Voyage of Time: The IMAX Experience (2016)

From so simple a beginning.

Writer-director Terrence Malick seems to have had a sudden, drastic change in his filmmaking output since the great success of The Tree of Life (2011). Once known as a director who would disappear, only to quietly re-emerge some years later with a newly acclaimed feature — his largest gap being twenty years between Days of Heaven (1978) and The Thin Red Line (1998) — Malick seems to be determined to make up for lost time.

The trouble is, it seems Malick believes he has perfected his preferred moviemaking style with The Tree of Life and has quickly forgotten to approach the following projects with a fresh pair of eyes. While clearly a distinct auteur, his semi-improvisational manner choked the likes of To the Wonder (2012), an utter snore-fest that featured a bewildered Ben Affleck (who peered helplessly into the distance), and Knight of Cups (2015), which I’ve yet dared to watch — although I’ve heard it’s a little more tolerable than the aforementioned, but falls somewhere in the same ballpark. And so, here we are with the long-gestating Voyage of Time (2016), another Terrence Malick project with loads of promise.

Great Balls of Fire!

Voyage of Time doesn’t possess a narrative or the heavy scientific explanation that would be typical of these sorts of IMAX documentaries; in fact, it’s perhaps the largest experimental film to observe the development of Earth and its inhabitants. While the longer 90 minute version is narrated by Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine (2013), the 45 minute IMAX cut sees Brad Pitt, World War Z (2013), do the voice-over, the 53-year-old whispering questions with the curiosity of a child staring up into the stars — the age old question ‘How did we get here?’ being the big through-line. This type of existential wandering has come to define Malick’s work more and more but actually seems appropriate here, even if it’s likely to frustrate viewers who believe they’re in for a typical documentary-style presentation.

The overall feel of Voyage of Time can be likened to influential German filmmaker Werner Herzog’s Fata Morgana (1971), which took an experimental approach, the movie featuring footage that was shot in and around the Sahara Desert and played against music by renowned singer Leonard Cohen. Like that film, Voyage of Time is about succumbing to pure cinematic imagery and sound, while letting your thoughts meditate on the larger ideas being presented. It’s certainly not for everyone, but will appeal to philosophical and cerebral types. Personally, I was somewhere between checking my watch or totally in awe of the gorgeous imagery on screen, yet I can’t deny I enjoyed how unique the whole experience was. Frankly, it takes a lot of chutzpah to do something of this scale and not fall into the temptation of a straightforward structure or formula.

Welcome to Middle Earth

The cinematography by Paul Atkins, Muse (2015), is mostly shot on IMAX stock, with some other moments digitally captured — together, it’s all rather stunning. We are taken from modern day suburbia to the outer rims of the solar system, then back down to the microcosmic world of bacteria as the world develops with creatures, people and plant life. Even at a mere 45 minutes, it certainly feels as though viewers get enough of the experience and frankly, I’m not really sure what the double-length version can do to improve what’s on offer here.

While certainly far from a dud, Voyage of Time is a hard film to wholeheartedly recommend, but for anyone who might be looking for something spectacular and different, there may be enough intrigue here to warrant a visit to your closest IMAX screen.

3 / 5 – Good

Reviewed by Steve Ramsie

Voyage of Time: The IMAX Experience is currently playing at IMAX Melbourne, Australia