One of this year’s most anticipated films — which was also one of last year’s most anticipated films and may well be one of next year’s most anticipated films, since nobody seems to know when it will be released — is “The Tree of Life” (Apparition, TBD), the fifth feature film from director Terrence Malick, who is both one of the most revered auteurs and one of the biggest recluses in film history.
Malick makes Garbo look like a publicity whore. Over the past 37 years, he has directed only four feature films, and probably made even fewer public appearances. His first two films, “Badlands” (1973) and “Days of Heaven” (1978), were ambitious, low-key, visually beautiful stories about young couples on the run from the law, and were particularly adored by critics and intellectuals. Just when it seemed like Malick was hitting his stride, though, he dropped out of sight — for 20 years. We now know that he spent much of that time living in France; how he survived, however, remains a mystery, since there’s no record of him doing anything else for a living, and he certainly wasn’t living off of blockbuster earnings for his first two films. (“Days of Heaven” barely made back its $3 million budget.)
In the late nineties, Malick returned with “The Thin Red Line” (1998), an epic movie set against the backdrop of the World War II Battle of Guadalcanal that was completely unlike his earlier efforts. The film was celebrated by critics; wound up with 7 Oscar nods (including best picture, best director, and best adapted screenplay); but returned only $36 million of the $52 million that 20th Century Fox had given him to spend on it. He then took off another 7 years before unveiling his fourth film, “The New World” (2005), which was more in the vein of his earlier, intimate, nature-celebrating period pieces — and which also tanked at the box office, making back less than $13 million of the $30 million budget that New Line, of all studios, had afforded it.
Now, five years later, we are apparently on the verge of seeing Malick’s fifth film: according to several reports, “The Tree of Life” was recently screened for and given a PG-13 rating by the MPAA, which would seem to indicate that a 2010 release date is likely, although distributor Apparition hasn’t yet announced one. So, what is the film all about and why has it taken more than two years to complete? Here’s what we know…
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