Friday, September 30, 2016

'Voyage of Time: Life's Journey' review- TIFF 2016

To be clear, I'm not a Terrence Malick aficionado. In fact, I don't believe that I've ever seen a film from the acclaimed director (I'm young, cut me some slack). His films have always seemed distant to me, and I was always worried that I wouldn't "get" them. As I planned out my schedule for the Toronto International Film Festival, I figured what better place to start my Malick journey than in the Great White North with a documentary that he had spent years working to complete. Voyage of Time: Life's Journey is a project that I had heard about for years, and like any other Malick project, there was an air of mystery as to when it would show up on the festival circuit. After a burst of productivity recently that included the divisive Knight of Cups and To the Wonder, as well as the Academy Award-nominated Tree of Life, Malick announced his plans for Voyage of Time. The film would arrive in two different forms- a 40-minute IMAX documentary set to hit theaters on October 7 and an extended 90 minute cut that would play at the Venice and Toronto Film Festivals in September before debuting in theaters at a later date.


On a beautiful Saturday afternoon in Toronto, at a point where I was attempting to curb my festival fatigue, I sat down to watch Life's Journey, hoping to be taken on an awe-inspiring trip through the history of the universe. Instead, I was treated to "Laptop Screensaver: The Movie." Maybe I didn't "get" it like I was worried about, but I swear to you- I seriously don't believe that this movie has any real merit whatsoever. It is 90 minutes of pretty pictures with Cate Blanchett asking rhetorical questions to the universe. That's it. That's what this movie offers. I know that Voyage of Time is meant to be asking really big, vital questions about who we are, where we came from, and why we're here, but the questions are posed in a really heavy-handed manner and the answers are, frankly, not all that interesting. This is just a brutally boring movie to sit through, and unless what I just described sounds like a good time to you, Voyage of Time will test your patience until you've got nothing left to give.

So what is Voyage of Time about? It's about the universe, man. Dinosaurs and cavemen and the cosmos and stuff. It's the high art version of a stoner's dazed ramblings, filled with bright colors, shiny images, and absolutely nothing of substance. It's a feature-length showcase of Terrence Malick's esoteric quirks, a movie that will play very well with a specific audience willing to succumb to his pretensions. Basically, it's a feature-length blend of trippy images, modern handheld video footage, and overdone Cate Blanchett narration (she repeatedly refers to the universe as "Mother," if you want an idea of what this movie is like). Voyage of Time promises an experience for the mind, the body, and the soul. It delivers on none of that promise.

Maybe I'm being too dismissive of a movie from a true auteur. It's a distinct possibility. When I don't like something, I tend to turn against it really quickly. I gave up on Voyage of Time after a half hour of watching vaguely pretty images flash across the screen, and the movie never came close to sucking me back in. It's not that I didn't get Voyage of Time- I just think that the delivery is pretentious, the message is simplistic, and the end result is profoundly shallow. It's all of the wacky scenes in 2001 without the wonderment, the unsettling mood, or the iconic imagery. I guarantee that people will be hyping this up as some kind of grand achievement (the speaker who introduced the film was sure to emphasize that the film received a 10-minute ovation in Venice), but don't believe it- this is movie that has been done better many times before.

And that's all I have to say about Voyage of Time: Life's Journey. I know that I usually write much more than this, but there's seriously no reason to waste your time or my time. I hated this movie, I think it's an overlong, vapid slog, and I can't imagine anyone who's not a super hardcore Malick fan enjoying it. Apparently the IMAX Experience version (narrated by Brad Pitt) is a marked improvement, delivering the movie that everyone really wanted to see in the first place. So with that in mind, I can't write off Voyage of Time as a project just yet. But I do know this much- Life's Journey is a mess, a movie in search of a point and an effective way to tell its grand story.

THE FINAL GRADE:  D                                                 (4/10)

Image Credits: IMDB

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