TIFF 2016: Voyage of Time – The Complete Experience Review

Special Presentations 

As you may have heard, there are two versions of Terrence Malick’s latest film. There’s the 90 minute film entitled Voyage of Time: Life’s Journey and then there’s the 45 minute doc Voyage of Time: The IMAX experience. Having seen both, I can highly recommend the IMAX experience, whereas Life’s Journey highlights many of the director’s more tedious tendencies. 

The seeds (and some of the actual shots) for these films were first seen in the 15 minute creation sequence of Tree of Life. Like that sequence, the films combine various techniques to create stunning visuals that oscillate between the familiar and the abstract. Sometimes it’s simple 4k nature photography, other times he uses computer generated images, often I had no idea how the shots were created, but their combined effect is truly awe inspiring. The creation sequence was one of the things that made me love Tree of Life and I claimed I could watch an entire film of just that, with Voyage of Time I got exactly what I wished for.

The two versions are actually surprisingly different. Cate Blanchett narrates the feature length version, which is arguably the worst aspect of this one, but by no fault of Blanchett’s. While voiceovers used to add another layer of feeling to Malick’s films, I’ve found they’ve become increasingly insufferable in his last few films. He consistently uses the same words, like “mother” “God” and “love”, so that they’ve lost all meaning and have become like white noise in his films. Seriously, does anybody still pay attention to what’s being said in these voiceovers anymore? It sounds like they just put the actors in a sound booth and tell them to make up some Malicky lines. The IMAX version however has Brad Pitt narrating in style unlike Malick’s increasingly meaningless questions. This narration actually gives just enough information to contextualize the images we’re seeing on screen without taking away the mystery. It’s the perfect balance of artistic and informative. 

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I was also pleasantly surprised to see shots in the shorter version that don’t appear in the feature at all. Even though it’s half the length, I would estimate almost half of the IMAX shots weren’t shown at all in Life’s Journey. For the longer version Malick makes far more puzzling decisions, particularly with some very lo fi video footage interspersed throughout, perhaps to contrast with the pristine images? Not that everything must have a purpose, but the IMAX version feels more deliberate and cohesive.  It’s much more linear in its depiction of our evolution from primordial slime to skyscrapers. It actually has some educational value and would be an excellent field trip for schools to take (at only 45 minutes they shouldn’t get restless).  Life’s Journey, however, barely qualifies as documentary and is not nearly as accessible. 

Both films do an excellent job at creating a sense of awe and wonder at what you’re seeing. More than anything else that came before it, this project owes a lot to Godfrey Reggio and the Qatsi films. Like those experimental docs, this is really best experienced on a big screen, the bigger the better, which is another reason the IMAX Experience beats Life’s Journey.

Perhaps the IMAX Experience version was simply a concession Malick made to get the less commercially viable, more abstract Life’s Journey made. The images really do a brilliant job showcasing what makes IMAX great. It almost doesn’t feel like Malick, and yet it feels like this is what he should have been doing all along.

Screening:

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Friday Sept. 16, 9:30am @ TIFF Bell Lightbox 1 (Voyage of Time: Life’s Journey)

Saturday Sept. 15, 10:45am @ Scotibank 12 (Voyage of Time: The IMAX Experience)

Sunday Sept. 18, 12:15pm @ Scotiabank 14 (Voyage of Time: Life’s Journey)

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