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Waiting for Malick: The Tree of Life Should Open by Year's End

by Anne Thompson
August 20, 2010 1:06 AM
16 Comments
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Thompson on Hollywood

A new favorite sport among movie lovers is forecasting exactly when Terrence Malick's The Tree of Life will come out.

Buried in Todd McCarthy's delightful account of his first time on the New York Film Festival selection committee is how the programmers waited anxiously (as did Cannes' Thierry Fremaux) for the Malick movie that never came. McCarthy wonders if Apparition won't wait until Cannes next May to reveal the long-in-the-works film starring Brad Pitt and Sean Penn.

Well, even if River Road and Apparition owner Bill Pohlad is a wealthy man, he can't afford to wait that long. With the absence of departed Apparition exec Bob Berney, Pohlad has hired consultant Tom Ortenberg to release the picture, and the remaining Apparition staff in LA and NY (about 15) are kicking around until they do. Apparition sources say they expect to open the movie by year's end, but are waiting to get a firm date from the indecisive Pohlad, who in turn is unwilling to deliver any firm ultimatums to Austin-based Malick, who is therefore calling the shots. The cautious and slow Pohlad and the deliberate Malick are "a lethal combination," says one source close to the movie. "Terry's very nice, but he does whatever he wants." That's why nothing is happening.

Word is, Malick has not finished cutting the movie down from three to two and a half hours. (Back at the University of Texas at Austin, he lets film students take a crack at editing various scenes.) The film was submitted to the MPAA and received a PG-13 rating.

Another person with an investment in the movie is Pitt, who according to someone who has seen it, gives an awards-worthy performance, along with Jessica Chastain as his wife (Penn stars in the film's book-ends, apparently). The movie is technically gorgeous (shot by Emmanuel Lubezki), an experimental, non-conventional narrative, says the source:

"It's a mystical exploration of the meaning of life, a journey in which a microcosm of a family mirrors the world; the differences between man and woman, husband and wife, are mirrored against nature and grace. It will change the language of movies. It's a real event. People will say, 'what the fuck is this?'"

Jack Fisk designed the film, while Douglas Trumbull (2001: A Space Odyssey) supervised the practical visual effects, and composer Alexandre Desplat assembled a classical score.

I wonder if Malick is stalling the inevitable: getting reviewed. This may be one reason why he's already prepping an October start for his next movie, a romantic drama set in Oklahoma with Ben Affleck and Rachel Weisz attached; Pohlad will produce, and Glen Basner's Film Nation is handling overseas pre-sales. Could this be a sign of a crack in the hitherto airtight relationship between Pohlad and Summit's Patrick Wachsberger, who raised overseas advances for The Tree of Life (which cost somewhat more than its original $32-million budget)? These territories are still waiting for their movie. Will they be happy when it comes? Summit plans to release Pohlad's Fair Game this November. Some sources predict that Summit will eventually release The Tree of Life too. Neither Summit nor River Road would comment.

Film fests can be unforgiving crucibles for bad word. But when a movie could use some explaining, as I suspect this one does, it needs festivals and the drumbeat of press they provide, especially if it has Oscar hopes. Again, this is the sort of movie that could use an award-season boost to gain some attention.

Meanwhile, Pohlad has also undermined some of his industry cred with the revelation that he plans to direct a movie, Genius, hoping to cast Penn in John Logan's adaptation of A. Scott Berg's biography Max Perkins: Editor of Genius, which won the National Book Award. Pohlad made his directing debut with 1990's Old Explorers, starring José Ferrer and James Whitmore, followed by various industrials, commercials and docs before he turned to producing and/or financing such films as Penn's Into the Wild, Ang Lee's Brokeback Mountain, and Robert Altman's A Prairie Home Companion, among other things.

The Tree of Life has built enormous want-to-see among film cognoscenti. But when will they get to see it?

16 Comments

  • brian | August 29, 2010 1:51 AMReply

    i kind of feel sorry for everyone that has such a distaste for malick. he's one of the few original, authentic american voices currently working in cinema. Those who don't see character development or story lines in his films don't know how to read them. They're the kind of people who would say The Illiad or Paradise Lost or King Lear are inaccessible and overly long pretentious material. You're missing the point of them. TTRL is one of the greatest films ever made, Days of Heaven is stunningly beautiful. Not all of his films are perfect, but usually because they're so stylistically bold and experimental, and their artistic intentions are so ambitious. I cannot wait for tree of life to finally be released.

  • Cde. | August 24, 2010 3:24 AMReply

    Sergio: The Thin Red Line is nothing like a regular 40s studio war film. The editing and structure is very radical. It's a very unique film. With the pro-America nationalism at its core, one could turn that argument around and say that Saving Private Ryan is just a 40s studio war picture with more gore.

    Brian is criticising the film for straying from the book, but it is not intended to be a direct adaptation. Malick obviously drifted into his own thing during the process of adaptation and rewrote the story to his liking. The fact that Witt is a different character in the film is not a flaw. Malick simply chose to pursue different themes.

  • Brian | August 23, 2010 3:18 AMReply

    Instead of watching Malick's film, read James Jones' book. I did so this year and then watched both film versions (there was one in 1964 directed by Andrew Marton). Neither film measured up to the book, which is one of the best novels I've ever read. The best parts of Malick's film are those taken directly from the book. The rest is stuff he made up that's totally out of character for those men. The guy played by Jim Caviezel was a minor character in the book and an unregenerate Southern racist who would never have been caught dead "going native" as the character does in the movie in scenes that have no counterpart in the book.

  • Sergio | August 23, 2010 1:10 AMReply

    Take away all the pretentiousness in The Thin Red Line and what you have is a routine WW II war film with Van Johnson and whatever contract studio players a studio would have at the time during the 1940's

    In fact instead of watching Malick's film see instead Objective Burma with Errol Flynn directed by Raoul Walsh. It's the same movie except Walsh was ten times the director that Mailck is and IT'S SHORTER!

  • Hunter Tremayne | August 22, 2010 8:42 AMReply

    For everyone who likes to say that they are are bored out of their mind by Malick, a guy who makes incredibly turgid, pretentious and teeth-grindingly boring movies, there's someone like me who agrees with their every word. If The Thin Red Line is a "masterpiece" it's a masterpiece without any decent acting, distracting star cameos and an absoluteky dreadful script. Then again, Malick makes movies for people who are quite happy to look nothing but very nice photography for hours on end, and who don't care one bit for character development, story or dramatic tension. Hitchcock was the master of suspense; Malick is the master of the soporific.

  • Mark | August 22, 2010 2:34 AMReply

    Hey Bill, what's it like going through life with no taste?
    The Thin Red Line is a masterpiece. Can't wait to get my hands on the Criterion release.

  • Ken | August 21, 2010 10:45 AMReply

    This is sort of random, but does anyone know when London Boulevard is going to be out?

  • TopHat | August 21, 2010 10:15 AMReply

    Breaking News, but since this is a Brad Pitt thread I'll post it anyways:

    I'm an intern editor at one of the big studios and the hot topic that has been going around is a potential collaboration between Halle Barry and Angelina Jolie. The thing is, it's not some regular movie - after hearing about the major buzz in Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan because of the hot lesbian scene, the studio talk has been about making a similar film but for bigger names. I had a chat with Amelia Ekafmi, a secondary stunt person that had worked with Angelina Jolie for years, and she says they're asking her to look into a film currently titled Tittatas about two lesbians on the run after murdering their husbands. There's supposed to be some hardcore sex scenes in the film! Angelina's manager Geyer and Halle's agent also had lunched with my big studio' exec a few days ago too. I hope it gets made!

  • Cde. | August 21, 2010 4:39 AMReply

    Anon, can you share any other details of the promotional trailer? Did Icon screen it? Are they still on track to bring it out by boxing day?

  • Koto | August 20, 2010 11:11 AMReply

    Thank you so much for the reply,Anon.So glad to hear at least it's "Good Weir".Nominated or not nominated for Oscar,I'm sure I will enjoy TWB.(Sorry,if you don't mind...one more question,please? What did you think about performances in the film? Esp.Jim Sturgess's performance?He plays main character,Janusz.

    Thank you)

    I think it would be great if both Malick and Weir are nominated for Oscar same time.They are truly great directors.

    Sorry for my English.

  • Anon | August 20, 2010 9:31 AMReply

    They screened a promo of TREE OF LIFE at the exhib convention in Australia yesterday. Looked like Malick alright. The question will be how he marries the Pitt narrative with the 'universe' stuff. Feels niche.
    I've seen THE WAY BACK - good Weir, amazing true story, but I'm not convinced it'll have awards heat.

  • Keith | August 20, 2010 9:08 AMReply

    First off, Bill way to sound like a pretentious a-hole. Wow you've seen all of his films? What does that mean, you're the authoritative expert on whether they warrant any cinematic value? Malick is one of the most reclusive filmmakers ever, but you make it sound like you are some sort of insider. Do you go to the park and push Terrence Malick on the swings as he whispers sweet nothings in your ear? Oh Gen-X film buffs? Really yea because its not like there's every been any other director in the history of film to have meditative, slower moving movies. How about Bresson? Tarvovsky? Klimov? Oh nevermind you've probably seen all of their stuff to and therefore therefore can write them off. God forbid he wastes hollywoods precious money that could be put into Transformers 5. Slow=pretentious? There are all types of movies out there that touch different tones, go on different levels, do different things. Allow there to be all types. I hate when people talk about film like there's a one recipe to judge by.

  • Koto | August 20, 2010 8:56 AMReply

    Sorry,it's off-topic here...but,does anyone know about another highly anticipated,but unseen movie Peter Weir's "The Way Back"? Is this film released this year? Anyone knows?

    Thank you.

  • Bill | August 20, 2010 6:47 AMReply

    What a dumb article. A Terry Malick movie "will change the language of movies" - according to unnamed source.

    Yeah, right. Malick's made exactly one great film - Badlands. He's an overrated filmmakers who's reputation among Gen-X film buffs seems to be based entirely on the fact that most Gen-Xers know nothing about the guy. Me, I've seen them all. Deadhead Miles, Pocket Money, Badlands, Days of Heaven, Thin Red Line, The New World. That's one interesting cult film, one crappy studio flick, one great film, one overrated boring film that drove Bert Schneider from the film business, one long boring meditation that help New Line out of business, one unwatchable piece of dreck that effectively ended Colin Farrell's career as an A lister, and now this film that is putting the nails in the coffin of Apparition and is most likely an unwatchable piece of shite.

    Oh, and he's cost the industry overall hundreds of millions of dollars in red ink. Quite a record he's got there. Only in Hollywood.

  • Sergio | August 20, 2010 4:49 AMReply

    I am definitely not of fan of Malick's slow, unsufferable, tortuously pretentous movies, so Tree of Life sounds like it's going to be hell to sit through...as the narriator drones on and on and on speaking incomprensible mumbo jumbo as the sound of the wind whistles in the background while we watch a fern grow...

  • Brian | August 20, 2010 3:13 AMReply

    I wonder how fans of INCEPTION and SCOTT PILGRIM will react to TREE OF LIFE, speaking of two other films that were supposed to "change the language of movies." I'm still waiting for a translator.

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