(PCM) The perfect blend of art and science can result in stellar discoveries.
That is what is behind the extraordinary “Voyage of Time,” a creative and thought-provoking one-of-a-kind IMAX documentary about the unfolding of time that will certainly make students of science and history out of all of us.
The film, a true labor of love from director Terrence Malick, (“The Thin Red Line,” “Days of Heaven,” and “The Tree of Life,”) is a “visual celebration of life” and the grand history of the cosmos, transporting audiences into a vast — yet up-close and personal journey — that spans the eons from the Big Bang Theory and the dinosaur age to our present day human world.
This is a unique endeavor starting with Malick, a masterful filmmaker, behind the camera and narrators Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett lending their voices. With the addition of award-winning scientists and other experts bring their perspective, the film is a true wonder and considered to be a sensual cinema of science.
“Voyage of Time” has been released in two unique formats: “Voyage of Time: Life’s Journey,” the 90-minute experience narrated by Cate Blanchett, which takes the audience on a poetic journey full of open questions, and “Voyage of Time: The IMAX Experience,” a 45-minute, IMAX adventure for audiences of all ages, that is narrated by Brad Pitt.
The film’s panorama of awe-inspiring images takes viewers into the heart of monumental events never witnessed – from the birth of the stars and galaxies to the explosion of diverse life-forms on planet earth, including humankind. This is a cosmic experience – a hymn to the glories of nature, life and scientific discovery – in which all the elements come together to form Malick’s most original film to date.
Visual Effects Supervisor Dan Glass says that what he adores about his job is that he has a great deal of fun with every project. “This project had an incredible range and there was a great deal to understand to pull it off. It paid to learn all of it because it was such an incredible experience.”
Glass is best known for imaginative comic-book fantasies, “The Matrix” sequels and “Batman Begins.” Working with Malick on “Voyage of Time” took Glass into uncharted territory. It was a project that spurred Glass into reading that he never imagined – about such mind-blowing realities as the primordial Population III stars that are said to have brought the earliest sparkles of light to the universe; and the tiktaalik fish that wandered out from the sea to walk on land, altering the planet forever.
The process was life-changing for Glass. “I’ve always had a fascination with the beginnings of life and everything in the universe, but this has really furthered that and compelled me to look at the world in a new way. Every day is exciting now as I get up and start looking at things closer than I ever have,” he said.
“You realize that your life is only a very small part of a bigger story, and yet you also see how all of these incredible occurrences, these chance events, have led up to who we are right now. That’s an amazingly empowering idea. And it’s a story that isn’t over – it will go on and on,” explained Glass.
Glass said he hopes the film has successfully communicated the fascination and wonder of the world around us. “We hope that after seeing the film someone will look out each day and look at the world in a different light and question how we are, who we are and where we come from. It is heavily rooted in scientific theory, at the same time it is experiential and encouraging people to appreciate what is around us and have curiosity about where it comes from.”
Theoretical physicist Lee Smolin, of the Perimeter Institute, another key science consultant on the film, says he was equally moved by the film. The Ontario, Canada-based Perimeter Institute is an independent research center in foundational theoretical physics.
Q: Please tell me about how you came to this project?
Lee Smolin: I wasn’t involved in the beginning since Terrence Malick has been working on this for decades. I was contacted years ago by the producers who asked if I would be interested in being an advisor on the project. Over the last two years I played a small role in advising, reviewing drafts, commenting, and answering questions.
Q: How do you feel about the finished film?
LS: I saw several versions of both films – the short and long versions — and felt they were successful and inviting. Terrance has done an extraordinary job of taking the understanding of the history of the universe that we scientists have worked on for decades and made a visual poem in honor of it.
Q: Is that how you see this movie?
LS: I see it in many ways. But, yes, it is a very spiritual piece of art. The film celebrates the beauty of the universe and asks over and over in different ways, ‘What are we doing here? What is our role? What is the meaning of our existence in this beautiful and universal world? It is not really a documentary; it is more an homage or an invitation to wonder.
Q: Why do you feel you were asked to become an advisor on this film?
LS: I’m a theoretical physicist and I have written books that address deep philosophical questions that attempt to explain monumental questions such as – What is the universe? What is time? Why is their life in the universe? These are all questions that everybody wonders about and that explore our knowledge of the universe for lay people. It is put in a provocative way to inspire us to keep asking these questions. The filmmakers asked for my perspective.
Q: Do you feel if someone is religious they would not appreciate this film since sometimes faith and science can seem at odds with one another?
LS: Not at all. I don’t see any conflict with spirituality. The science behind the film is correct. It is also not about a particular religion – Christian, Muslim, Jewish or any other faith. It is about the yearnings we as people need to address about the universe.
Q: Please tell me about the two versions of the film.
LS: The long version is narrated by Cate Blanchett, who addresses the universe in the persona of a mother. It is a spiritual idea that the universe something we should honor.
Q: Tell me about the other version.
LS: The shorter version, narrated by Brad Pitt, was meant for groups of school children and is teaching what they are seeing. It is not like a nature or national geographic film that tells you what you are seeing, point by point; the point of this movie is that the universe is beautiful and surprising and this is a way to be immersed in the experience of the beauty of the universe. The narration is addressed to a young girl, who we are supposed to imagine is the narrator’s daughter, and there are a few scenes where the young girl appears.
Q: You are the father of a 10-year-old son, who you say is subjected to rote learning. What do you do to overcome that for him?
LS: I do my best. I did a lot when he was younger. I would explain things to him and tell him stories, and we would play math games to have fun with numbers and shapes. One of the things I emphasized was doing the work in his head, which is not the way the schools teach. So I had to go in and talk to his teacher who insisted that they require the students to show the work on the paper. I have been teaching him since he was two years to figure out all the equations in his head. Sometimes it has been very frustrating – but rewarding.
Q: How do you feel about the fact that so many girls and young women, who are capable, are scared of pursing science and math careers? These careers could change their lives in the same way that it changed yours if they had the confidence to do this.
LS: I am very concerned about that. The role of girls and women in science has been a big concern of mine and others for many years. Biology, medicine, and earth sciences are great careers that girls lag behind in entering.
Q: You also say that you don’t agree the way math and science is taught in many schools today.
LS: Even in our better schools, math and science education seems to be emphasizing rote learning – they don’t focus on the beauty and wonder of it all. So many girls and boys are intimidated by math that they are afraid of making mistakes. They have to understand that everybody makes mistakes and the people who become mathematicians and scientists are able to correct it and go on. They don’t feel a lack of confidence. In order to make a discovery, you have to have first made every possible mistake. So it’s really all about being resilient, and having confidence. There are so many lost opportunities both for the people involved and in society as a whole.