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Laramie Movie Scope:
The New World

A clash of cultures

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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February 12, 2006 -- “The New World” is a beautiful, visually poetic film about star-crossed lovers John Smith and Pocahontas, starting with the founding of James Fort and the Jamestown colony in 1607 and covering the first war with native tribes.

The film shows the clash of cultures, as well as a love which transcends racial boundaries. At the center of the film is Pocahontas, portrayed by a beautiful young actress named Q'Orianka Kilcher. She captures the beauty and innocence of the native culture. It shows her transition to European culture and her triumph in the Court of King James. Colin Farrell (“Daredevil”), who plays Capt. John Smith, on the other hand, seems more passive, unable to make the transition to native culture, or to bridge the cultural divide. He seems trapped by circumstances to a life of irrelevance.

Wes Studi is effective as Opechancanough, a tribal leader who tries to understand the puzzle of European culture. August Schellenberg (“The Black Robe”) plays the powerful Native American chief Powhatan. All the native dialogue is spoken in Algonquian, a language that has been virtually extinct for hundreds of years (there are no subtitles used in the film). Cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki (“Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events”) effectively captures the ethereal beauty of the Virginia setting (filmed near the actual location of the original Jamestown settlement). Director Terrence Mallick (“The Thin Red Line”) effectively captures the time and place of this clash of cultures. The viewer is literally transported into a new world. Great pains are taken in the production of the film to make everything look as authentic as possible.

The problem with the film is that it doesn't know when to quit. I saw a dozen or so good places to stop, but it kept stubbornly grinding on until it finally fizzles out, along with what remains of the film's romance. The film largely ignores the main weapon which defeated the native peoples of the New World, European diseases against which they had no defense. Germs killed them by the millions, making their eventual military defeat a mere formality. Also the native culture is depicted in terms that are a little too idyllic. Nonetheless, this stunningly beautiful film is mesmerizing to watch. The camera is used with rare skill to tell this story in largely visual terms. It is also filled with fine performances, including one by Christopher Plummer (“Syriana”) who plays Captain Christopher Newport, president of James Fort. This film rates a B.

Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in video and/or DVD format, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2006 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at my last name at lariat dot org. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

(If you e-mail me with a question about this or any other movie or review, please mention the name of the movie you are asking the question about, otherwise I may have no way of knowing which film you are referring to)