Voyage of Time review – Terrence Malick awestruck in the face of existence


Malick’s mood-footnote to The Tree of Life sets visions of the dawn of the universe and mankind against a ludicrously solemn Brad Pitt voiceover

Five years after it was first shown at the Venice film festival, Terrence Malick’s 45-minute docu-meditation about the dawn of time, nature and humankind finally gets a release in the UK on streaming platform Mubi.

With its bold images of the natural world and occasional dinosaur-fantasy sequences, accompanied by a sonorous voiceover from Brad Pitt, this was always conceived by the director as a standalone project but is effectively a kind of adjunct or mood-footnote to his award-winning 2011 experimental epic The Tree of Life. That had many of the same preoccupations and imagery, but crucially a smaller-scale human component, the story of a 1950s Texas family which gave the cosmic effusions a filmic immediacy and relevance.

A longer feature-length version of Voyage of Time was made, but slightly mystifyingly it is specifically this shorter version, intended for Imax theatres, which is being released now and what was undoubtedly a spectacular Imax event is left looking pretty exposed on the small screen. There is nothing here we haven’t seen on David Attenborough’s programmes, and Attenborough’s witty, informative and unobtrusive commentary feels more to the point now than Pitt who at one moment gasps: “What is nature? The inexhaustible giver …” Blandly calling nature “inexhaustible” is very naive given the climate crisis.

That said: there is nothing necessarily absurd in Malick’s awe and Heideggerian astonishment in the face of the inexplicable vastness and complexity of existence, his style is still urgent and distinctive and his question is perfectly valid: “Why is there something rather than nothing?” But without the dramatic dimension that Malick created for The Tree of Life, this feels platitudinous: the kind of presentation that might be shown to parties of schoolchildren at the Science Museum.

• Voyage of Time is released on 17 December on Mubi.












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