Venice (AFP) - US director Terrence Malick's spectacular "Voyage of Time" premieres at the Venice film festival Wednesday, seeking to tell the story of the universe in an ambitious feature that is competing for the Golden Lion.
The feast of galactic spaces, cosmic matter and Earth's most mesmerising landscapes and creatures are set to compositions by classical music masters Bach and Mahler to create a hymn to life.
Malick, of "The Tree of Life" fame (2011), spent over a decade working on the film, which was made with a team of special effects artists lead by Dan Glass, who worked on "Batman Begins" and "The Matrix Reloaded".
The film is narrated by Cate Blanchett -- in a philosophical rather than explanatory role -- while a 45-minute IMAX version will also be released, narrated by Brad Pitt.
The work is a patchwork of images, from erupting volcanoes to the divisions of microscopic cells, with footage stitched in of humans today, capturing our loves, traditions, weaknesses and exploitation of the planet.
Photography from the Hubble Space Telescope, NASA's interplanetary space probes and the Solar Dynamic Observatory -- a satellite observing the sun -- are mixed with eye-popping visual effects.
Glass and his team were briefed on the latest theories about the solar system but had to create the astrophysical imagery and invent the first unicellular forms of life themselves.
"We used everything from gels and glass to smoke machines and fluid tanks to create a whole range of effects," Glass said in a statement.
"We performed chemical experiments to see how various liquids, dyes, gases and fluids might behave as we filmed them at high speed. It was a lot of fun to do and very in tune with how Terry's mind works," he said.
- Technical challenges -
Cinematographer Paul Atkins, a culture and wildlife documentarist, said filming the sequences with real creatures or natural spectacles and events had also been challenging.
"We threw away the telephoto lens, the standard tool for filming subjects at a safe distance, as Terry prefers everything to be shot in deep focus with wide-angle lenses," he said.
Standing as close as possible to creeping lava on the Kilauea volcano in Hawaii, the crew's boots melted.
Capturing the oddest creatures from the darkest oceans corners on huge IMAX cameras also posed unique technical difficulties.
"A full load of 65 mm film only allows for three minutes of shooting, after which you must surface, swim back to the boat, lift the 300-pound (135-kilo) rig out of the water, and re-load it," Atkins said.
"By the time you're back in the water, your subject has long gone."
To get his images of humans today, Malick handed out tiny, lo-fi Harinezumi digital cameras to people around the planet and pored through the footage.
The music, from Mahler's Symphony no. 2, "Resurrection", to the 20th Century minimalist composer Avro Part and jazz pianist Keith Jarrett, plays out as the soundtrack to life.