Terrence Malick is an American filmmaker whose has only made five films over the course of a forty-year career. And each one of those has been hailed as a masterpiece.
He made his debut in 1973 with Badlands, about teenagers on a cross-country killing spree. He followed that up in 1978 with Days of Heaven, an evocative, dream-like portrait of a wheat farm in the early 20th century America.
He then took a twenty-year break from the film industry, spending a great deal of time in Paris and traveling. During that time he was rumored to have projects in the works, but nothing materialized until the late 1990's when he went into production on The Thin Red Line, an adaptation of James Jones's novel about the battle of Guadalcanal. Critics and audiences didn't know quite what to make of it when it was released (it didn't help that it was released the same time as the more mainstream Saving Private Ryan), but it was nominated for seven Academy Awards, including two for Malick, as Best Director and for his screenplay.
For awhile after The Thin Red Line, it looked as if Malick might be going back into hibernation, but he returned seven years later with The New World, a portrait of John Smith and Pocahontas. The New World, like The Thin Red Line, baffled audiences and critics when it was initially released, but was since acclaimed by critics as one of the best films of the 2000's.
Six years after The New World, Malick released his fifth film, The Tree of Life a film about three boys growing up in 1950's Texas, which featured a much-discussed sequence involving the creation of the universe. It was met with critical acclaim on its release, and won the Palme D'Or at the Cannes Film Festival.
- Badlands (1973)
- Days of Heaven (1978)
- The Thin Red Line (1998)
- The New World (2005)
- The Tree of Life (2011)
Tropes that describe Malick and his films:
- All-Star Cast: It's a testament to Malick's talent as a filmmaker that he is able to attract many top names to his films - the list of actors interested in appearing in The Thin Red Line reads like a Who's Who of It Hollywood Players. The films themselves include stars such as Richard Gere, John Travolta, Adrien Brody and more recently Colin Farrell, Christian Bale, Brad Pitt and Sean Penn (who, during the casting for The Thin Red Line, straight up told Malick "Give me a dollar and tell me where to show up")
- Billing Displacement: Especially common in his latter three films. Actors with high billing often have roles that are little more than cameos.
- Blade of Grass Cut: Pretty common throughout all of his films.
- Creator Breakdown: Some people claim this is the reason he didn't make a movie for 20 years.
- Descended Creator: Played a bit part in Badlands when the actor hired for the part didn't show up.
- Development Hell: He takes a very, very long time to work on his projects (most famously taking a twenty-year break between Days of Heaven and The Thin Red Line), although lately he has been picking up the pace
- Doing It for the Art: His whole career. Malick is independently wealthy, and doesn't have to make movies to make his living. This also explains the lengthy production (and post-production) periods of his films, and the lengthy gaps between them.
- Fauxlosophic Narration: For lack of a better term. Many of Malick's films involve voiceover narration only vaguely related to what's going on onscreen, usually reflecting on the overall themes of the film. YMMV on whether this works or not.
- Long Take
- Reclusive Artist: He hasn't given an interview since 1974, his contracts have stipulated that no pictures of him be taken on the set, and he doesn't attend official premieres of his films. Possibly averted, because friends say that he isn't really reclusive, and that he's just protective of his private life and prefers to work without press intrusion. He did show up for the official Cannes screening of The Tree of Life (but did not participate in the panel), and seemed rather comfortable with onlookers taking photos and video of him during the shooting of his latest film.
- Scenery Porn: Days of Heaven, The Thin Red Line, and The New World were all nominated for Cinematography Oscars for a reason. The Tree of Life took this Up to Eleven, earning wild praise even from people who otherwise vehemently hated the film.
- Troubled Production: Again, a result of his style of filmmaking. - shooting miles and miles of footage, then figuring it out in the editing room (which often leads to the above mentioned Billing Displacement, where actors who once appeared in whole subplots end up getting reduced to a cameo)
- Days of Heaven: Malick and his cinematographer Nestor Almendros fought with the crew over how to shoot and light the film (the crew favoring more traditional Hollywood methods of lighting while Malick and Almendros wanted to solely use natural lighting from the sun, meaning they could only shoot for a few minutes every day when the lighting conditions were right) The harvesting machines kept breaking down, further slowing production. Not helping matters was Malick's very loose shooting schedule, which tended to change based on the weather and his mood (Helicopters were hired one day for a certain special effects shot, only for him to change his mind and shoot a different scene, resulting in the helicopters being put on hold at great expense)
- The Thin Red Line: After a twenty-year hiatus, Malick finally made the film, after months of pre-production. The production itself was extremely difficult, due to the logistics of transporting cast and crew around the jungle landscape, and once production wrapped he spent another two years editing the film.