Terrence Malick is bringing to light consciousness of the universe and what it means to be a human being in the present moment in his latest production, Voyage of Time: Life’s Journey, produced by Dede Gardner, Nicolas Gonda, Sarah Green, Bill Pohlad, Sophokles Tasioulis, Brad Pitt and Grant Hill. Paul Atkins served as the Cinematographer with Dan Glass handling special effects. Keith Fraase and Rahman Ali provided editing. Cate Blanchett narrated.
Over two decades ago, Malick reached out to a Harvard Professor of Natural History and the author of Life On a Young Planet: The First Three Billion Years and Biology: How LIfe Works, Andrew Knoll, and said he wanted to make a picture about natural history and the cosmos grounded in science. Malick had long been an admirer of natural history films drawing inspiration from earlier films such as Cheese Mites, a 1903 landmark film by British cinema pioneer Charles Urban and zoologist Francis Martin Duncan, depicting the microbial world inside a piece of Stilton cheese, and George Melies’ 1902 Le Voyage Dans La Lune. Knoll had seen Malick’s recent film at the time, Badlands. Having enjoyed the film, Knoll agreed to be a part of it. Little did he know of Malick’s appetite to thoroughly investigate and devour subjects and correlating theories.
An ambitious project in the making for over two decades, Voyage runs the gamut of time from the first cells splitting and foraging their way in and through their vacuuous environment to the land of the dinosaurs and Tyrannus Rex to the dawn of man up to today and into the future with sweeping visuals and spectacular effects sure to encapsulate and stimulate the mind’s imagination of time and place.
The result is a journey uncovering what shape and form time has given and what shape and form that time has taken. From the early Primordial III stars that ushered the first sparkles of light to the universe and the Tiktaalik fish that came out of the oceans to walk on land, the question of representation loomed. Four areas of particular importance needed attention: (1) Creating the astrophysical imagery before the solar system existed, and then conceiving and visualizing the futurescape of the universe referencing the latest theories on cosmic destiny; (2) Representing the protoplanetary disk that formed and condensed to become the solar system and the planet within; (3) Imagining the first unicellular forms of life in all their majesty and motion, which would learn to replicate and form increasingly complex organisms; and (4) Reconceiving animals no longer on earth and blending them with analog equivalents.
Accordingly, Producer Grant Hill introduced Malick to Dan Glass who came aboard as the film’s special effects supervisor. The two delved into wide-ranging special effects in an Austin, Texas photographic laboratory they called, Skunkworks, a techie and industry term conoting radical innovation in research and development. Included into the mix were a variety of scientists and artists who collaborated to give representation to abstract images. Conducting chemical experiments, a myriad of liquids, solids, and gasses were filmed at high speeds to generate a spectrum of effects as the team produced an array of stunning images.
In addition, sublime photographs from the Hubble Space Telescope, NASA’s interplanetary space probes, the Solar Dynamic Observatory – a satellite observing the sun, as well as adapted supercomputer simulations and electron-microscopy added to the production’s visual cornucopia of images.
Long time cinematographer Paul Atkins was charged with assembling a series of forest and desertscapes as well as seascapes to provide backdrop for the computer generated imagery of long-lost species. To provide contrast and to remind viewers of the ebb and flow of existence – and its future- , contemporary images of humankind were collected from lo-fi Harinezumi cameras Malick handed out to people across the globe that produced warm,fuzz, colorful images.
Sound designer Joel Dougherty was brought in to create and weave in natural and speculative sounds of the universe. Meanwhile, Music Supervisor Lauren Mikus worked closely with Malick in selecting instrumental pieces evoking the swirling, swelling and creative energy at both ends of the magnitude scale.
To watch Voyage of Time is a journey unto itself. Malick tells his story in a non-linear fashion allowing the viewer to create meaning from what’s being shown and from what’s being seen. Cate Blanchett’s voice has a soothing quality as she vocalizes some pretty heady stuff. If you like stunning visuals, this is a film for you. Warmly recommended.
Voyage of Time will be released in two differing formats. One a 90-minute poetic foray full of open questions narrated by Cate Blanchett and the second a 45-minute giant screen adventure for all ages narrated by Brad Pitt.
(Source: Voyage of Time Pressbook)
Photos courtesy of ASAC/la_Biennale Cinema