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VOYAGE OF TIME: Life's Journey

A collection of footage gathered over 40 years from all over the world, the 45-minute feature takes viewers on a journey through the history of the universe

Intriguingly, for such a control-freak auteur, Voyage of Time is being issued in two different versions, at two different running times: the one Venice is presenting is a 90-minute edit, subtitled Life’s Journey, with a voiceover provided by Cate Blanchett.

Also floating around is one half its length, intended for the giant-format Imax cinemas, with Blanchett replaced by Brad Pitt. (According to Malick’s own notes, Pitt’s voiceover is “more awestruck and explanatory”; we’ll just have to wait and see exactly what that means.)
Moreover, slightly more advance information has been available about Voyage of Time than is usual for project from the famously secretive director; partly, at least, because Malick got himself ensnared in some unwelcome litigation after an unhappy backer claimed he “forgot” about it. (The case has now been settled.)

Malick’s stated ambition is to describe the “scientific chronology of Earth” – to, in effect, chronicle the development of our universe and planet at macro and micro levels – and, given that the contents of his own mind have increasingly preoccupied Malick’s creative imagination, it is I suppose a logical development for him to produce a film with no actors, and any human input in front of the camera kept to an absolute minimum.
The first point to make is that, for this feature-length version at any rate, anyone expecting a brisk, informative science lesson – along the lines, say, of that rather handy little film that explained how they cloned dinosaurs in Jurassic Park – will be disappointed. Malick has provided a dazzling flow of quite astonishing images, but provided little in the way of context; Blanchett’s voiceover, hardly there in any case, is very much on the incantatory, putatively poetic lines for which the director clearly has a weakness. 

Everything comes in a heady rush; so much so it’s difficult to process what exactly we are seeing. Vast galactic spaces, filled with churning cosmic matter, give way to pristine earthbound landscapes; great care is taken to focus on the flow and change and transformation of what is being filmed. Malick then swoops even further in, down to microscopic and even subatomic levels: microbes, cells, and smaller particles all float by in their eye-popping glory. What’s particularly remarkable is that there is little difference in the brilliant image quality between the intense, high-definition footage of natural phenomena, and the superbly rendered CGI that has been employed for the sections for which the film-makers must rely on their own imaginations: star collapses, expanding galaxies, and the like.
Without any contextual information, it’s down to the audience to pick up on Malick’s cues as to the sense of the development of geological time: some are more obvious than others, such as the arrival of a giant asteroid shortly after we get a look at a friendly-looking CGI dinosaur (who, for obvious reasons, never reappears). Humans aren’t shut out entirely; in the film’s final third we are invited to watch a group of (suspiciously gym-hardened) early humans, who pass through stages of hunting, clothes-wearing and family life, as well as the apparent development of ritual and spirituality. Malick also intersperses his glorious natural imagery throughout with scrappy bits of lo-fi video footage of contemporary human activity across the globe – largely, but not entirely, in cramped urban spaces. It’s quite a contrast.
In this version, then, Voyage of Time is perhaps best appreciated as an abstract, with its sheer profusion of natural beauty and consequent synchronicities of image. It’s not entirely without precedent – the Koyaanisqatsi films by Godfrey Reggio and Ron Fricke had something of a similar aesthetic ambition, though with very different ends in mind, and the Eames’ famous short, Powers of Ten, contains a little of the same dizzying sense of scale, though in exquisite miniature. Voyage of Time, in the end, is a perhaps an aesthetic experience rather than an particularly informative one, prizing images over data; but what images they are.

Voyage of Time: Life's Journey review – Terrence Malick's eye-popping history of the universe Andrew Pulver 7 September 2016

Raccontare il mistero della vita in 90 minuti, partendo dall’origine dell’universo fino all’arrivo dell’uomo sul pianeta azzurro, per proiettarlo poi verso un futuro incerto, fatto di mancanza di rispetto per la natura e i propri simili. Questo l’obbiettivo ambizioso di Terrence Malick con “Voyage of Time: Life’s Journey”.  Presentato in concorso alla 73esima Mostra Internazionale d’Arte Cinematografica di Venezia, il film del regista filosofo ci regala immagini straordinarie: stelle, galassie, la bellezza del Cielo e della Terra, con le foreste e i ghiacciai, e il mare con la danza elegante delle meduse. E evoca le parole della Genesi: “‘Siate fecondi e moltiplicatevi, riempite la terra; soggiogatela e dominate sui pesci del mare e sugli uccelli del cielo e su ogni essere vivente, che striscia sulla terra. Ecco, io vi do ogni erba che produce seme e che è su tutta la terra e ogni albero in cui è il frutto, che produce seme: saranno il vostro cibo. A tutte le bestie selvatiche, a tutti gli uccelli del cielo e a tutti gli esseri che strisciano sulla terra e nei quali è alito di vita, io do in cibo ogni erba verde’. E così avvenne”.
Malik fotografa quindi gli esseri umani, che ci mostra anche nella loro realtà biologica di combinazione di cellule, a cominciare dai cromosomi e dal DNA che ci determinano e torna a parlare dei temi che più lo affascinano: il senso della vita, il ruolo dell’uomo nel mondo, la bellezza muta e imperturbabile della natura in contrasto con gli affanni e le preoccupazioni degli esseri umani, creature affascinanti quanto complesse, creature mortali capaci di concepire pensieri infiniti.

Concepito negli anni ’70, il documentario aveva originariamente il titolo di “Q” e affianca quel capolavoro di poesia e bellezza che è “The Tree of Life”, vincitore della Palma d’Oro a Cannes nel 2011. Ora, a cinque anni di distanza, le immagini non utilizzate per il film con protagonista Jessica Chastain sono finite in “Voyage of Time”, che mostra al pubblico la stessa meraviglia vista nella precedente opera, ma questa volta senza dei personaggi a fare da filo conduttore. Come unica guida il film utilizza infatti la splendida voce narrante di Cate Blanchett.

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