FX Legend Douglas Trumbull Talks About Working on 'Tree of Life'

February 21, 2011
Source: The Australian

The Tree of Life

Most die-hard cinephiles are already anxious to see Terrence Malick's The Tree of Life, and thankfully we only have three months to go. We haven't heard much in regards to the film since the awe-inspiring first trailer debuted in December, but there's an intriguing story worth pointing out today for many reasons. The Australian (via The Film Stage) recently published an article on special effects veteran Douglas Trumbull, who worked on Kubrick's 2001, Close Encounters of the 3rd Kind and Blade Runner. Apparently Trumbull, who hasn't worked on anything in film in the last three decades, came back to do "work" on The Tree of Life.

Trumbull is attending the Adelaide Film Festival in Australia giving lectures and more, and the piece focuses on his career and history in Hollywood, which is fascinating to read about anyway. He doesn't reveal exactly what kind of work he did for Tree of Life, but my guess is that it was definitely on the effects and/or design side of things. Despite watching that trailer numerous times over and being mesmerized by those odd bits of sci-fi imagery, I still have no clue what to expect, even though their article calls the film a "coming-of-age fantasy" - not that it helps clarify anything plotwise. Trumbull talks about the rather epic scope and scale of the cosmic film that Malick has crafted, only making things even more vague and mysterious in the process:

Trumbull describes this film as "more of a 'man's place in the universe' concept, because it's really talking about the entire universe and where we fit into it."

Little else has been revealed about The Tree of Life, due for release in May. "It's a very, very cosmic and very spiritual movie," promises Trumbull. "A movie that, in style and content, is quite different from anything you're seeing."

We hear that a lot, but this is Malick we're talking about, and this his first film in six years, so I think if he's saying we're really going to see something we've never seen, I'll take his word for it. Remember, there was once word of dinosaurs and IMAX-sized visual effects sequences, which were then supposed to be part of a second separate film, but now mixed back in. Beyond that we can only point you guys in the direction of the trailer again, which has all that sci-fi and colorful abstract imagery spliced throughout. Considering this is also the guy who paved the way with groundbreaking effects back in the 60's and 70's, if he's coming back again, this may mean we're going to be in for more mind-melting visuals, Malick-style. And I cannot wait!

Trumbull also goes on to complain about an overuse of 3D, specifically with the recently announced Great Gatsby adaptation that Baz Luhrmann is going to film in 3D. "I think that certain stories and certain types of stories are theatrical in nature… When you put 3-D or even Showscan into that mix, it may become too vivid and too inappropriately realistic. I think it could actually hurt the natural style of a movie that should be 2-D." Trumbull adds, "it's great for a movie like Alice in Wonderland, but maybe not for a love story, or even The Great Gatsby." Couldn't agree more and I know I'm not the only one who feels that way.

Despite staying away from Hollywood for a long time, he says he's also "developing projects right now that are going to depict the future and they'll be talking about issues like alien contact, but very intelligently, not 'fictionally'." And in the process, he's planning to revolutionize visual effects again. Trumbull explains:

"I think I'm about to make some major breakthroughs in that area, and I'm looking forward to the next year or two of my life. Not only to direct a movie or two, but also to bring new technologies I think will be even better than 3-D, making the movie experience immersive. If I can do what I really want to do, we'll be able to make an experience that's indistinguishable from reality."

What a extremely bold concept, let's hope he pulls it off; I'm not sure how he'll even start to get to that level. I'm still dealing with simple issues of focus and framing at my local theater! Anyway, this was a fascinating update from Trumbull, on all accounts, from The Tree of Life to the prospect of more immersive moviegoing experiences on the horizon. And for those wondering what happened to that Making of 2001 documentary that Trumbull was directing - he says, sadly, it was canned for no reason. "I had a deal that was 99% ready to go with Warner Home Video, and then for some very strange, unfathomable reason they just cancelled the project. They didn't explain why." Quite odd, I wanted to see it. Head to The Australian for the entire article.

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I hope it's not spiritual like the fountain...because it might bomb despite having big stars in it.

Gh on Feb 21, 2011


Cinema is coming back baby

Loser on Feb 21, 2011


can't wait...Trumbull's credits are ridiculous - legend!

dee8 on Feb 21, 2011


Great article! I must admit this has certainly peaked my interest. Can't wait for this one!

Cruzer on Feb 21, 2011



Sparky on Feb 21, 2011


Haha yeah thanks.

Cruzer on Feb 21, 2011


Or "piqued" rather. šŸ˜‰

Jace on Feb 21, 2011


Anyone who complains about the overuse of 3D is a friend of mine.

Jace on Feb 21, 2011


hey alex, check it out: A Nice trailer of a Brazilian action film

Eduardo Costa on Feb 21, 2011


A few months back, I decided to watch all of Malick's movies back-to-back. I haven't been quite satisfied with other peoples movies since. His movies really speak to me in a deep way. So, therefore, this article is fantastic news...I hadn't even though about Trumbull in quite awhile, so news that he is working with Malick gives me that Christmas-is-coming-soon feeling of anticipation!

kitano0 on Feb 21, 2011


I am obsessed with this movie. I watch the trailer over and over again.

Staciaseven on Feb 21, 2011


Malick and Trumbull??????!?!??!??!??!??! I was running out of breath! cant wait.

lando on Feb 21, 2011


Sorry Malick i love you - but this one's going to hurt your back catalogue. AmericanĀ trancedentalism -Ā I prefer George Burn's god full of irony and wisecracking. Malick's furry blur doesn't cut it. But It surely is the post-quaker equivalent of the modernist interiors half the scenes are shot in - protestant enlightenment tidying out the fecund will to being where words matter.

Ian on Jul 21, 2011

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