Review: Voyage of Time: An IMAX Documentary

Voyage of Time: An IMAX Documentary screenshot

Year: 2016 | Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

After five years of being basically inaccessible to American audiences outside of a few select IMAX screenings across the country, MUBI has finally made the IMAX cut of Terrence Malick’s Voyage of Time widely available for the first time. It’s worth noting, for those who don’t know, that there are actually two versions of this film: a feature-length version featuring narration by Cate Blanchett, and a shorter, 45-minute version designed to be shown in IMAX theaters in science centers and other institutions, narrated by Brad Pitt. It’s the latter version of this documentary that is currently streaming on MUBI.

But really, the term “documentary” is a bit of a misnomer here. While Voyage of Time certainly isn’t a narrative film, it’s also far removed from what we could typically think of when we hear the phrase “nature documentary”. In fact, most of the IMAX cut’s runtime is essentially an extended version of the creation and destruction sequences from Malick’s 2011 masterpiece The Tree of Life, during which Malick shows us simulated images of the creation of the universe and our planet, and of early life, backed by philosophical musings by Pitt and grand, sweeping classical pieces. While none of the images here provoke quite the emotional response as the “Lacrimosa” sequence from The Tree of Life, it’s clear that Malick’s intent here isn’t to give a factual account of the history of the Earth, so much as to present themes through which the audience can connect these events of the unfathomably ancient past to their modern lives.

To this end, Voyage of Time is very much a companion piece to The Tree of Life, and many of the philosophical threads carry over from that film: when compared to the never-ending flow of time, how much significance do our daily thoughts and actions, trials and triumphs, cares and worries really hold? Does the eventual end of our sun, and thus our planet, render everything that happens here moot? Or, rather, does the fact that our lives exist on the same cosmic plain as these life-giving and cataclysmic events mean that our lives matter just as much as anything else has ever mattered? As usual, Malick does not seek to answer these questions, but simply to ask them. It’s up to us to decide.

From a technical standpoint, Voyage of Time, as expected from any Malick film, is a simply astounding piece of cinematic art. Featuring the same visual effects methods used in The Tree of Life, the abstract visualizations of the cosmos are engaging and, at times, mesmerizing. The cinematography is, of course, breathtaking, and every single frame is vibrant to the point of bursting with color, a wonderful thing to witness when compared to the ever-graying composition of most narrative films these days. The sound design is excellent, especially later in the film, when nature and industry exist hand-in-hand. I would have loved to have seen this film in its original IMAX release, because I’m positive that it would have looked and sounded even better in its intended format. But MUBI’s 4K presentation still packs quite a wallop.

All in all, for a film that clocks in at just under 46 minutes, the IMAX version of Voyage of Time has a lot to say, and it says it well. I do wonder how much audiences who haven’t seen The Tree of Life would feel about this piece, but seeing as I consider that film to be one of the greatest films of all time, this was right up my alley. I can only hope that eventually the feature-length version sees some sort of wide release, so that I can get the full experience.

Language: English
Genre: Documentary
Runtime: 44 min.
Rating: G

Director: Terrence Malick
Starring: Brad Pitt, Jamal Cavil, Maisha Diatta, Yagazie Emezi, Daryl James Harris II

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