Hey, was that notoriously press-phobic director Terrence Malick in the Regent Beverly Wilshire ballroom at Thursday’s lavish after-bash for the premiere of his film, "The New World"?

Sure was. And no one was more shocked than some of the New Line studio folks. "He wasn’t going to do anything but Berlin," marveled one staffer.

"Are you sure that’s him?" asked another partygoer, unable to recognize the infamously anti-social auteur in a suit and minus his ubiquitous felt hat.

Her companion replied, "Yeah, that’s him. The bald guy." Which explains the headgear habit, akin to other follicle-challenged directors Ron Howard and Brian de Palma. No photos of Malick are posted on Wire Image or Getty Images, but there are a few shots of his pretty blonde wife, Alexandra.

Besides the stunned awe surrounding Malick’s spectral appearance, the brunt of the ballroom banter was about Narnia’s talking beavers trouncing the Big Ape’s "soft" box office opening. One sharp-suited gal argued that good word-of-mouth will undoubtedly boost Universal’s "King Kong," Peter Jackson‘s follow-up to his "Lord of the Rings" trilogy partnership with New Line.

"A movie that costs $200 million to make shouldn’t have to rely on word-of-mouth," replied a naysayer. True. But tell that to James Cameron (if you can find his submarine), whose expensive "Titanic" took two weeks to hit the $100 million mark but went on to win 11 Oscars and take in over $600 million.

Photo: "The New World" stars Q’orianka Kilcher and Christian Bale, who skipped the red carpet, settle for a quick catch-up chat at the film’s after-party.
(Eric Charbonneau / WireImage)

]]>Some folks were gossiping about "New World" star Colin Farrell checking himself into rehab earlier in the week, reportedly for a dependency on prescription painkillers. "He couldn’t wait two more days," grumbled one party person, shaking his head, and giving the impression that there were some folks who would have gladly gotten one more prescription for Farrell so he could walk the carpet.

Turns out "World" costar Christian Bale also bailed, missing the red carpet by an hour and heading over to the post party very early.

But Malick’s surprising presence, and the hotly anticipated arrival of the real "World" star, Q’orianka Kilcher, the stunning 15-year-old who plays Pocahontas, was plenty to make the night a fine finale to this month’s rash of Oscar-hopeful film premieres.

Kilcher, whose performance has been dubbed the heart and soul of Malick’s epic love story, hugged several fans who approached. And she chatted briefly with Bale (about family and the holidays) before heading to the bar for a (very) soft drink. For a tender teen, Kilcher looked very mature with upswept hair and wearing a rust ‘n’ gold off-the-shoulder silk taffeta ball gown that she’d designed and made herself.

"I don’t consider myself a fashion designer," explained the almond-eyed exotic honey, when asked about her dress. "But instead of wearing something from a designer that costs thousands of dollars, I’d much rather make my own clothes."

Will her attitude change when a Hollywood manager explains that since she’s famous she can get free gowns (free everything, for that matter) and be paid thousands of dollars to wear designer duds to awards shows?

Hope not. Seeing this young actress, whom some say may receive an Oscar nomination, make a personal style statement on Oscar’s commercialized red carpet runway would be a pleasant change. But sadly, fame and fortune tend to alter even the best-laid plans.

"She’s 15, very na├»ve and very sweet. For now," warned a partygoer who had watched Kilcher’s first exposure to the flashing photo frenzy outside the Academy Theatre in Beverly Hills earlier that night.

Oh, stop being such a Grinch. It’s almost Christmas. Have a little faith.