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TIFF 2016: ‘Voyage Of Time’ Is Terrence Malick’s Space Odyssey

Who’s Behind It

Writer/director Terrence Malick (The Thin Red Line, Tree of Life).

Who’s In It

Almost no one. With the exception of some actors who briefly appear as cavemen, the only humans onscreen appear in fleeting, low-grade documentary footage. In addition, one version of the film is narrated by Cate Blanchett, while the other is narrated by Brad Pitt. (More on that in a minute.)

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Who’ll Love It

Terrence Malick fans capable of connecting with strong imagery, even in the absence of story and character. Voyage of Time should also make an impression on anyone who appreciated the creation sequence in Tree of Life, as both were derived from the same material.

What’s It About

If ever a film resisted plot synopsis, this is the one. According to TIFF, Voyage of Time “chronicles nothing less than the history of the universe.” While the specifics of what we’re seeing are withheld throughout, we get a chance to see formative moments from throughout the Earth’s history and many natural phenomena that are still present and ongoing today. It should also be noted that two distinct versions of Voyage of Time are being unveiled at TIFF. We had a chance to see Voyage of Time: Life’s Journey, the 90-minute version featuring poetic narration by Cate Blanchett. As far as we know, Voyage of Time: The IMAX Experience is an abridged 45-minute cut narrated in more easily digested scientific language by Brad Pitt. Either way, be sure to brace yourself for an experience that’s heavy on astonishing imagery and light on conventional narrative.

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Why You Should See It

This is the closest Terrence Malick has come to making his own 2001: A Space Odyssey. But in addition to psychedelic space imagery and a few glimpses of primitive man—that also recall Quest for FireVoyage of Time is comprised of stunning nature cinematography, much of which is created or augmented by special effects. What separates this from more traditional nature documentaries is Malick’s decision (in the Life’s Journey version anyway) to use poetic narration that keeps the imagery open-ended and enigmatic, rather than explain away its mysteries with scientific information. Like the non-narrative documentaries of Godfrey Reggio (Koyaanisqatsi) and Ron Fricke (Baraka), this is a kind of guided meditation that avoids conventional drama, but if you surrender to the experience, you may find yourself looking at the world in a new way.

When You Can See It

Voyage of Time: Life’s Journey screens three times: Saturday, September 10 at 3:15pm (Princess of Wales); Friday, September 16 at 9:30am (TIFF Bell Lightbox 1); Sunday, September 18 at 12:15pm (Scotiabank 14). Voyage of Time: The IMAX Experience screens twice: Saturday, September 10 at 10:45pm (Scotiabank 12); Saturday, September 17 at 10:45am (Scotiabank 12).

Check out the trailer below.

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