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The Tree of Life – The Criterion Collection (Blu-ray Review)

While acclaimed filmmaker Terrence Malick is no stranger to The Criterion Collection, one could see The Tree of Life as one of the best examples of a film made with the eventual intention of being released in this manner. While the movie received plenty of plaudits and accolades in 2011, its regard as one of the defining films of this decade by many is not at all surprising. At the same time, the ethereal mystery that is this film makes it the perfect example of cinema bound to be explored by many, let alone given new perspective by those who appear on this new released to speak on its behalf. There’s also the matter of the entirely new cut of the film, which is just one of the many things to go over for this impressive release.

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Film:

Note: For the sake of this Criterion Collection review, I will be writing from the perspective of one who has now seen both cuts of the film. To read my initial take on the theatrical cut of the film released in 2011, find my review HERE.

It has been a few years since I last took in a viewing of The Tree of Life, but this recent rewatch continues to show the film as one that gets better with time. Not that an initial viewing experience, particularly in an immersive movie theater setting, is not impactful in its own way. No, this is a film that is decidedly different than anything else, and that continues to work in its favor. Many can point to Kubrick, Davies, Tarkovsky, among others, when it comes to finding a cinematic spectacle that is comparable, but the film is entirely from the mind of Malick.

Regarding what is taking place here, well, there is a through line that can be understood. The film presents multiple narrative strands. Chronologically, we see the birth of the universe, the 1950s Texas childhood of Jack (Hunter McCracken), and the reflections of an older Jack (Sean Penn). Of course, not unlike 2001: A Space Odyssey, there is much more to take in than the broad outline of the film’s plot. That speaks to why these narrative threads are shuffled to some degree and the otherworldly imagery that we see, in addition to the stunning depiction of American, thanks to the terrific cinematography handled by Emmanuel Lubezki

Those wanting to know more about what this extended version of the film holds, which clocks in at 3 hours and 8 minutes, just know it’s not an entirely new movie. Perhaps it could have a more profound thematic impact for some, but we are still saying a film that is constructed in a manner that puts forth the same story and emotional beats. Other sites may be more inclined to include a breakdown, and good on them. I can say, of what I noticed, Penn’s scenes seem to have been extended to some degree, providing a bit more clarity on what he’s doing here.

Jessica Chastain’s role seems to have been expanded, with numerous scenes further emphasizing the role she has as a gentle, nurturing mother, compared to the strict authoritarian father played by Brad Pitt. Most of the additional 51 minutes added to the feature come in the 50s childhood scenes (there’s also likely to be alternate takes or differently edited scenes that further allow for a distinct version). There’s a scene with one of Jack’s teachers, some areas dealing with other kids in the neighborhoods, and other little moments.

I have read that Malick and those working on bringing this version to life have found themselves making a new film entirely, thanks to the branching technology afforded by Blu-ray technology. That may be so for Malick and others on an emotional level, but again, it is hard to say this new version makes the film more or less visually coherent, let alone feel like a newly crafted feature that explores new ideas. As it stands, both versions feel like the ultimate take on bringing naturalism to life, among other takes on the film that plenty of critics, scholars, and others have discussed to some degree.

Sadly, there are no new dinosaurs to behold, but worry not, The Tree of Life is just as remarkable as ever. It is a long, deliberately paced feature, sure to throw many off. Malick’s work, especially his 21st-century efforts, have leaned harder on the divisive side. That said, while I can’t say I found new meaning that I hadn’t already consider in previous watches of the theatrical cut, I can’t say I don’t continue to appreciate what is laid before me.

Sure, there is more to discover in how numerous aspects of this feature connect to others. I can also say that I’m even more impressed by the performances, given how used to this visual aesthetic I am at this point. That’s part of the best thing I see in The Tree of Life. Regardless of which cut I choose to watch from this point, there’s plenty to continue to take in, based on what’s been achieved by Malick, that goes beyond what I felt at one point or what one could determine to be going on. It’s deeper than that, and that’s much appreciated.


Video:

Encoding: MPEG-4 AVC

Resolution: 1080p

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1

Details: The digital transfer of the theatrical version was created in 4K resolution on a Spirit 4K DataCine film scanner from the 35mm original camera negative. Additional footage for the extended version was scanned from the original camera negative and a 35mm interpositive on a Lasergraphics Director film scanner.

Clarity/Detail: Those who have already purchased or seen the theatrical version should know how fantastic that Blu-ray looked. There is little to say about this Criterion release that speaks to what is different, beyond an understanding that the 4K remaster allows for a proper upscaling of what already looked great.

More notable is what can be seen on the extended version. Essentially, there is a difference in the color grading that separates the two versions. It’s not on the level of something like Payback and its director’s cut, but one can observe a bluer version presented in the extended version. This is not entirely present throughout the extended version, but comparing the two makes it clear enough that this extra step was taken to further enhance the vision of a new version of the same movie.

Depth: A proper handle on character spacing keeps the image from ever feeling flat. The camera moves around constantly, sometimes zooming along, close the ground. It certainly helps in allowing the film to achieve a strong sense of dimensionality.

Black Levels: Black levels are deep, with no sign of crush. It is sometimes quite striking, given the use of color when thinking of the different methods to capture a sense of reality, the surreal, and the creation of the world.

Color Reproduction: Amazing! The color reproduction for this film is basically perfect. The beautiful use of colors throughout means taking in even more of the detail present and seeing just how rich this production is.

Flesh Tones: The detail level seen in the actual characters is impressive. The actors all look great with this presentation. With so many close-ups, you can easily get a sense of what makes up the looks of everyone onscreen.

Noise/Artifacts: Nothing to note.

 

Audio:

Audio Format(s): English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1

Subtitles: English SDH

Details: The sound for the additional footage was supervised and rerecorded by Joel Dougherty.

Dynamics: It has been noted the audio has been carefully remixed for this new release and that adds up in my estimation. Everything about the sound design in this film is incredibly specific, and it serves the film well. From the fantastic work by Alexandre Desplat to the sound of nature coming through so cleanly, everything registers as it should.

Low-Frequency Extension: Scenes that go over the creation of the world and nature-specific sequences find the LFE channel getting some suitable work.

Surround Sound Presentation: Terrific balance all around here.

Dialogue Reproduction: Everyone sounds clean and clear.

 

Extras:

As you could surmise, this new edition of The Tree of Life features the wizard finally stepping out from behind the curtain, as Malick decides to lay out all the juicy details you’ve been wanting, explaining all his themes and more. This is, of course, a bold-faced lie. Malick does not delve into anything concerning his film, he’s nowhere to be found, but there are some brand-new interviews, essays, and more that go over the production, perceptions and other thoughts about the film as a whole.

Features Include:

Disc One

  • Exploring The Tree of Life (HD, 30:00) – Originally featured on the 2011 Blu-ray release, this documentary features various filmmakers and collaborators of Malick’s, including David Fincher and Christopher Nolan, discussing the filmmaker’s work.
  • Jessica Chastain (HD, 18:37) – The actress talks about her audition process, what it was like to film something like this, and more.
  • Visual Effects (HD, 22:30) – A wonderful look at the very practical ways much of the ethereal and creation imagery was handled for this film.
  • Music (HD, 18:53) – Critic Alex Ross discusses the ways music plays a role in this film.
  • Cinematography (HD, 16:26) – This video essay finds critic Benjamin B examining the visual style and composition of The Tree of Life. Phone interviews with Lubezki and several other filmmakers involved in production further elaborate on what is seen in the film.
  • All Things Shining, Part 5: The Tree of LifeA two-part video essay from critic Matt Zoller Seitz and editor Serena Bramble. Part one speaks to Malick as a filmmaker and what he’s accomplished with this film. Part two speaks to specific themes found in different portions of the film.
    • Part One (12:15)
    • Part Two (11:48)
  • Trailer (HD, 2:06)

Disc Two

  • Extended Version (HD, 3:08:00) – The extended version of the film, featuring over 50 minutes of additional footage.

PLUS – An essay by critic Kent Jones and a 2011 piece on the film by critic Roger Ebert

 

Summary:

The Criterion Collection has been very good to Terrence Malick over the years, and that continues to show with this terrific release of The Tree of Life. While a lack of his personal participation is unfortunate (if expected), there is still plenty to take in from the new extras produced for this release. Additionally, you have an extraordinarily made film getting terrific treatment regarding audio/visual presentation when it comes to either cut of the film. Even if you already have the original release, this is an experience worth taking more part in.

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Writer/Reviewer, Film Lover, Podcaster, Video Game Player, Comic Book Reader, Disc Golfer & a Lefty. There are too many films, TV, books, etc. for me to list as favorites, but I can assure that the amount film knowledge within my noggin is ridiculous, though I am always open to learning more. You can follow me on Twitter @AaronsPS4, see what else I am up to at TheCodeIsZeek.com & check out my podcast, Out Now with Aaron and Abe, on iTunes.

1 Response to “The Tree of Life – The Criterion Collection (Blu-ray Review)”


  1. E. HUNTER HALE

    Excellent review for a exceptional release. For me THE TREE OF LIFE grows in beauty and spiritual meaning with each screening. I am thrilled with the extended version as it adds dimension to understanding the people of the story and what influences in their lives have shaped them to who they are. The film conjures up memories as one reflects on their personal life which may be similar to those in the film or very different. Each persons life is a unique journey and THE TREE OF LIFE helps one reflect on the experience of life and put it in a spiritual realm. THE TREE OF LIFE like a great painting or piece of music invites the viewer to return and partake again. The extended version adds to that experience.