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UPDATE: On The Tree of Life and another, separate Malick project here.

Today brings a rare update on legendary director Terrence Malick‘s forthcoming epic, The Tree of Life, that is quite the internet-tickler. Tacked for release sometime this year, the film stars Sean Penn, with Brad Pitt in a flashback role originally intended for Heath Ledger, and now apparently features meditative scenes with dinosaurs. The news arrives via a print-only excerpt in the latest issue of Empire

“We’re just starting work on a project for Terrence Malick, animating dinosaurs, the film is The Tree of Life. It’ll be shooting in IMAX—so the dinosaurs will actually be life size — and the shots of the creatures will be long and lingering.” – Visual Effects artist Mike Fink (X2, Mars Attacks, Project X)

The above quote first surfaced at HE, where Jeff Wells explains that Malick, who also wrote the script, is incorporating prehistoric themes from a decades-defunct passion project called Q. The film is listed in post-production, and it remains unclear if the dino-scenes (and possibly others) were shot in the newly-embraced IMAX format a la The Dark Knight. Back in 2007, when Pitt’s casting was first announced, we described the project as…

In one version of the screenplay, the story opened with “a sleeping god, underwater, dreaming of the origins of the universe, starting with the big bang and moving forward, as fluorescent fish swam into the deity’s nostrils and out again.” Malick supposedly wanted to create something that has never been seen before, and dispatched cameramen all over the world. They shot micro jellyfish on the Great Barrier Reef volcanic explosions on Mount Edna, and ice shelves breaking off in Antarctica. special effects consultant Richard Taylor describes sections of the script as “pages of poetry, with no dialogue, glorious visual descriptions.”

The mythical, zen-like title, Pitt’s involvement and enthusiasm, the time-jumping scope, and the prolonged and heightened buzz for the film have drawn comparisons to Darren Aronofsky’s The Fountain. The official synopsis via Wikipedia focuses and demystifies the central plot…

We trace the evolution of an eleven-year-old boy in the Midwest, Jack, one of three brothers. At first all seems marvelous to the child. He sees as his mother does, with the eyes of his soul. She represents the way of love and mercy, where the father tries to teach his son the world’s way, of putting oneself first. Each parent contends for his allegiance, and Jack must reconcile their claims. The picture darkens as he has his first glimpses of sickness, suffering and death. The world, once a thing of glory, becomes a labyrinth.

The character of Jack as an adult will be played by Penn, who undergoes an epiphany and begins to see “the beauty and joy in all things” etc etc. Though a new home movie from the reclusive Malick is enough to make most film buffs lay out a mat facing the sun, The Tree of Life also boasts an expectantly ace crew, including Academy-nominated cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki (Children of Men, Malick’s The New World, Burn After Reading), and Academy-winning production designer and “frequent” Malick-collaborator Jack Fisk (There Will Be Blood, Malick’s The Thin Red Line). Let’s just hope the dinosaurs are chewing boatloads of cocoa leaves instead of Ambien like Colin Farrel and Co. in The New World (and yes, Badlands is in my top 10).

Discuss: Malick-in-IMAX taking on the world and all its miracles. (Or if you’re under 16, is this guy Malick the new McG?)

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