By Kevin Jagernauth | The Playlist July 21, 2013 at 5:51PM
Is Terrence Malick's "The Voyage Of Time" the cinematic emperor with no clothes? The film has been at least six years in the making, if not longer, with more rumors than fact surrounding its eventual shape (one IMAX documentary or two?) and even when it might actually be released (earlier this year, Malick's longtime editor Billy Weber told us it would be coming in 2014). But it seems the money behind the movie, coming from investment group Seven Seas Partnership, are getting fed up of waiting. THR reports they are suing the filmmaker and his Sycamore Pictures for breach of contract, and they want their $3.3 million back, any intellectual property and lost profits. Their complaint? Malick simply hasn't delivered and "dedicated his energies to four other films in the last five years." And it's easy to see why they're upset.
Where does one begin with Terrence Malick's "The Voyage Of Time"? Well, you can probably go all the way to back to Malick's aborted project "Q" (read the full details about that in our feature The Lost Projects And Unproduced Screenplays Of Terrence Malick), a film he started working on in the late '70s that was loosely about the cosmos and the origins of the universe. Production started, with Paramount backing it with $1 million dollars. A small team was assembled, work was started...and suddenly it all stopped. Some of the elements from "Q" were later utilized/refashioned for the universe portions of "The Tree Of Life," and 'Voyage Of Time'—if not directly using the material from "Q"—and was largely seen as playing on those themes.
Back when "The Tree Of Life" was excitedly making its way into production, it was reported that "The Voyage Of Time" was in the works as well, and it would be "depicting the birth and death of the universe." There was even a suggestion that "The Voyage Of Time" was actually going to be a multi-pronged release, with three versions (though at the time, many thought it was "The Tree Of Life" getting three versions). And indeed, the lawsuit declares that Malick "was supposed to direct two 45-minute Imax films and a 90-150 minute feature film version of 'Voyage of Time.' "
And things get knottier from here. While the lawsuit doesn't name this person directly, they claim an Oscar-winning special effects person bailed on the movie, "because no amount of special effects could cover up the fact that no movies existed." Our guess? It's Mike Fink, who worked on "The Tree Of Life" and "Avatar" among others, and took home his trophy for "The Golden Compass." He was the person who first told Empire way, way back in the day that "The Voyage Of Time" was going to be three movies (which they confused with 'Life') and his exit from the movie now adds a pretty interesting perspective to the whole thing.
Brad Pitt and Emma Thompson had been named as narrators for the film(s) over the years, but it always seemed like more work was needed, Weber's assurances that we'd see it next year aside. Last fall, producer Sarah Green said, "There are large parts shot already but it’s a multi-year project so there’s a way to go yet. Terry has been envisioning it for several decades." But investors say Malick has been missing deadlines. Apparently, with a 2012 due date on the horizon, the director asked for more time and money, which investors would agree to, but only if Malick assured them it would be the project that garnered his full attention. Needless to say, Malick refused. And it gets worse.
The suit alleges that financing for "The Voyage Of Time" wound up "co-mingled" with the money for his other films in the works (which we can only assume means goes as far back as "The Tree Of Life"). So what does the lawyer for Malick's company say about all this? "The film was on budget, on schedule, and all funds were used appropriately," which is amusing because it presumes that Malick works to a particular schedule when it's generally known that he films, edits and delivers when he's good and ready to.
But that's just the thing. Anyone going into financing a Malick film is likely aware of his mercurial drive, tendency to toss any semblance of a script out the window and cut actors out at a whim. So one could assume that Seven Seas Partnership knew a bit of what they were getting into. That said, we can definitely understand the frustration of watching "The Tree Of Life," "To The Wonder," "Knight Of Cups" and a fourth untitled film go in front of cameras—two of which have already been released—with barely a word about 'Voyage Of Time' in all those years.
So is "The Voyage Of Time" going to forever be Malick's unmade movie about the birth of the universe, and will this lawsuit finally unveil what's actually going on with the movie? Or will this finally get Malick in gear to finish it up? We'll just have to see how it all plays out.