So no more Penn/Pitt/dinosaur jokes until sometime next year (maybe) with Terrence Malick‘s The Tree of Life not so much bumped from a speculative/hoped-for late ’09 release date as much as Apparition’s Bob Berney finally deciding to tell a journalist (Indiewire’s Anne Thompson), “Wait…you thought it was coming out later this year? Wow, I could have straightened you out on that weeks ago.”

The noteworthy thing isn’t that Tree of Life won’t come later this year (that was becoming more and more obvious with no marketing materials anywhere in sight) but Berney admitting (a) “he doesn’t know when it will come out” and (b) that he hasn’t seen it either, despite Malick having been editing Tree for over a year (having shot it in the Austin area during the spring of ’08). Thompson speculates it may turn up in Cannes next May.

I presume that Berney was informed before signing to distribute Tree of Life that Apparition had no collaborative or consulting rights whatsover and should make no assumptions about being able to even see a cut of Tree of Life at some point in the late-in-the-game editing process (i.e., just to get an idea what they’ll be dealing with), or even expect to be informed when it might be ready before Malick feels like telling him. In short he agreed, it would appear, to a very open-ended, no-pressure deal…very lah-dee-dah, “que sera sera,” you-da-man-Terry, etc.

There’s a reason, of course, why Malick is still fiddling and diddling with Tree of Life to the point that his own guy — a respected/admired distributor of the highest order who is not only contractually but spiritually on the Malick/Tree team all the way — is still being kept waiting in the lobby with no apparent clue about what’s coming. The reason is rooted in the apparent fact that Tree of Life is a RADICAL, RADICAL FILM, and, I suspect, because Malick hasn’t yet found a way to make it fuse together as completely and seamlessly as he’d like.

I think I know what “over a year in editing” means. Ask any seasoned edtior — he/she will tell you what it means also, even with IMAX and dinosaurs in the mix. I don’t know anything at all — zilch — but a little voice is telling me that Malick may be going through what James L. Brooks went through when he was struggling with the musical version of I’ll Do Anything. How’s that for a juxtaposition?

I summed up the situation two months ago as follows:

“I was talking about the dino aspect with a journalist friend a couple of weeks ago, and we were both shaking our heads and acknowledging what a bizarre mind-fuck Tree of Life sounds like. On paper at least. And it’s not like I’m blowing the dinosaur thing out of proportion because there’s some kind of Tree of Life-related IMAX dinosaur movie due in 2010 that will augment or expand on some theme that’s expressed within the parameters of the Penn-Pitt story. Right? I’m just trying to sound like I have a clue.

“All I know is that it’s one hell of a transition to go from a story of angry, pained, frustrated people in the 1950s as well as the present and then to somehow disengage the spacecraft and travel into another realm entirely (like Keir Dullea did in 2001: A Space Odyssey when he soared through Jupiter space), and somehow float into a world that is pre-historical and pre-human, and have this time-trip somehow add to our understanding and feeling for the sad/angry/bitter people in the Pitt-Penn realm.

“I mean, if someone like me is scratching his head and going ‘what the fuck…?’ over the unusualness of a ’50s domestic drama mixed with footage of prehistoric beasts , imagine what Joe Popcorn is going to think or say. Don’t even talk about the Eloi.”