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Via GreenCine, which was unanimously hailed at the Indiewire blogger panel I sat on last Friday at the Apple store in Soho as the best film blog, comes this link to Tim R’s Mainly Movies blog in which he relays the not-so-surprising news out of today’s Variety that Terrence Malick is still editing The New World just days before it’s release in theaters. Malick is reportedly making 15 to 20 minutes of trims to the picture, although no sections are said to be being taken out.

What is surprising, however, is that Malick plans to deliver this cut after the premiere of the current version and then New Line execs will decide which version to release when the film expands in late January following the Academy Award nominations.

“What do we make of this?” Tim R. writes. “Much as I pray Malick eventually delivers a cut that works, languor and overlength per se weren’t the problems for me. Choppiness was. It’s just possible that cutting it down further might have ironed out some of the movie’s wonkier transitions, though my own nagging hunch was that it really needed to be longer, and that too much of the colonial context was getting short shrift as it was. Either way, I’m pretty keen to see this new cut, if only for academic reasons, and fingers crossed that it’s some kind of an improvement.

25 years ago Kubrick did much the same thing with The Shining, which is 15 minutes longer in its US theatrical version than its European one. In that instance I think the shorter cut is the better movie, but it goes without saying that this isn’t always so. (Look at Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in America for a particularly sad counter-example.)

With The Thin Red Line Malick had a wealth of footage to choose from and still managed to assemble a masterpiece. He’s got a different struggle on his hands trying to crystallise The New World down to the very good film it often promised to be, without exacerbating its most serious flaws – rhythmic uncertainty, and unnecessarily confusing narrative lurches – yet further.

Those who haven’t yet seen it now have a dilemma on their hands: which version to see first? I rather think that the rabidness of Malick-fandom among this site’s regular readers will decide the issue. There’s no way you guys are going to be able to wait beyond the weekend, right?

There’s probably a discussion to be started, too, about whether it’s exactly playing fair to screen one version to critics and voters and then release another. The cynic in me can’t help but detect a whiff of New Line panic here. Maybe even Malick panic. I just worry that if he’s still trying to find the film at this late stage, it may actually have slipped his grasp for good.”

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