Sunday, March 05, 2006

Movie / The New World

Warning: This review may contain spoilers.

The best time to write a film review is while you can still hear the theme music playing in your head -- in this case some rich but tuneless horn textures from Wagner's Das Rheingold, set against sky and water shots.

I wouldn't give this movie five stars, four is enough. And I don't see it as breaking new ground in film making. Much of it is a voice over documentary (based on diaries) of the life of Pocahontas, the landing of the English at Jamestown in 1607, her saving Capt. John Smith from execution by her father's men, the first colonists starving and going crazy, a number of pitched battles as the Indians seek to evict them, and so on.

The casting, acting, and directing are solid all the way through. All the actors and particularly the girl look authentic, as do the many Native American extras, the locations, etc. What makes this film great is the profound / deep sense of transformation in Pocahontas' life, from the chief's favorite daughter, to the wife of an Englishman (not Smith), to meeting the King and Queen and becoming a favorite at court, the "Princess of the New World." This is what really hits you and has you weeping at the end. What an amazing personal journey!

She and Smith experienced true love in the forest, but he dumped her to seek his fortune elsewhere, and they told her he was dead. So she married another kind and reliable chap, and changed her name to Rebecca. Later the two meet again, on some English estate, she realizes he was not the right man after all, and goes back and hugs her husband and father of their child. Smith totally goofed, thinking she was "just a native," and now he sees her in a costly gown, but it is far too late.

The girl's unique personality is the driver all the way through -- saving Smith, getting food to the colonists to save them from starving, and, after her father disowns her, her successful adaptation to English life, culminating in her reception at Court. Then unfortunately on the return voyage she took sick and died, which folks had a habit of doing back then.

This film makes you sit through too many poetic, impressionistic, wilderness and sky shots, with endless voice overs, to experience episodic moments of greatness. However, the overall impact is powerful, so on that account highly recommended for those with a taste for slow-paced historical drama. There is a fair amount of hand to hand combat and gun violence, and the English are portrayed as much more uncivil, unhappy, and culturally screwed up than the Indians, but there is no sex and little psychological tension.


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