To the Wonder might be one of the most beautiful movies to put on film in the past decade, if not more, but the story and characters are so detached, we only get glimpses of people we are supposed to care about. Yeah, I understand the themes Malick wanted to present, since he practically smacks them over the viewer’s heads, but themes don’t make a good or compelling film.
Genre(s): Drama, Romance
Magnolia | R – 113 min. – $29.98 | August 6, 2013
Directed by: Terrence Malick
Writer(s): Terrence Malick (written by)
Cast: Ben Affleck, Olga Kurylenko, Rachel McAdams, Javier Bardem
Theatrical Release Date: April 12, 2013 (limited release)
Features: Featurettes, Theatrical Trailer
Number of Discs: 1
Audio: English (DTS-HD MA 5.1)
Video: 1080p/Widescreen 2.35
Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish
Disc Size: 21.7 GB
Codec: MPEG-4 AVC
THE MOVIE – 2.0/5
Terrence Malick is considered to one of the more unique modern day filmmakers who doesn’t direct just for the hell of it and certainly not for studio cred or money. In 1998, after a 20 year hiatus, Malick directed The Thin Red Line, often considered one of the best Vietnam War movies. It wasn’t another 7 years when The New World was unveiled and perhaps his most mainstream movie of this era. Then came 2011 when The Tree of Life stormed theaters (limited anyway) and wowed critics and audiences, though in the latter there’s still debate.
One year later, Malick’s To the Wonder is one of the most confounding romantic dramas I’ve ever come across. To call it pretentious would be too easy of an out as there’s substance there between love, hurt and loneliness as told through the eyes of four characters: Neil (BEN AFFLECK) and Marina (OLGA KURYLENKO) are in love and she has a daughter, Tatiana (TATIANA CHILINE) from a previous relationship. Together they live in Paris but excitedly agree to accompany Neil back to his hometown in rural Oklahoma and to stay in a recently developed community, in a vast house that rarely throughout this picture is furnished.
At first, Marina is happy there finding fascination with the culture while Tatiana seems to be content and has great joy with the clean supermarket, running from aisle to aisle with glee. While they are seemingly happy, fissures begin to form with Tatiana being angry with Neil and Marina herself is becomes glummer in her persona. The final dagger in their relationship is when her visa is set to expire so she and Tatiana are forced to go back to France. Hell, Neil is so feckless, he doesn’t even have the decency of driving them to the airport, though I suppose the relationship soured so much, it might’ve been Marina’s decision; with the voice over’s, I can’t quite be sure.
With Marina back in France, Neil takes on a new relationship with a friend from his childhood, Jane (RACHEL MCADAMS), and as you can guess we get more aimless glances into the yonder, some frolicking in wheat fields, and just more blissful romantic nonsense as the pair exchange glances. Here we get more voiceovers this time with McAdams making it into the fold sharing her internal feelings.
However, things get tense and the pair breaks up because Marina has become bored and unable to find work in France and Tatiana is living with her father. For some reason, now was the time Neil agrees to marry Marina so she can receive her green card and she once again moves in to that empty, soulless home. Like before, the couple is apparently in love going as far as, *gasp*, filling a room with furniture. For sure this is true love! As with before, though, the relationship goes sour once again as Marina has a one-day stand with a not-named carpenter and rooms at the house go empty yet again…
Throughout the relationships between Neil and Marina and Neil and Jane, we get a side story, and perhaps the only interesting aspect of this film, is with a preacher named Quintana (JAVIER BARDEM). As demonstrated through is internal thoughts, Quintana has lost his way and ponders his relationship with God as he preaches to his parishioners, at times including Neil and Marina, and goes out into the hard-hit communities rampant with poverty. He’s lost and attempts to find answers.
To the Wonder isn’t merely a dull and utterly boring movie but Terrence Malick’s writing (improved apparently) and direction is so heavy-handed in symbolism the personal elements such as any meaningful connection with any of the three main characters is kept at a distance. The problem with this is if you don’t care about any of them, why should one care about the outcome, not to mention their nauseating inner dialogue which comes across as philosophical gobbledygook.
Now, in fairness, it would be a disservice to write To the Wonder completely off as being a bad film because along with Javier Bardem’s portion of the story, this film is just incredible to look at. Malick reteams with cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki working together for the third time following The New World and The Tree of Life and there has not been a movie released this year (2013) that has looked better. It looks so amazing that it makes you understand why these characters would look off to the distance, if only to look at the beautiful scenery.
That being said, save for Bardem and Lubezki’s brilliant cinematography, this is a dull and boring movie that got the point, only halfway through, I kept checking the time just to find out much more I would have to endure. Sure, I’ll give Terrence Mallick credit for not merely going down the studio road and trying different things, which is how he continues to attract big stars even if said stars roles could be completely cut out, but unlike The Tree of Life, To the Wonder didn’t work on any level.
SPECIAL FEATURES – 2.25/5
The Making of To the Wonder (10:25; HD) offers some behind-the-scenes footage of making the movie and comments by the cast and crew talking about the story and the characters.
The Actors’ Experience (5:54; HD) – The cast explains their experience working with Malick and how it differs from other projects (i.e. no script), in this case, the “Chaos of Life”.
The Ballet (5:59; HD) – This goes over how the crew works with one another with an organic flow.
Local Flavor (4:55; HD) looks at the filming in a small town and how it became a character in the story.
Also included are the Theatrical Trailer (1:59; HD) and a BD-Live portal.
VIDEO – 4.5/5
To the Wonder might not have been up my river, but Malick’s eye for the visuals comes through very well in high-def. The film is presented in its original 2.35 widescreen aspect ratio and aside from some banding issues, during fade in and out shots on the skies, this is a near perfect transfer. Colors look well balanced and the detail levels are absolutely splendid.
AUDIO – 4.25/5
In an interesting, never-before-seen, twist, before the movie begins, you get this message: “For optimal sound reproduction, the producers of this film recommend that you turn up the volume.” Interesting request to say the least and advice you should adhere to otherwise some of the dialogue (voiceovers) might be hard to hear. I have to wonder how this sounded in theaters. So, with that said, and with the volume turned up a few notches from the default setting, the 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track does sound pretty good with crisp and clear dialogue from the center channel while other elements, mainly ambient noises and the score, make use of the other speakers.
OVERALL – 2.5/5
Overall, To the Wonder might be one of the most beautiful movies to put on film in the past decade, if not more, but the story and characters are so detached, we only get glimpses of people we are supposed to care about. Yeah, I understand the themes Malick wanted to present, since he practically smacks them over the viewer’s heads, but themes don’t make a good or compelling film. The Blu-ray released by Magnolia is a bit light in the bonus features but the video looks astounding and the audio is sufficient considering the amount of whispering there is.
Brian Oliver, The Movieman
Check out some more screen caps by going to page 2. Please note, these do contain spoilers.