After seeing Terrence Malick’s TREE OF LIFE, I feel like I’ll be ready to write about it when I’ve spent as long thinking about it as Malick did making it. But I do note it as another entry in the remarkably consistent oeuvre of visual effects supremo Douglas Trumbull, dating all the way back to — what’s that you say? 1968’s 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY? Well, possibly, but I was thinking of CANDY, from the same year (pictured).

Well, maybe I can be nudged into saying more in the comments section.

39 Responses to “Stardust”

  1. *nudge*

  2. *nudge*

  3. Am dying to see it.

  4. writtenfromhungeronathan Ley Says:

    I’m assuming Douglas Trumbull wasn’t responsible for the rubbish-looking dinosaurs. Everything else in that sequence was stunning.

  5. I loved it, with reservations. The screening was interesting: Fiona was bored, then impressed, then bored, off and on throughout. Our friend Ali was moved to tears in ways she couldn’t explain. I was right between those responses.

    I thought Sean Penn was a distraction, in exactly the same way all those guest stars are in The Thin Red Line, which means his presence probably won’t bother me at all next time. I guess Malick thought the character MIGHT have to do some acting, so it’d be best to get an Oscar-winner in case.

    But I did experience an incredible connection to childhood memory, in a tactile, sensory way, which was part of what I found so moving.

    Plus the younger kid, apart from being a fine performer, was an amazing Brad Pitt looky-likey. So David Fincher could have saved all that expensive Ben Button CGI and just hired this fellow and drawn some lines on his face with a pen.

  6. I liked the dinosaurs. I loved the sound of that dinosaur breathing in the woods. I would imagine Trumbull wasn’t in charge of them, though.

    The history of the universe bit is pretty funny, how it goes Big Bang-First life-Dinosaurs, which seems quite a schoolboy view. But it was incredibly beautiful.

    My student Hakon worked on the waterfall sequence. Nice work, Hakon!

  7. judydean Says:

    You know that feeling when you love someone’s early work so much that, when their later stuff doesn’t quite match up, you defend it while ignoring that little voice inside you that whispers doubts and reservations? Well, the other night, after seeing The Tree of Life, that little voice turned into a shout of derision.

    Malik has been treated with such reverence he now believes in his own mythology. It’s not enough for a film to look good. This is the ultimate triumph of form over content. Terry, give it up and go into advertising.

  8. Harsh, judydean.

    (Lina Lamont voice) I liked it ( /Lina Lamont voice)

    To me the key to Malick’s meaning is his method. The Tree of Life is the triumph of the steadicam. The camera floats ever so gracefully over everything. It’s less a drama than an evocation. It’s a childhood memory magnified (the house changes shape like the room in Providence) and delivered in a calm, steady cinematic voice. It’s a 2 1/2 film that never hectors or shouts.

    The dinosuar hesitates about stepping on the other dinosaur relates to the way the brothers treat each other.

    This is an incredibly sweet film and I can’t account for the hostility with which its been received in some quarters. It’s not a movie for everyone but many of those for who it isn’t have regarded it as some sort of personal affront.

  9. Does the house change shape because it burns down and they have to move?

    Malick has always allowed major plot points to drift past as if they didn’t matter at all, leading to this kind of ambiguity.

    The dinosaur’s mercy may be the entry of Grace into the world of Nature. But I like how it isn’t as clear as that.

    It was absolutely clear that some of the film, particularly that ending, could be dismissed as absurd, grandiloquent, mawkish and religiose. But I didn’t feel the necessity to do so. And Malick’s films do change on repeat viewing, so I hold out the possibility that the stuff I didn’t like may make more sense later.

  10. Hello David, Mike from Memphis here. It is tough to talk about a 35 million art film w/ built in obstructions. Do u think that the non linear editing. (Which confused me into thinking 2 sons had died, rather than 1) suggested the afterlife in a glorious and hazy prolonged effect rendering the shore line heaven ending rather redundant and literal? A typical redemption ending. Anyway, hope you’re all well. have a great redemptive day. Were going to a BBQ in Mississippi later where no dinosaur shall be spared (except in a Disney movie). Xo

  11. Enjoy, Mike!

    I’m quite prepared to believe that either the beach scene DOESN’T represent the afterlife, but some other state of consciousness: compare it to the end of 8 1/2. Or else that Penn is dead all along and all of his scenes take place in the afterlife. I’m not sure either option makes the ending better, but they broaden the possibilities.

  12. Malick used a number of different houses of different sizes and edited them all together to give the impression of a single house thorugh which the characters move.

  13. The beach scene is a bit like 8 1/2. To me it represents thoughts about the afterlife rather than a literal representation. It’s the character coming to terms with himself and his past.

  14. About a year after her husband. Very sad. This would be a good time for anyone who hasn’t seen It Always Rains on Sunday to give it a look.

  15. She was 94 when she passed though. A good long life lived, I would say.

  16. Re: Sean Penn and distractions. First go around for me I didn’t mind him or those sequences much, felt they were of the piece (in particular the contrast of the modern architecture).

    The second time I found myself even more moved by the family sequences (and the creation of the universe stuff, a bit less so) that I winced with annoyance every time we cut back to the mopey Penn, wondering why he was even there.

    Otherwise, pretty clearly, the movie of the year.

  17. I like her best in Night and the City

  18. Her best performance is in one of the least known great British masterpieces, Robert Hamer’s PINK STRING AND SEALING WAX. A role of a great many facets and a performance that brings out each. She and Hamer had a great collaboration with his episode for DEAD OF NIGHT and IT ALWAYS RAINS ON SUNDAY.

    She also plays a key role in the first official Archers film – ONE OF OUR AIRCRAFT IS MISSING. I think of her as the British Anna Magnani, the first actress who brought a real working-class sensibility to an acting dominated by theatre. A great career.

  19. Jonathan Ley Says:

    I loved the inclusion of the dinosaurs, just didn’t think they looked very good. They were less convincing than the ones in Jurassic Park 15 years ago.

  20. I think if you look at Spielberg’s dinosaurs now, you can really spot where they go from CGI to animatronic. Whereas Malick’s are consistent. And I’m sure he didn’t have the same effects budget, no matter how big his film is. I loved the one on the beach, its realistic wetness.

    I ought to watch William Cameron Menzies’ The Green Cockatoo for a blast of Googie.

  21. Christopher Says:

    oh Dinosaurs are such bores!..

  22. Christopher Says:

    lol…gotta agree there..what a delight

  23. Christopher Says:

  24. “Help, I can’t close my jaw!”

    The chimpanzee noises are a novel touch.

    Gertie is a born star. McCay’s creatures always remind me of my own pets: no anthropomorphism here, his beasts are all animal.

  25. Don’t know if anyone else shared this impression, but while watching Tree, I didn’t mind people getting up in the middle of the film to leave, or whatever. I didn’t feel interrupted, actually liking seeing them walk around in front of the screen.
    I associated it with being in church, although I haven’t been there in a very long time. (not being snarky)
    The actor who played the older brother was very good. Brad Pitt was very good. Dinosaurs were like pets.

  26. That’s a lovely way of looking at it.

    We had some noisy popcorn guzzlers who hadn’t mastered the art of waiting for the noisy scenes before crunching. I wasn’t sure why they’d come, but I think they did actually stay to the end (I’d moved seats by then).

  27. I’ll also treasure the late Ms. Withers for her work in On Approval, especially the way she says “What color are my eyes?”

  28. >>how it goes Big Bang-First life-Dinosaurs, which seems quite a schoolboy view. <<
    Actually I think this is a more interesting and possibly accurate way of looking at those sequences rather than as a creation story. A line is drawn between the dinosaur scene to the brother's sibling rivalry not just as a simple Darwinian metaphor, but as a clue to the characters projection of the metaphor, so that the logic is intrinsic, not extrinsic.

  29. I liked THE TREE OF LIFE a lot. In fact it is probably my favourite of his films. I love the way all his films, from Badlands to the present are seeking to evoke prelapsarian states of being.
    It’s a wonderful meditation on memory and meaning, grief and time, innocence and experience. Nice too the way he combines factual and detailed social realism with metaphysics and existential questioning. I especially enjoyed the spiritual aspects, the hinting at possibilities of redemption.
    I thought Sean Penn did a good job

  30. Fiona observed that he’s very good on the contradictions of childhood: the kids are sweet and thoughtful, also feral and brutal (grace and nature at war in them).

    I also see the birth of the universe stuff as sand in the vaseline for the religious right.

  31. I think the stuff about the childhood was the best and wished that it had just been the film without everything else. I’m not convinced about his attempt to reconcile evolution and god – at least I think that’s what he was trying to do.

    you are much more forebearing about audiences than me David. Sat through 40 min loop of silent films this weekend with 2 separate inanne conversations behind me so giving looks of pure hate. (forgot my gun again!)

  32. david wingrove Says:

    THE TREE OF LIFE strikes me as a very good small movie (the childhood reminiscences, which are magical) lost inside a very bad big movie (all the other stuff). Unless you’re a Californian guru, group hug therapy on a beach is never a good idea.

    Sad to hear about Googie Withers. in terms of old movie stars dying, 2011 is turning into the worst year since 1977 – and that’s saying a lot!

  33. Googie Withers was in Tree of Life? One of the dead people on the beach?

    This had so many things going against it (the whole God thing was the biggest for me) that I’m surprised that I loved it so much. Malick’s skill in representing impressionistic fragmented memory is a thing of beauty and the image of the mother dancing in the air almost choked me with tears of awe – something that I get quite easily, usually at the first sound of the deep bass rumbling at the beginning of 2001. Or Finding Nemo.

    If you’re in Melbourne and haven’t seen it yet please consider going somewhere other than The Nova in Carlton. You may as well be watching on TV with 50 strangers breathing in your ear. The sound, which I wanted to overwhelm me in a sensory wash like Ligeti’s music in 2001, was instead a soft murmur. Way too quiet.

  34. Oh, and I can’t wait for the DVD extras; the gag reel, the bloopers. Hilarious.

  35. Malick being the retiring type (and yet, this whole film is a giant act of personal self-exposure), I wonder what we’ll get in the way of extras. But yeah, a blooper where the universe fails to be created on the first take would be nice.

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