It has been said more than once that Terrence Malick is a brilliant but maddening filmmaker. He can offer up astounding images, but his pacing can bore and his narratives can puzzle.
Both the problems and the glories are on display in "The Tree of Life," the latest in his handful of films, which Fox Home Entertainment releases Tuesday in a combo pack with the Blu-ray, standard DVD and digital copy. The suggested retail price is $39.99. And, if you plan to watch this movie, do so on Blu-ray, where Malick’s visual splendor will be most clearly evident (especially in scenes full of darkness and shadow).
Just deciding what the movie is about may be a challenge for many viewers. When it was released theatrically, publicity for the film called it "a hymn to life, excavating answers to the most haunting and personal human questions through a kaleidoscope of the intimate and the cosmic, from the raw emotions of a family in a small Texas town to the wildest, infinite edges of space and time, from a boy’s loss of innocence to a man’s transforming encounters with awe, wonder and transcendence.’’
It seems to begin somewhere before the actual creation of humans, inching forward into the life of a Texas family (with Brad Pitt and Jessica Chastain as the parents) and the adulthood of one of those Texas children, played as a grownup by Sean Penn. At times the movie is quite moving. You don’t just see some of the moments in Texas, you nearly feel them. And Pitt is very good as a father whose life is laced with frustration.
But even Malick’s admirers — and I am one — have struggled with the film. The Rotten Tomatoes website, which collects movie reviews (including mine), found that 84 percent of the "Tree of Life" reviews were positive. But one positive review called the film “exquisite but frustrating” and another proclaimed it “beautiful, baffling, poetic, pretentious.”
Not that such judgments worry Malick. He has consistently made the films he wants to make without apology, explanation or even passing comment. As an extra, the video package includes a 30-minute documentary about the making of Tree of Life but Fox says it relies on “interviews with his collaborators and cast members as well as with directors Christopher Nolan and David Fincher who share an appreciation for his work.”
Where "Tree of Life" rated highly with critics, the Kevin James comedy "Zookeeper" did not, generating a 13 percent positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes. The new release on video contains not one positive quote on the package. (It does, however, boast a large sticker promoting the inclusion of a video-game demo.) But the movie still managed to make about $79 million in U.S. theaters, and about that much again in overseas release.
Like his frequent collaborate Adam Sandler, James is content to please audiences and bypass the critics; Grownups, for example, with both Sandler and James got even worse reviews than "Zookeeper" and was still a big hit. But audiences are picky, too, and "Zookeeper" — with James as a man who learns that the animals in his zoo can talk — was not as big as some of James’s previous films.
Besides the game demo, extras on Zookeeper include bloopers, deleted scenes and featurettes on the cast, characters and visual effects.