Most of us are familiar with the story of John Smith, Pocahontas and the settlement of the original colonies thanks to our elementary school history classes and the Disney movie "Pocahontas." "The New World" is even less interesting than the dry story your third-grade teacher taught you and will make you wish for the talking raccoons and for Colin Farrell to burst into "Colors of the Wind."
John Smith (Farrell), and other English sailors land in what they believe to be the Indies but is really Jamestown, Va. The settlers are faced with an unknown land inhabited by "savages" covered in war paint. Some of the men are sent back to England for more supplies when the food runs low, and the rest of the men are left to colonize and try to last until the boats return. Tough conditions make it almost impossible for the settlers to survive, and they realize they need to make friends with the natives in order to trade for survival materials. They send a convoy to the local American Indian tribe, which results in Farrell getting taken captive.
Through this, Smith ends up establishing a relationship with the daughter (Q'Orianka Kilcher) of the chief who saved his life. Future note to chief: don't trust playboy Farrell with your teenage daughter. Eventually he makes it back to the small settlement, but the natives realize the settlers have no plans of leaving any time in the near future, and they attack. The ragged group that's left can't be any more happy to see the giant white sails on the horizon when the other ships finally return.
With a length of 150 minutes, you'd think the movie would be building up to something, or at least have some really long epic battle to explain for such an extended time period. There really isn't anything there; there is no plot. Director Terrence Malick can't really choose one part of the story of Pocahontas to focus on and instead doesn't examine anything all that closely. There's no real beginning, middle or end. The only reason you might be sitting on the edge of your seat in anticipation is because you're waiting for something to finally happen, but it never does.
This might be tolerable if there were anything to hold the movie together while you wait, but the dialogue is sparse as well. Long stretches of the movie contain no lines at all, only silence or blaring, cued-up classical music to compensate for no conversation. Most of John Smith and Pocahontas' relationship is built on meaningful glances and smiles with lots of white teeth. When there is dialogue, some of it is in the American Indian language, and the director doesn't bother to translate it, so you're left in confusion once again.
If you're really in the mood to learn more about the colonial world, pick up a history book or an encyclopedia - it can't be any less interesting than "The New World" and it will at least be a lot shorter.