Has the modern holy grail of cinema been found? There had been much talk over the years of an extended version of Terrence Malick‘s Palme d’Or winning 2011 film, “The Tree of Life.” In fact, in the famous lead up to the movie cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki revealed that the director was putting a together rumored a six-hour cut of the movie, from the over 300 miles of footage he had accumulated, with Malick’s longtime editor Billy Weber later teasing a DVD release.
A treasure that big isn’t coming, but Peter Becker of the Criterion Collection confirmed that a longer version of “The Tree Of Life” is coming to his boutique Blu-Ray and DVD label and it’s almost an hour longer and just shy of three hours (!!). “There’s a kind of cloud of myth that surrounds ‘The Tree of Life,’ that somewhere there’s a long-lost five-hour cut that was never released. That’s not the case,” Becker told Variety today. “The film that he presented in Cannes is the film that he wanted to make.”
Evidently, Malick has been secretly working on this new cut, and it will be included by the Criterion Collection as a supplement to an enhanced special-edition Blu-ray and DVD release later this year. But it’s not going to supersede the existing cut.
“Terry doesn’t see this as a director’s cut,” says Criterion president Peter Becker said, insisting that the 139-minute theatrical version is the official “director’s cut” and remains the centerpiece of the upcoming Criterion release. “It’s a fresh view of the film that has a different rhythm and a different balance.”
This is not the first time Malick has done such a seen-from-a-new-perspective cut, and he released a similarly expanded and revised cut of 2005’s “The New World” for the DVD version as well (that was eventually re-released by Criterion years later). The disc contains three different cuts of the movie.
Apparently, conversations about a longer ‘Tree Of Life’ cut on Criterion go back as far as 2011. Here’s a critical line from Variety before you start losing your mind with speculation. But in short, no new creationism footage and more character stuff including family character members cut out of the original film.
As cinephiles’ imaginations race, it’s important to note: The expanded 179-minute cut doesn’t contain more effects shots, and the epic creation sequence remains untouched. But it restores material that Malick was exploring for the version that was shown in Cannes, including specific events and characters that were referenced only elliptically in the original film. Audiences will get specific insights into Mr. O’Brien’s [Brad Pitt‘s characters] painful upbringing, meet members of Mrs. O’Brien’s [Jessica Chastain‘s] extended family, and witness a major natural catastrophe that serves as a kind of centerpiece for what Becker has been calling “the new version.”
“We have never undertaken anything this extensive or this challenging…” Becker said, but noted, “the only thing we didn’t do is go shoot new material.”
If anyone is dying to know what a longer “Tree of Life” cut looks like, first in line may be Sean Penn. Suffering a fate many others have faced before (Adrien Brody, for example) the actor’s role was notoriously downsized in the final version, and Penn, who was a significant part of Malick’s “The Thin Red Line” was vocally displeased. But if this version makes more room for the family and their personal dramas, perhaps Penn will find his way into the film a little deeper.
Something tells me that Criterion is going to save this for a late fall date which is where all their big Christmas stocking-stuffer releases generally fall.