one of the characters does bother to say a word or two, it's muttered under their breath. You'd better be listening closely, or you'll miss it.
I might as well come right out and say it; this is an unforgivably long, incredibly boring movie. It's beautiful, the scenery is often compelling and there's plenty of it. The performances are good too, 15-year-old Q'Orianka Kilcher is amazing as Pocahantas (though it's a little uncomfortable to see her kissing 30-year-old men), especially when you consider her young age. But Malick has put all that into a movie that I can only assume he deliberately set out to make boring, a tedious trial of audience patience. If you think two hours of characters lazily holding hands on the beach makes for good viewing, then you'll love The New World. Otherwise, look for some other way to paint with all the colors of the wind. Malick's New World is a fantastic place to take a nap.