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Blu-Ray : Highly Recommended
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Release Date: July 26th, 2016 Movie Release Year: 2005

The New World (Criterion)

Overview -

This singular vision of early seventeenth-century America from Terrence Malick is a work of astounding elemental beauty, a poetic meditation on nature, violence, love, and civilization. It reimagines the apocryphal story of the meeting of British explorer John Smith (Colin Farrell) and Powhatan native Pocahontas (Q’orianka Kilcher, in a revelatory performance) as a romantic idyll between spiritual equals, then follows Pocahontas through her marriage to John Rolfe (Christian Bale) and her life in England. With art director Jack Fisk’s raw re-creation of the Jamestown colony, Emmanuel Lubezki’s marvelous, naturally lit cinematography, and James Horner’s soaring musical score, The New World is a film of uncommon power and technical splendor, one that shows Malick at the height of his visual and philosophical powers.

Highly Recommended
Rating Breakdown
Tech Specs & Release Details
Technical Specs:
172-minute Extended Cut, 150-minute First Cut, and 135-minute Theatrical Cut
Video Resolution/Codec:
1080p/AVC MPEG-4
Aspect Ratio(s):
Audio Formats:
Algonquin/English Near-Field DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 (Extended Cut)
Special Features:
PLUS: A book featuring an essay by film scholar Tom Gunning, a 2006 interview with Lubezki from American Cinematographer, and a selection of materials that inspired the production
Release Date:
July 26th, 2016

Storyline: Our Reviewer's Take


Back in 2005, seven years removed from his last feature film, the World War II drama 'The Thin Red Line', director Terrence Malick had earned himself a reputation not unlike the equally hard to photograph Thomas Pynchon. Well thought of in the filmmaking industry, the enigmatic filmmaker had previously managed to go two decades between features – those being his 1978 film 'Days of Heaven,' and the aforementioned 'The Thin Red Line' in 1998 – so it came as a bit of a surprise when news spread of a new Malick film, 'The New World,' starring the likes of Christian Bale and Colin Farrell, which aimed to retell the story of Pocahontas and her relationship with Captain Smith.

Questions regarding the validity of such historical fiction aside, the notion of Malick re-treading territory once handled by Disney animators certainly caused the ears of those tuning in to prick up. Suffice to say, with a talent like Malick behind the lens, 'The New World' would be mercifully free of Mel Gibson-voiced show tunes.

As can sometimes be the case when a Malick film hits theaters, mainstream audiences largely ignored 'The New World,' despite the relatively high profile of two of its stars. While the box office proved something of a disappointment, the film did manage to attract a fair number of viewers who were particularly struck by the film's meditative style and loosely structured narrative. The result was one of the director's finest films, one that played with a story many Americans should be quite familiar with.

However, we must also remember that this review is dealing with 'The New World: Extended Cut,' which sees the film's already generous runtime balloon to an extraordinary 172 minutes – allowing for nearly an hour of material on each of the film's three… chapters, we'll say.

The New World

Like 'The Thin Red Line,' 'The New World' introduces us, via an ambling voiceover, to the main character (in this case, Collin Ferrell as John Smith), who finds himself questioning his role in the world, after coming into contact with a different way of life. Perhaps this is why Smith is so taken by the Powhatan tribe he and the rest of the explorers encounter. The Powhatans appear to have been stuck in time, apparently untouched by the world's progress and unfettered from the ills that the film suggests accompany such modern movements. Well, that and his fondness for the beautiful Pocahontas – played here with subtle charm by Q'Orianka Kilcher.

Chapter two largely concerns Smith's consequent banishment from paradise (for lack of a better word) and the colonists growing conflict with the tribe – one that sees them at the mercy of the Powhatans, even while they plan to seek the colonists' end. As that passes, the final segment revolves around Pocahontas' eventual marriage to John Rolfe (played here by a low-key Christian Bale), which sees her journey to England to enter what would be the final stage of her life: a transformation into an English woman.

Malick is able to pull effective performances from his three central characters – Farrell is particularly engaging – but as is often the case in his films, it’s the voiceovers that really carry the central narrative. Even when the internalization of the world around them is nothing but questions, Malick's intent comes through as a sort of eternal wonder at the beauty that exists everywhere.

The film never sets out to directly question the moral implications surrounding the events that saw Pocahontas removed from her home and the only life she'd ever known. Instead, it offers more of a meditation on what constitutes a natural life, and the film's central ethos, which is posed by the characters themselves in asking, "Shall we not take what we are given?"

Viewers will not find an answer to that question, and in fact, 'The New World' seems to offer them, as it does its characters, both sides of the coin, so as to encourage rumination on the nature of things, both given and taken.

The New World

Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray

Terrence Malick's 'The New World' returns to Blu-ray courtesy of the Criterion Collection as a multi-Blu-ray set that includes a 45-page booklet and three different versions of the movie. Disc One houses the 172-minute Extended Cut (remastered in 4K) created for home video in 2008. Disc Two contains the 135-minute Theatrical Cut (HD digital transfer) from the film's 2006 general release. Disc Three holds the 150-minute First Cut (HD digital transfer) that was shown at the film's premiere and screened in select cities during the Christmas, 2005 Oscar-qualifying run. Special Features are spread across all three Blu-rays. There are no pre-menu trailers on the discs, but there is a new Resume Play feature. The booklet contains Cast & Credits details; "Dwelling in Malick's New World", an essay by Tom Gunning; "Uncharted Emotions", an interview Benjamin B conducted with Cinematographer Emmanuel Lubeski; Research and Inspiration; and Criterion's standard notes About the Transfer. Like many Criterion releases, the high quality packaging is a work of art in and of itself.

Video Review


For this review, my process was as follows: I first watched the entire Extended Cut on a VIZIO P-Series Ultra HD Home Theatre Display. Then, using specific sequences, I compared the Criterion Extended Cut to the Theatrical and First cuts as well as the earlier 2009 Extended Cut Blu-ray.

Overall this A to B to C to D demo proved the newly 4K remastered Extended Cut not only to be the most refined of the bunch, but also that the new alternate cuts look good enough to best the original Blu-ray. That said, while the 4K remaster has an obvious pixel-peeping advantage —- results that will exaggerate with larger screens —- the differences between various Criterion cuts is less dramatic than I would have assumed. In other words, all of the new transfers look pretty darn good, with the edge going to the Extended Cut.

Before we dive in further, let's see what Criterion has to say: "The New World: Extended Cut is presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1. Black bars at the top and bottom of the screen are normal for this format. This new digital transfer was created in 4K resolution at 16-bit color depth on a Northlight 2 film scanner from the 35mm original camera negative, a 35mm interpositive, and the 65mm original camera negative for select shots. The 35mm negative had been cut in 2005 to create the theatrical version, so it could not be used for the entirety of the extended version. The three film elements were edited together under the supervision of film editor Mark Yoshikawa. Opticals, fades, and dissolves were re-created. Certain shots contained burned-in subtitles, which the filmmakers requested be left as is. Thousands of instances of dirt, debris, chemical stains, and splices were removed using MTI Film's DRS, while Digital Vision's Phoenix was used for small dirt."

The remastered Extended Cut looks simply fantastic. Better than every other home entertainment release. Probably better, in some ways, than what was shown in theatres. I only wish there was an Ultra HD version available. This remaster is all about fine details, from landscapes to costumes and facial textures to shadows (take a moment to examine The Naturals' warpaint. Shot almost exclusively with natural light, the film's exterior locations are rendered with a wonderful sense of depth and color that puts most nature documentaries to shame. There's also a nice sense of the film stock's latitude; there are less overexposed skylines in this transfer almost like HDR-graded content. Skin tones are even, and Black levels are deep. In terms of negatives, I love the added detail, but there seems to have been a touch of contrast and color left on the table. And there is some softness from time to time, but that's to be expected with anamorphic photography.

In comparing the new Extended Cut to the original 2009 Blu-ray, this Criterion remaster has a few key advantages. Dirt and debris have been erased, noise vanishes yet retains a film-like, and encoding errors —- see in horizons and gradients in the previous release —- are no more. Essentially, the 2009 Blu-ray shows all the signs of being a DVD era master -- compression artifacts, minor banding, and some black level crushing. For an example of the differences, look at the scene where John Smith is brought to meet Powhatan for the first time, and note how many more of the background actors you can see in the 2016 remaster. It's a striking difference. And the snake coiled through that one man's ear has a bit more green pop to it in the remaster.

The improvement continues with the Theatrical and First cuts. Much like the remastered Extended Cut, they are cleaner than the 2009 Blu-ray and these newer encodes are error-free. In motion, and at greater viewing distances, I would argue the Theatrical and First cuts hold up quite well when compared to the 4K remastered Extended Cut. But take the time to look closer and these HD transfers don't quite have the same refinement and precision. They also have a touch more contrast, which crushes the black levels a little more. This does make some individual shots pop a little more, but ultimately the Extended Cut is superior.

In conclusion, 'The New World' has never looked this good on home video (and possibly in theaters). This newly remastered Extended Cut makes for one beautiful Blu-ray and bests the alternate cuts in overall image quality. That said, unless you're pixel peeping, the First and Theatrical cuts look quite good too. In other words, you don't have to feel like you're missing out too much by watching one of those cuts.

Extended Cut - 4.5 Stars
Theatrical & First Cuts - 4.25 Stars

Audio Review


Much like the video evaluation, I compared the four sound mixes available on the Criterion Extended, Theatrical, and First cuts, and the 2009 Extended Cut Blu-ray. All four a presented as 5.1 mixes, but, where the 2009 release opted for Dolby TrueHD, all three Criterion discs are encoded in DTS-HD Master Audio. From the Criterion booklet: "The 5.1 surround soundtrack for the extended cut was remastered by John Dougherty at Warner Bros. Studios."

I love the way Terrence Malick films sound and 'The New World' is no exception. For as much time as Malick spends capturing and editing stunning visuals, he and his sound design partners built aural tapestries to define his universes —- voiceovers giving way to classical music and environmental sound effects —- that are like listening to finely tuned symphonies. They are stunning as a whole, and it's a wonder to pick out the small details. 'The New World' is also ultra immersive despite an overall lack of aggression in its design. In other words, it doesn't have the bombast of an action movie, but Malick's world is all around you —- buzzing insects, water dripping from canoe oars, wind rustling leaves, the spattering of thrown seeds, a crackling fire. When I sometimes talk about mix that could build their worlds a little more, it's Malick soundtracks to which I'm referring. At the same time, this mix also uses silence in powerful ways. Other than wishing for a wee bit more LFE (and wondering what it would sound like in Dolby Atmos), 'The New World' continues to impress.

In comparing the remastered Extended Cut to the other versions of the mix —- which are, effectively, interchangeable -— I would say the Extended Cut adds a wee bit more refinement, particularly in the sound effects department. There's an added sense of clarity to it all. That said, unless you're straining to hear the differences, or doing direct scene-to-scene comparisons, the First Cut, Theatrical Cut, and 2009 Blu-ray all sound terrific. That is to say, if you prefer watching the First or Theatrical cut, you won't really be missing out; also, there isn't a huge upgrade in the audio department between releases.

Oh, and for anyone set up for Dolby Atmos and/or DTS:X. I highly recommend running up-mixing processing with these soundtracks. The music and atmospherics translate well to the rear and overhead surround speaker locations.

Extended Cut - 4.5 Stars
Theatrical & First Cuts - 4.25 Stars

Special Features


No surprise here. Criterion has put together a nice collection of bonus materials, taking what came before and adding on a few new pieces. The following bonus materials carry over from the 2009 Blu-ray and are found on the Extended Cut Blu-ray:

Making "The New World" (HD, 01:21:40). From Kevin Yeoman's original Blu-ray review: "A comprehensive 10-part documentary that offers an exhaustive look into the production of the film, starting from the casting process through the production itself. This rare peek behind the scenes of a Malick production is a must for any fan of the filmmaker. The documentary breaks the segments down into the following chunks: 'Making the New World,' 'Core Training,' 'Finding Pocahontas,' 'Recreating the Powhatan,' 'Along the Chickahominy River,' 'Jamestown,' 'Werowocomoco,' 'The John Rolfe Plantation,' 'The Battle,' and 'England.'"

Theatrical Trailer (HD, 00:02:24).

Teaser Trailer (HD, 00:01:25).

Final Thoughts

Terrence Malick films are famous for their lyrical qualities. In many ways more akin to visual poems than classical narratives, they are not for every cinema goer, but for audiences willing to to embrace the style, they can be richly rewarding experiences. 'The New World' and 'The Thin Red Line' represent my favorite period of Malick's carear, offering a wonderful balance of story and poetry and stunning imagery (Cinematographer Emmanuel Lubeski also shoots Alfonso Cuarón and Alejandro González Iñárritu's films).

Criterion has outdone themselves with this Blu-ray release, which includes three difference cuts of the movie and over three hours of bonus materials. With sparkling video transfers and sublime world-building surround sound, this release represents the vary best 'The New World' has ever looked in the home. I only wish we could see what it would look like in Ultra HD (or sound like in Dolby Atmos).

If you're a Terrence Malick or 'The New World' fan already, this Blu-ray set comes Highly, Highly Recommended.

For everyone else, it comes Recommended -- you'll be hard pressed to find a more beautiful HD Blu-ray or a nuanced sound mix.