Criterion's Release of ‘The Tree of Life’ Is Not a Director’s Cut, but a Whole Other Movie

The Tree of Life

In the category of what-the-hell-was-he-thinking type of ideas, this might take the cake. 

Criterion technical director Lee Kline was interviewed by IndieWire about their upcoming release of Terrence Malick's astonishing 2011 achievement “The Tree of Life.” This new extended cut, a 188-minute version, 49 minutes longer than the original, is set to premiere at the Venice Film Festival next week, but Kline says it's a whole other new movie.

“[the version of ‘The Tree of Life’] that premiered in 2011 at Cannes [was] definitely the definitive version of the film he wanted to make,” said Kline. “What’s interesting talking to Terry about this [new version of ‘Tree of Life’], I think he still doesn’t want people to think this is a better version. This is another version.”

“We had two hours and change of the movie already created, but the timeline of the new version wasn’t the same,” said Kline, who took the credit of post-production supervisor on the film. “The footage for the film wasn’t scanned. The color wasn’t done and the sound wasn’t done. So, in order to make a cut of this new version that played, you had to do all those things and it was one of the most difficult things I’ve worked on, just because I don’t really make new movies and that was pretty much what we did.”

This all started when Malick approached Criterion and told them that he wanted to use all the cutting room floor footage he had for “The Tree of Life” and make something completely different out of it. Of course, Malick being Malick, hours upon hours of unused footage was found, so much so that Kline claims this new version is a brand new narrative that has nothing to do with the original.

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“The idea was to take the additional footage and have it play randomly in different ways to create different storylines,” said Kline. “I’ve heard it tossed around many different ways. One way, it would be random and [it] would never play the same. There’d be so many permutations of it you wouldn’t get the same story over and over. It would be interesting to continue to watch it.”

This project was such a radical concept that original sound editor Joel Dougherty returned to add in brand new sound effects and, more importantly, cinematographer extraordinaire Emmanuel Lubezki came in to color grade the entire film.

“I wish I had the total number, but the amount of footage that was shot for the movie was insane,” said Kline to IW. “There were pallets and pallets and pallets of footage in a warehouse in Valencia, Calif. where all the footage was put after the movie wrapped. Some of it was put away well, some of it wasn’t, so sometimes it took multiple tries to find the footage. It was in a box, it was on a reel, a shot that was at the end of a reel. It was like looking for a needle in a haystack, and it took months.”

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Kline goes on to make the unfair comparison of Malick to Bob Dylan, the latter of which has been known to take classic songs such as "Like A Rolling Stone," and "Rainy Day Woman," and completely re-alter their original arrangements in concert.

“Terry likes to tinker and he likes to change things around,” said Kline. “He said that, ‘No one asked Bob Dylan to play a song the same way every night. Why should I have to make one film?'”

To which I have this to say:  Music and cinema are two different beasts, you just can't compare them. Bob Dylan never re-released "Highway 61 Revisited," or "Blonde on Blonde" with "bold new arrangements." He let those classics speak for themselves. 

Image result for tree of life gif butterfly This could constitute my reaction at the news that "The Tree of Life"is being re-cut into an entirely different movie.

I absolutely adore the original film, so why mess up a classic? It's no secret Terrence Malick seems to have lost a step or two these last few years, or at least the ability to tell a coherent narrative, so now he has to use old footage of a great movie to reassemble it and collage it into a whole other film? Blasphemy! I hope this doesn't kill the reputation of the original, which is one of the very best movies released this decade.

The Criterion Blu-Ray and DVD, which includes the original 139-minute and the new 188-minute version, will be released September 11. 

Criterion's "The Tree of Life"