The answer to that question may, possibly, be ‘yes.’ (But my gut says ‘no.’) We hear about super-long cuts of movies relatively often; many a film has been the subject of rumor about an early edit running four, five, even six hours. These often refer to early, raw assembly edits that are never meant to be seen as a final film. (And, in the modern age of on the fly non-linear editing, such cuts are mostly relics of the past.) Most of the time, the extra-long cut of a movie is simply a fantasy cooked up in the imaginations of hopeful audiences.

But sometimes not. Terrence Malick is a notorious tinkerer in the editing room, where he gradually ‘finds’ his movies through a great deal of experimentation with what we often imagine to be mountains of film. And while it seems difficult to believe that The Tree of Life, which currently runs a little under two and a half hours, might be stretched to SIX hours, that’s what a recent interview may claim will happen.

Long-running French film mag Cahiers du Cinema has a huge feature on The Tree of Life this month, and an IMDB user posted this small translation segment from part of the conversation with cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki:

Does Malick think about editing when he’s filming ?

We speak about it almost everytime. But most of the ideas about the editing we share on the set don’t make the final cut. We maybe have been shot 600.000 metres (around 370 miles) of film. The first cut was 8 hours long. Terry is working on/preparing a 6 hours long version of the movie. What I’ve seen (of this) is absolutely incredible, it’s wonderful. The longer version will have to/will likely, for the most part, relate to the children part. There were outstanding things, we’ve shot many, many things about Jack’s childhood : his friends, his evolution, his changes, his awareness of the loss of his childhood. I don’t know if I’m supposed to say all of this !

So. First up, 600k meters of film is 364.5 hours of film. That’s a lot.  That means The Tree of Life, with its current 138-minute runtime (or reported 3824 meter length) has around a 150:1 shooting ratio. That is astoundingly high. But some of the film was shot digitally, and some was shot on 65mm and IMAX, making the computations (without an exact breakdown) nothing more than a guesstimate. Edit: Here’s another piece that paraphrases Mr. Lubezki saying he “exposed more than one million feet” of film, but that would only be roughly half the six hundred thousand meter figure.

(Shooting ratio being the amount of film shot versus the length of the release edit of the film. Average ratios run from about 5:1 to 20:1.  Apocalypse Now was famous for hitting almost a 100:1 ratio. The Shining and Kubrick films that followed reportedly hit 102:1 or more. Want to guess two more films that are said to have hit that 100:1 milestone? Hoop Dreams and The Hurt Locker. But those were shot on video and 16mm, respectively, rather than on much more expensive 35mm.)

From any other director I’d laugh off that 150:1 ratio, but with Terrence Malick? It’s possible.

What I’m really saying is that I’d like to see the magazine, scan the interview, and make sure this translation is correct. The idea of a six-hour cut of The Tree of Life is more along the lines of what people like to imagine about the director than with what he’s really delivered in the past. With two other films to finish (the one referred to as The Burial and the IMAX documentary Voyage of Time) I’m finding it difficult to believe that he’s recutting The Tree of Life, especially on that scale. [via The Film Stage]

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