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Getting to the Root of the New Tree of Life

Getting to the Root of the New <em>Tree of Life</em>

“No one expects a musician to play a song the same way every night.” It was this impulse to explore different rhythms and intonations in an already completed work, says our executive producer Kim Hendrickson, that led the visionary director Terrence Malick to dive into reediting one of his most acclaimed films, 2011’s The Tree of Life. The three-hour-plus version he ultimately came up with—just released as part of our new edition, which features the theatrical cut that remains Malick’s preferred form—includes fifty minutes of never-before-seen footage. For fans wondering how this all came about, here’s a look at the process behind one of the most complex and challenging projects we’ve ever undertaken.

In the Beginning

Like the film itself, which juxtaposes a portrait of 1950s suburban life with awe-inspiring imagery depicting the birth of the cosmos, the story behind this abundant new Tree of Life takes us back into the past. It was in 2010, while he was still toiling away on the theatrical cut of the movie, that Malick had his first experience with Criterion, putting his seal of approval on our release of the painterly Great Plains tragedy Days of Heaven (1978), and in the process establishing a long-lasting relationship that would lead us to collaborate with him on Badlands (1973), The Thin Red Line (1998), and The New World (2005).

The New World marked a notable shift in how the director sought to present his work, says Hendrickson, who has produced all of our Malick editions. The transporting seventeenth-century romance appeared on our release in no fewer than three incarnations: a 135-minute final theatrical cut, a 150-minute early cut, and a 172-minute cut, first released on home video by New Line in 2008, that the director sees as closest to what he wanted to achieve.

It was perhaps no surprise then that, once Criterion had sealed the deal with Twentieth Century Fox to put out The Tree of Life, Malick expressed interest in experimenting with incorporating previously unused footage. Criterion was quick to support this project, though it would entail straying from our comfort zone. As technical director Lee Kline, who would end up serving as the postproduction supervisor on the new version, puts it, often, with our releases, “we add a few minutes, take out a few minutes, here and there, but we don’t really ever try to shape fifty minutes of footage into a new piece and make new sound mixes for it”—as would go on to be the case for this extended cut.

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