I haven't seen it yet, but I'm totally going to now. A) Because I loved Thin Red Line, and B) Because I want to know which side of this West-Side-Story-style dance fight we've started up I should be on.
Mostly 'cause I loved Thin Red Line.
Here's my question: in the pantheon of Malick's work, where does everybody think New World falls? Rehash of previously trod themes? Bold new vision? Midget snuff porn? Somewhere in between?
Polka, I came to The New World as a Malick admirer and enthusiast of The Thin Red Line. It will be interesting to see how you respond to the new film. It's obvious by now that I am an ardent supporter of The New World. I can't get it out of my head. But it has been tough for me to articulate exactly why.
Gamblour and others have commented on the nearly silent nature of the movie. Malick sprinkles voiceover at odd and inspired moments throughout, but it is drastically different from The Thin Red Line's nearly constant voiceover (where Line's voiceovers move from one character to another, New World stays with Kilcher, Farrell and Bale). The New World's diminished use of dialog (and voiceover) certainly makes it his most ambitious work in that Malick substantially relies on visuals to tell his story. While all of his films contain incredible beauty, it is The New World's reliance on its images that places it at or near the top for me.
In addition to this visual reliance, I agree with Gamblour that the film's music is inspired. The crescendo of Wagner at the beginning, especially at the end, and I believe at least one other time toward the middle of the movie, gave me chills. Overall, the music (score and soundtrack) enhance the visuals expertly. One other comment is the sound design. Several moments stand out for me, including the opening credits, when Smith is captured by the Naturals (you know what it's like in that helmet), any scene with one of the large ships (you can feel the wood creaking, expanding, and bending), and the attempted siege of the fort (especially enjoyed those moments of total silence during the battles).
I realize this is more of a list of reasons why I love the film and not an articulated analysis. A true analytical approach to film of this kind may require many viewings. My thoughts, I suppose, are related more to the experience and enjoyment I received from it. To your original question, although I don't know if this is a ranking of Malick's films, The New World now stands alongside The Thin Red Line as my favorite. It hasn't quite eclipsed it yet...but I've seen Line many more times.