Spectacular voyage from the beginning of time


An outerspace landscape in Voyage of Time.
Voyage of Time
Director: Terrence Malick
Narrator: Brad Pitt
Showing: IMAX Melbourne until October 2
Rating: ★★★★½


Superb cinematography and CGI are the cornerstones through which we see the universe unfolding in Terrence Malick’s Voyage of Time.

This fantastic visual experience combines science and poetry, bringing us through the birth of the first star, the formation of infinite galaxies and the development of life on Earth.

There is a transcendental quality to this documentary, which is imbued with a sense of both wisdom and childlike wonder.

In the opening scene, a little girl examines a leaf. The colours are lush, and each detail is clear. It’s as though we’re seeing the girl and her backyard with sharpened senses. The exquisite film quality invites us to perceive the universe anew, with the perspective of knowing nothing.

The film’s remarkable visuals are awe-inspiring – scenes of floating planets, tiny bacteria, a lizard’s spectacular eye, and a hive-like city – convey nature’s immensity and variety on the IMAX screen.

One hypnotic sequence shows a shoal of ocean fish shapeshifting in blue underwater light. Seals and swordfish appear, and sea birds plunge into the silver swarm, an event prized by nature documentaries.

A shoal of ocean fish attracts predators.

Humanity’s place in the saga is explored, beginning with a sensitively portrayed tribe of hunter-gatherers in the African plains.

We cut to a roving air-view of a pulsing night-time city. There is an absence of people in the shot, which emphasises instead the technology and speed which characterise modern human society.

This juxtaposition, and the bird’s eye view of the city, shows the audience the human reality from a temporal and a spatial distance – as an observable part of evolution.

Suddenly, we’re back with the little girl, in a plot of cleared land between houses. It’s an oasis, reminiscent of the African landscape. There is a stillness, the camera is no longer panning, and the change of pace creates a sense of getting back to nature.

The little girl is gazing at a grass stalk. In place of the grandiose music of the previous shot is the buzzing of crickets.


A lizard’s eye.

Brad Pitt’s narration is simple and poignant, posing the existential questions that have occupied humanity for millennia.

“When did dust become life?” he asks, as CGI bacteria, the first life on Earth, multiply before our eyes. Looking into a seal’s eye, we’re asked to consider the origin of consciousness.

The narration was most effective when it described what was being shown on screen. Lines such as “life, restless, unsatisfied,” and “nothing stands still … time, flowing, atoms blazing”, give poetic meaning to the often overwhelming beauty on screen. “Everywhere it can, life rushes in.” There is a sense of nature’s omnipotence, and of infinite creation.

The film itself does reach a conclusion: the viewer is a “child of the light”, offspring of the ever-present forces which shape the universe.

Voyage of Time is a beautiful experience, synthesising what science has discovered about the formation of the universe into a celebration of nature’s artistry. As art should do, it inspires you to see things differently.