Venice Film Festival: ‘Voyage of Time: Life’s Journey’ a Mixed Bag for Malick

Voyage of Time: Life's Journey

Acclaimed filmmaker Terrence Malick‘s first foray into documentary film, “Voyage of Time,” screened at the Venice Film Festival Tuesday. Early reviews have not been totally kind to the auteur, however. The beauty of the film is receiving praise, but its narration and storytelling are not.

The project, which is more than 30 years in the making, will be released as two separate versions. The first, which will be released in IMAX Oct. 7, is 45 minutes long and narrated by Brad Pitt. The second version is a 90 minutes long, 35mm cut narrated by Cate Blanchett. The latter, titled “Voyage of Time: Life’s Journey,” is what debuted at Venice.

Despite such big names on board, the film disappointed some critics. See a snippet of reviews below, and be sure to check out its Oscar chances as well.

Variety said of the film:

The film’s narration, unfortunately, is of a less intelligent design. It’s meant to be incantatory, a poem of sacramental inquiry, with Blanchett speaking to the higher power of nature, to the very spirit of lifewhom she personifies as “Mother” (how’s that for ancient and post-feminist at the same time?), asking Her questions that have no answer: “Who are you, life giver? Light bringer?”

A little of this goes a long way, especially when, half an hour later, Blanchett is still at it, saying things like “All life. Giver of good. Creating yourself. In ever-changing shapes. You give. Without asking.” Or the slightly perplexing “Who am I to you? You devour yourself, only to give birth to yourself again.” I kept waiting for Blanchett to add, “I’m here till Tuesday. And are you, life giver?” If an IMAX nature movie is going to turn into a prayer, it should be one that’s a bit more varied.

The Hollywood Reporter was more kind, however:

The sequences are beautifully edited by Keith Fraase and Rehman Ali, who give them different rhythms, but manage to keep a feeling of moving forward in time. Location shooting in Hawaii, Iceland, Chile, the American Southwest and Papua New Guinea works seamlessly with highly imaginative visual effects overseen in the studio by Dan Glass and production designer Jack Fisk.

The Guardian praised the aesthetics:

In this version, then, Voyage of Time is perhaps best appreciated as an abstract, with its sheer profusion of natural beauty and consequent synchronicities of image. It’s not entirely without precedent – the Koyaanisqatsi films by Godfrey Reggio and Ron Fricke had something of a similar aesthetic ambition, though with very different ends in mind, and the Eames’ famous short, Powers of Ten, contains a little of the same dizzying sense of scale, though in exquisite miniature. Voyage of Time, in the end, is a perhaps an aesthetic experience rather than an particularly informative one, prizing images over data; but what images they are.

And The Playlist said this:

Cinema is incredibly powerful, elastic and it probably is a kind of religion, but it is not God and it is not the Tardis, and it can’t contain more than can be conceived. But that’s apparently not going to stop Terrence Malick from asking it to, as though somehow if he describes the universe precisely enough in cinematic terms, he’ll be able to glean something even grander; he’ll be able to reconcile the impossible truth that there was once nothing, then there wasn’t and someday there will be again — at the end of one’s life, or the end of the universe’s, whichever happens first. ‘Voyage of Time’ is a grand and stately attempt to do just that, but its grandeur, beauty and elegance don’t make the project any less quixotic; Malick tilting at metaphysical, geophysical and astrophysical windmills.

Before reviews leaked, “Voyage of Time” was ranked second in Awards Circuit’s rankings for a Best Documentary Feature nod. It is also sitting at the 20th spot for Best Cinematography honors. As reviews pour in, these rankings could change.

Both versions of the film will screen at Toronto International Film Festival later this month. Perhaps the shorter version will fare better than its longer companion.

Tell us: What do you think of the reviews for “Voyage of Time: Life’s Journey?” Sound off in the comments below!