Pocahontas movie panned by CNN

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By 1607, the civilized world knew the earth was not flat. Unfortunately, nobody passed that tidbit of information along to writer-director Terrence Malick. Malick's new film, "The New World" -- only his fourth in 32 years -- is as flat as a flapjack. This ponderous film -- about the settlement of the Jamestown colony by the British and the love story of Capt. John Smith and the Indian princess Pocahontas -- almost totally lacks exposition and offers colorless characters beyond the main leads, leaving the audience with little to hold on to.

It's a shame, because other aspects of the film are brilliant. Emmanuel Lubazki's cinematography is utterly stunning. Jack Frisk's production design and Jacqueline West's costume design are flawless. They truly capture how raw life must have been like for the 103 original settlers struggling to carve an existence out of the pristine -- and at times unforgiving -- wilderness of Virginia 400 years ago.

The story, such as it is, is extremely unfocused and unfolds mainly through a muddled and jerky narrative told -- for the most part -- in voice-over by Smith (Colin Farrell), Pocahontas (Q'Orianka Kilcher, 14 at the time of filming), and later by John Rolfe (Christian Bale), who eventually married Pocahontas.

In the dawning years of the 17th century, three English ships financed by the London Virginia Company crossed the Atlantic looking for gold and a shortcut to the South Seas. They were sorely disappointed on both counts. What they found instead was a land ruled by a powerful man, Chief Powhatan.

When Smith leads a food-gathering expedition he is captured by Powhatan's tribe and escapes death only because of the intervention of Powhatan's favorite child, Pocahontas. She teaches him the ways of her culture and months later he returns to Jamestown.

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