It seems we can’t stop talking about “The Tree Of Life.” Terrence Malick‘s film continues to unfold with each viewing, and with the passing of more time, as his work tends to do. The director is known for shooting lots of footage, and leaving much on the cutting room floor, and so it was no surprise to learn recently he had storyboarded a sequence that would have included Adam and Eve and their sons, Cain, Abel and Seth that was never used. Nor was it particularly shocking when cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezski revealed earlier this year that Malick — always editing, ever the perfectionist — was working on a six hour version of the movie. But over the weekend, came a curious report that suggested that Malick somehow didn’t have final cut over “The Tree Of Life.”
For background, we have to go back to the U.K. distribution saga that unfolded this spring when Icon Film Distributed Ltd and Summit Entertainment got into a tangle over the release of the film and who had the rights to the movie. The long and short of it is, that battle is still making its way through the courts, and THR recently got their hands on the November 30th arbitration decision (which is being appealed by Icon) which suggested that Malick may not have had what they describe as “bona fide final cut rights.”
According to the legal documents, Icon were shown a cut running 2 hours and 45 minutes in 2010 (nearly a half hour longer than the 2 hour 19 minute version that we now know) and they assert that Malick was being “cajoled” by producers into delivering a shorter movie. Icon’s defense is that they never received a “completed” film, thus Summit didn’t have a right to terminate their agreement. In his decision arbitrator Jack Freedman writes: “In fact by the specific terms of the Director’s contract his final cut rights might have been eliminated for a number of reasons. However, even if he retained his final cut rights and had not approved the Longer Version, the Director would not have been entitled to prevent [Icon] from the free exercise of its rights under the Agreement. The Director’s claim, if any, would be solely against [Cottonwood] and furthermore, the Director’s contract does not allow him to rescind said contract, enjoin or otherwise impair [Cottonwood’s], and therefore [Icon’s], exploitation of the Picture. Additionally, it was not established that [Brad Pitt] had approval rights over any cut of the Picture.”
In layman’s terms, if Icon or Summit wanted to, they could’ve edited the film at will as Malick’s contract didn’t extend to them and any beef Malick had over tinkering with his movie, he would have to take up with Cottonwood Pictures, one of the production companies on the movie. Basically, once the movie is sold it’s out of his hands. Essentially, Icon is saying, they could’ve released the longer version if they wanted (theoretically) and no one could have legally stopped them. Anyway, this piece of reporting has led many to question whether or not Malick delivered the film as he intended. Well, he did.
We reached out to Jill Jones, the Senior Vice President of International Marketing & Publicity for Summit, who poured cold water on any suggestion that “The Tree Of Life” was anything but Malick’s vision. “What total nonsense! Of course it was [Terrence Malick]’s final cut…..He/producers would never have come to Cannes if not,” she wrote to us. And yeah, that really makes a lot of sense. The press shy Malick certainly wouldn’t have bothered traveling to the south of France — and sitting in on the red carpet premiere screening of his film — if it wasn’t exactly what he wanted to show.
So rest assured folks, what you see in “The Tree Of Life” is every frame Malick intended and wanted you to see. So with that “controversy” now out of the way, he’s an excellent featurette with VFX legend Douglas Trumbull on the work he did on the film. It’s pretty amazing.