on 3 November 2012
It's 1939. Nicole Kidman is an English aristocrat whose nasty husband has just been murdered. She tries to take over the Australian cattle ranch that she has inherited from him. Hugh Jackman is a gruff local drover to whom she finds herself obliged to turn for help.
This movie was the first Blu-ray that I ever watched, and I certainly started with a cracker. I'm not usually a big fan of mainstream movies - fantasy and science fiction are more my cups of tea - but Australia is so extraordinarily good in so many different ways that I quickly fell in love with it.
Hugh Jackman - well, what can I say? I can't imagine how any movie star could be more charismatic. And Nicole Kidman is very nearly his equal. As for the plot of the film, it reminds me of a wonderful soup that my Mum used to make that used a bit of every ingredient in the kitchen - it's a pride-and-prejudice romance, a western, a murder mystery, a war movie, a comedy, a historical epic...And each of these different elements works. It leaves you feeling as richly satisfied as a movie possibly could, and wondering why movies this wholesome and entertaining are so very, very rare.
With the Blu-ray being as cheap as it is, this is a movie that you owe it to yourself to watch in high def. The cast and crew toiled in the desert to bring you the movie's spectacular landscapes, and you really should see every single pixel of them. Blu-ray also maximizes the spectacle of the Pearl Harbor-like war scenes, and makes the most of the soundtrack's rich mixture of music.
A disc for everyone with a heart.
on 3 March 2016
If you are expecting a great rolling epic where the country is one of the stars of the show, this is not that film! Is it a romcom, a drama, a farce, a romance, a comedy, a war film - well that would be hard to say because it's a bit of all those!
In the beginning the Nicole Kidman figure is a caricature of an English aristocrat, like a character from 'Those magnificent men and their flying machines.' The Hugh Jackman figure is a bar room brawler - a side of him that we don't see again in the film.
The film is very disjointed and even appears to have reached its conclusion at one point when in fact it's only half way through! The whole atmosphere and most of the characterisations change quite substantially after a desert crossing! Most notably the Nicole Kidman figure: she changes so completely as to be another person altogether.
The archetypal bad guy remains a bit of farcical figure throughout the film. The mixed-race child is as near to the star of the film as anyone gets.The senior aboriginal seems to possess other-worldly powers that bring a surreal element into the film that could be seen to be a bit too convenient! Of the other characters, the accountant is the incompetent drunk who comes good; the cattle baron, well he's just the megalomaniac cattle baron; the aboriginal friend of the Drover is the typical native friend of a main character. As for the rest . . .
This is a mish-mash of a film with little to really commend it. It's not unpleasant or unwatchable, it's just confused.
Clearly drawing its inspiration from forerunners like The Overlanders, The Sundowners and We of the Never Never, Baz Luhrmann's Australia desperately wants to be the great Australian epic but has to settle for a fairly decent cattle drive epic-cum-wartime romantic drama that could have been much better. All of the clichés are present and correct, from the outsider coming under the spell of the land while Waltzing Matilda and Somewhere Over the Rainbow weave in and out of the soundtrack to the obligatory Aboriginal magic coming to the rescue, but they're never quite as much fun as the films it aspires to.
Part of the problem is the many caricatured and mannered performances, with Nicole Kidman overplaying the stage faux-English stuffiness as the impatient aristocrat who arrives at her husbands cattle station to find herself a widow, her murderous racist foreman (David Wenham) plotting against her to ensure Bryan Brown's cattle king retains his monopoly and her only hope to avoid ruin to assemble a ragtag band to drive her cattle to Darwin with Hugh Jackman's drover, with the sneering Wenham in hot pursuit every step of the way. While Kidman gradually improves and becomes less cartoonish as the drive goes on, some characters never really gel, most notably Jack Thompson's alcoholic accountant, who seems introduced as the film's equivalent of Peter Ustinov's dryly comical Captain in The Sundowners but never really has anything to work with. But just as problematic are the gratuitous and often clumsily executed special effects for even basic shots of characters riding in front of landscapes or camping in the outback, which integrate the elements so poorly that they manage to look far worse than any 40s back projection. They're so naggingly unconvincing that they take you out of the movie, never more so than in the big stampede sequence that should be a highlight but too often looks like they didn't have enough time to quite finish the effects. The film did run into budget and bad weather problems, it's true, but so have other films that didn't look quite so sporadically artificial. It's almost as if it's been so long since anyone made a cattle drive picture on location that the old skills have been lost and scenes that could and should have been easily shot on location have been hurriedly shot in front of studio green screens instead, giving parts of the film a horribly artificial flat TV look that belies the film's huge budget.
For a film that places so much emphasis on the importance of living a story, Luhrmann at times loses control of his sprawling material as his attention and focus seem to wander. It aims to be a sweeping old-fashioned saga but too often feels disjointed, like parts of different movies strung tenuously together and all too-often stopping just as they threaten to get interesting. The cattle drive ends abruptly, one major character's death is shown almost as an afterthought and a delirious desert crossing that David Lean would have been able to do in his sleep becomes a rather hurried and undeveloped montage that doesn't even seem to be happening to the film's main characters, who simply disappear from the scene. At times it threatens to turn into a three hour version of one of those work-in-progress presentations film companies put on for buyers and exhibitors, linking nearly-completed set pieces with trailers and promo reels to give an impression of what the finished film will be like. It even retains much of what was probably the temp track of classic Bernard Herrmann scores.
If the viewer's attention sometimes wanders as much as the directors, there's certainly ambition here, attempting to make an old-fashioned period romantic adventure for a modern age that celebrates the country without whitewashing its past, particularly the invidious attempt to `breed the black out' of a stolen generation of Aboriginal or half-caste children that drives the latter section of the film. And, though most are just throwaway roles, there's plenty of familiar faces from classic Australian movies like Gulpilil, Bill Hunter, Bruce Spence, John Jarrett and Ray Barrett along the way, though the standout performance is easily Brendan Walters as the `creamy' Kidman tries to adopt and becomes a bargaining chip in Wenham's schemes. On the plus side, the director abandons the excessive over-editing of his previous collaboration with Kidman, Moulin Rouge, for something that has a lot more room to breathe and thankfully seems to be inspired by classic movies rather than MTV. And the film finally does come together in the aftermath of the bombing of Darwin (itself surprisingly brief and showing budget limitations in cutting and pasting some stock footage from Tora! Tora! Tora! over new effects). It's a shame the rest of the film couldn't be as effective.
The extras on the DVD release are truly pitiful - two brief deleted scenes running less than three minutes combined - with the good stuff reserved for the Blu-ray release, which also includes 10 featurettes totalling 77 minutes.
A surprisingly good film. Didn't quite know what it should be for the first hour or so, comedy? fantasy? silent movie spoof? But it gets better and settles down to an old fashioned romp, fun and easy to follow, just a litttttttle long but otherwise worth a watch.
on 15 February 2009
The reason this film got bad reviews was simple... people took it the wrong way. Some reviewers were saying that people were laughing in the cinema at the beginning, well so was I. Infact I was laughing so hard I had tears in my eyes, because it's funny. It's INTENTIONALLY funny. Baz Luhrmann himself stated that he tried to put a bit of everything in this film including "high comedy" as well as high drama. If you've seen Baz's films before and loved them then you'll love this. Like Moulin Rouge, it begins humourously before taking you through a rollercoaster of emotions to moments of extreme sadness and tension. It looks beautiful and it's played beautifully by all of the actors. Basically this is Baz Luhrmann's nod to the old classics, it's reminiscant of "The African Queen" and "Gone With The Wind" and has obvious nods to "The Wizard of Oz". If you think they don't make films like they used to, this is highly recommended. Don't take it as fact, just let yourself enjoy it and you'll soon be swept along with the story.
on 3 February 2010
The best film I've seen since The Shawshank Redemption. It had me laughing, crying, my heart aching with joy and sadness. It was thrlling and exciting. I went on a rollercoaster ride of emotions. I first saw this film just after Christmas on tv (I watched it every day for a week), and was so impressed with it I had to rush out and buy the dvd, I've watched it 4 times since. This is is not a film I would normally of chosen to watch as it was billed as a romantic epic and I,m not a fan of slushy films. Austrailia is NOT one of 'those' films it was so much more than that. The chemistry between Jackman and Kidman ... well need I say more. The use of Australia's beautiful landscapes was filmed to it's full advantage. Baz Luhrmann's use of the Aboriginal culture and history was well portrayed and left you wanting to find out more. At 44yrs I was shocked to learn about the way the 'creamies' were taken from their families and was still going on as late as 70's. I also learnt about the Japanese attacking Australia which I never knew about. Australia... Fantasic, Amazing, Brilliant, Thank You.
on 27 April 2009
This is a far from perfect film; never sure what he wants to achieve, Luhrmann allows it to try and cover all bases from western to romance to action adventure to story of conscience. That said, if you're a fan of the Luhrmann vision you will love this film. It has all the stylistic and romantic elements of previous movies like Moulin Rouge and Romeo + Juliet and Hugh Jackman in particular shows some genuine class as the Drover - who is a very typical Luhrmann hero; a man's man with a dream. I'm less convinced by Nicole Kidman (who I genuinely liked in Moulin Rouge) and there are times when the chemistry between the two is totally unconvincing. The story of Nullah the Aboriginal boy feels hackneyed and overly corny at times, a deliberate pull on the heart-strings, but again it's very typically Luhrmann and its very hard not to like Brandon Walters.
You have to want to like this film, you have to buy into Luhrmann's vision and you have to allow its flaws to pass you by. If you can you will find some absolute gems of style, direction and story-telling and above all an entertaining film that leaves you feeling as though you've seen a genuine modern-day epic
on 20 October 2014
Set in Australia in WW 2, dealing with issues of race, fraud, treachery, bravery, snobbery, loyalty but mainly a love story, not just romantic love, we found this film very moving. Nicole Kidman 's portrayal of her uptight, aristocratic character was superb especially as she herself is Australian. In fact the casting overall could not have been better.
on 4 December 2015
As an Australian I really wanted to like this but with OTT romance, corny lines, an irredeemable villain, the mystical powers of the indigenous Australians, Hugh Jackman having to display those spectacular "abs" and references to the Wizard of Oz - it was all so Gay! Baz Luhrmann needs to realise that sometimes Less is More....
on 5 February 2009
Having seen the movie more than once has given me a more nuanced appreciation of this epic movie. Its storyline tackles the relationship between two people coming from different cultures who eventually found themselves together -- initially at odds, in love, and part of a family unit -- all amidst the backdrop of the sprawling Australian outback, the divide of races and social strata, the age-old clash between good and evil, and the onset of the second world war in the Pacific! The movie experience is like curling up with an extraordinary epic novel - and at the end feeling what a well-spent afternoon it has been!
The movie's length does justice to this tale of love and adventure in a faraway culture and of unusual natural beauty. The cinematography provides all the lush scenes of the Australian landscape, the rush of blood in some of the most awesome action scenes, and the loving closeups of the story of the relationship between Lady Sarah Ashley, The Drover, and their defacto son, Nullah! The musical score gives the movie the perfect complement to the excellent cinematography. The story unwinds from an initial meeting full of comedic winks ( including the now famous shower scene - featuring the leading man!) and clashing cultures. It then dawns on the central role played by the child Nullah and his aboriginal culture. Plus what would an epic movie be without the quintessential villains? As the movie progresses and we witness the triumph of the independent cattle company versus the monopoly, it also gives us a slice of Australian history and its development in its early frontiers. When the second world war breaks out and it marches down to Darwin, we are caught in another story between good and evil, so cinematically well-portrayed. And they lived happily ever after, with a twist --the expected end of a truly epic movie!
Who are the main characters and how are they portrayed?
Lady Sarah Ashley is the English rose who became an adopted daughter of the Australian frontier. She is transformed into a loving nurturer of a child and the harsh land because the relationship which came into her life also changed her outlook. Nicole Kidman very ably portrays this complicated woman who changes from a non-sympathetic character to a caring heroine. This transformation is so well portrayed in the changing face of Lady Ashley - from the very beautiful and well-turned out woman to the woman whose inner beauty shines through her bedgraggled locks and almost plain face, through her pained expression as she undergoes tragedy and is touched by sorrow, and finally to the look of someone who has come to terms with what is important in life. This is one of Nicole's best movie portrayals!
The Drover has a mysterious past and a rough image as we are first introduced to him. He is a man who is iconic in the history of the outback but it was his reaching out to the shunned aboriginal community in the past which showed that he was an extraordinary man. In the song by Elton John, played second in the movie credits, called The Drover's Ballad, his story turns out to be rich in tragedy and a life full of love for the outback, which gives us more of a complete picture of this man with a heart of gold. The tragic life seems to follow him even much later in the movie - and this is where he shows his heart on his sleeve! Hugh Jackman is magnificent in the role and it is hard to imagine anybody else giving a more masterful performance. The magnificence is not just in how he looked ( Baz Luhrmann did show Hugh Jackman as the representation of physical perfection...surprisingly, because the other choice was Nicole Kidman) but also in his acting chops. There are several scenes where Hugh displays his acting range at the highest emotional level - when he realizes that the people he loved may have become victims of the tragedy of war...and then the realization that fate had actually been kinder. Who can't help but be mesmerized by his face and his voice in the scene by the burning war HQ and at the ruined bar, in the Mission Island rescue, and at the wharf in Darwin? Had the past of the drover been more meaningfully played out on the screen, the role could have garnered Hugh an award recognition!
The third important role is the child Nullah, as charmingly portrayed by a new child actor named Brandon Walters. He charms everyone except the villain. He is in a sense at the heart of the story and Brandon makes us follow Nullah's journey with almost a maternal/paternal eye for his welfare in the story. At the end, he is conflicted about his real family and culture, but I am sure that when Nullah grows up, it will both cultures and both families that he will truly call his own!
Kudos likewise to the actors who portrayed the main villain, the iconic aboriginal character, the Drover's friend and main man, even the hotel keeper and his gruff ways...as well as to the other Australian actors who gave life to this epic story.
The creatives have done well to transform such a tale magnificently on screen! Baz Luhrmann provides the vision and the direction of the story-telling with such interesting and charismatic characters and amidst a magnificent background of natural beauty, culture, and slices of history!
While the movie could only be given full justice in a cinema with its impressive big screen and excellent sound, I would still love to get a DVD/blu-ray version to allow me to see it again and again - much like wanting to read and re-read a very good epic novel!