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4.7 out of 5 stars
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICEon 15 February 2004
Whale Rider is a rare and wonderful film. It is set in a small seaside Maori village in New Zealand and concerns the chief, who has no first-born grandson to carry on the old ways. He does have a loveable and plucky granddaughter, Pai, named for the legendary founder of the Maoris who came there on the back of a whale. Pai adores her grandfather, but he has forbidden her to study the old ways because she is a girl.
This is one of those movies that draws you into its world completely with its honesty. The 12-year old star, Keisha Castle-Hughes is so genuine and charismatic, it is no wonder she has been nominated for a Best Actress Oscar. She is a natural talent, beautiful, inspiring, and delightful to watch.
Whale Rider has the art-house feel to it, because it deals almost exclusively with emotions. Village life and underwater scenes of whales are lovingly photographed and accompanied by a haunting score. There is a lot of Maori culture in it, but the desire for acceptance and respect are universally understood. If you like character-driven stories with heartwarming elements of the supernatural, you'll enjoy Whale Rider.
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on 19 March 2005
Based on the novel by Witi Ihimaera, Whale Rider is an intelligent independent film by director Niki Caro. This is a poignant and powerful coming of age tale and also the story of a people who are struggling to maintain their identity and the old ways. There are strong mythical components to the film. The underwater shots of whales, and a young girl who seems to sense their presence and commune with them, are mystical and breathtaking. And the scenes of Maori dance and the narration of their mythology are extraordinary.
The film is set on the eastern coast of New Zealand, which is inhabited by an ancient people, the Whangara. The narrator is a wonderfully expressive young actress, Keisha Castle-Hughes. She gives a riveting performance as Paikea, (called Pai), a twelve year-old Maori girl with the blood of royalty in her veins and the heart of a warrior in her chest. The movie opens with Pai narrating a Whangara myth. Legend has it that the native people came to New Zealand following their leader, Paikea, (who Pai is named for), a boy who heroically rode on the back of a whale. Traditionally, tribal leadership has always gone to the direct descendants of that first leader and always to the first born male of the noble line. Tragedy occurs, however, when fraternal twins are born into that line, a boy and a girl. The girl lives, the boy does not, and the mother perishes along with her son as a result of a difficult birthing. The chain of leadership is broken with their demise. Pai's father, an artist, can not come to grips with the deaths of his wife and son and so he leaves New Zealand, and Pai, who is cared for by her paternal grandparents.
Years pass and Pai, at age twelve, has absorbed as much Maori knowledge as she is able from her grandfather Koro, (Rawiri Paratene), who is disapproving of his granddaughter's seemingly insatiable appetite to become a Maori leader. He has never quite forgiven her for being born a female, nor for living while her brother died. She exudes a true warrior's spirit and courage, which her grandfather refuses to see. Koro is desperately searching for a prophet - someone to lead his people "out of the darkness and who will make everything all right again." When Koro starts a school for young boys, all first-born, to teach the old traditions, Pai is forbidden to attend. She desperately wants her grandfather's love and has some pretty tough abandonment issues to deal with - her father, who left her when she was an infant and her beloved grandfather who is emotional unavailable to her. I will not spoil the plot by revealing more. This film is must-see.
The photography and landscapes, both underwater and above, are absolutely magnificent. The acting is marvelous and from the heart. Pai's and Koro's love-hate relationship, the tension between them, is nothing short of powerful. And I guarantee you will need a pack of Kleenex at the film's end.
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on 7 March 2004
There are those films that everyone should see. There are those that everyone should own. Then there are those that everyone should cherish. Whale Rider is all of these.
Breathtakingly emotional, beautifully heartbreaking and wonderfully funny, this outstanding film deserves much more recognition than the lone best actress Oscar nomination for Keisha Castle-Hughes. This brilliant young girl should have received the award for the speech scene alone.
Simply an excellent story by Witi Ihimaera, adapted perfectly for the screen by Niki Caro, casted with genius by Diana Rowan, acted magnificently by all the actors, completed with a hauntingly stunning score by Lisa Gerrard.
Every now and then a film comes along that makes the world a better place to live in. Whale Rider does this. Watch it now.
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This film of a Maori chieftain's search for a successor who will keep the rural community's culture alive is also an appraisal of the culture itself and the values it represents. The community is dying as its young people leave for the city and do not return, except briefly as visitors, and the chief, Koro (Rawiri Paratene) has no successor. His own firstborn son, Porourangi (Cliff Curtis), who would normally have succeeded him, has left the community after his wife died giving birth to twins--a son who died, and a daughter who lived. Naming the surviving daughter (Keisha Castle-Hughes) Paikea, after the whale rider who formed the culture a thousand years ago, Porourangi (Cliff Curtis) abandons her to the care of her grandmother and the community and goes to Germany to promote his artwork.
Paikea's difficult relationship with her grandfather, who scorns her because she is a girl and not the male heir he needs, is beautifully played here, and Keisha Castle-Hughes is a sensitive and winning actress who endows Paikea with the "strength, courage, intelligence, and leadership" which are the hallmarks of the culture. Always trying to learn the old ways so that she can win her grandfather's love, she is, instead, constantly berated for trying to break the taboo of the marai by assuming a boy's role.
The striking cinematography (Leon Narbey) captures the spirit of the land, while the underwater photography of whales, as Paikea's spirit is drawn to them throughout the film, is stunning. Maori chants and ceremonial dances convey many of the Maori cultural traditions and illustrate their similarities with those of the Hawaiians, who share a common origin. The exchange of breath between Maori as a greeting represents a sharing of each person's essence, a factor which achieves tremendous symbolic significance in a climactic moment at the end of the film.
Because this is a film which conveys a message, it is not surprising that some of the characters here are two-dimensional, especially Koro, the grandfather, so consumed with the need to find a successor that he is unable to be a person. But Paikea and the other children in the film more than make up for some of the adults' predictability with their palpable delight and pride in their culture and the fun they have learning the old ways. A fascinating glimpse at a vanishing culture, this magnificent and moving film will itself help preserve its history and traditions. Mary Whipple
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I was lucky enough to be at a Princeton limited-run theatre in 2003, on the week when "Whale Rider" was playing.
What I found was one of the most extraordinary films in recent memory, and remembered as such. Full of haunting imagery, magical realism, thought-provoking themes and family conflict, this is a movie that Hollywood can only dream of making. It's unique and compelling, and beautiful to boot.
When Paikea (Keisha Castle-Hughes) was born, her mother and twin brother died. Her heartbroken father fled to Europe, leaving her in the care of her rigidly traditional grandfather Koro (Rawiri Paratene). Years later, Pai longs for her grandfather's approval, but he secretly blames her for the troubles plaguing the Maori -- especially since there is now no heir, as girls can't lead. Koro wants a savior for the tribe. Now Koro begins training young boys in how to be chiefs, and Pai secretly learns as well.
When the final test of the boys fails completely, the heartbroken Koro calls out to the Ancient Ones (whales), one of which, according to legend, brought the first person to New Zealand. But they don't come for the old chief. Pai calls them as well -- only to bring disaster when the whales beach themselves near her home. To save the Ancient Ones, an old teacher must learn to break traditions, and a young one learns her true place.
Though the lead of this movie is a child, there is no cuteness, no dumbness, no talking-down. The moviemakers clearly respect the cast, the people it represents, and the wealth of legend and myth behind them. It feels so real that you could reach through and touch them. But the content in it is universal -- sometimes traditions should bow to what is needed, and they need to change for the people who honor them to survive.
Neither Pai nor Koro will leave you untouched; Pai hurts Koro by breaking the rules, while he hurts her by treating her as unworthy. The scene where she makes a speech praising him and their culture is heartbreaking, as she struggles to speak through her tears. Similarly, the moment when Koro realizes that he was wrong about Pai is amazing. This careful attention to the characterization shows the care that went into "Whale Rider."
Direction is outstanding -- simple lines have great weight, dialogue is entirely believable, and the scenes are often carried just by the look on the actors' faces. There's a feeling of purity to the way it's directed, a freshness and beauty that shows in full near the finale. New Zealand is shown off at its best in wide scenic shots. And the climactic scene with the whales is nothing short of brilliant -- it will take your breath away.
Keisha Castle-Hughes is absolutely priceless; she has genuine talent, rather than the hamminess or woodenness that many young actors have. Rawiri Paratene is excellent as a man with a heavy burden who is getting more and more desperate; you won't like all he does, but he's an incredibly sympathetic character just the same. The supporting cast is also amazing, including Vicki Haughton as Pai's strong-willed grandmother and Cliff Curtis as her dad.
"Whale Rider" is a truly one-of-a-kind movie. With remarkable performances, a simple, powerful message, and a brilliant storyline, it is a film that should be seen again and again.
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on 21 January 2004
This film is fantastic! A real emotional rollercoaster with deep spiritual consequence. Read the blurb and you'll find out that this film beautifully handles the topic of female subservience via age and culture. What it doesn't say is that it deals strongly with male heart issues. Set in the backdrop of the "once were warriors" nation, it appeals to the male warrior inside, the desire in everyman to be a warrior. It also deals deeply with leadership issues, stubbornness and the need and want of some kind of spiritual reality in all of us - whether we practice or not. It truly inspired me to be all that I can be - to be a true compassionate yet strong leader within my own domain.
Although I'd self confess myself to being a huge movie fan - surprisingly I'd never heard of this film - how could I have missed this.
A "must have" film in any mans collection - this film can be watched over and over without fail, stirring the issues over and over.
Watch it!
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on 25 November 2007
I come from Aotearoa (new zealand) and though i am from white descendents i have always felt close to Maori people. As my spiritual path has opened up over the years every time i go back to Aotearoa i feel more and more connection with Maori life, and it is so nice to see the Maori culture growing and the people softening as their faith is slowly coming back. This movie is such a beautiful representation of that spiritual growth.
If you really want to get a taste of Aotearoa and its long term inhabitants and not some Bunjy jumping package tour this movie captures the mystical calling of the land and the Maori connection with it.
You will be a better person for watching this journey.
10 out of 10.
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VINE VOICEon 27 January 2004
I saw this in the cinema last year and was I have to say I was dreading it. I thought it was going to be a load of girl-power-whale-loving-I-can-do-anything.
How wrong was I?
This is a beautiful movie, simply put. The story is uplifting, moving and beautifully told; the scenery is stunning; and it gave this Irishman an insight into an unfamiliar and rich ancient culture. Buy it, rent it but for heaven's sake WATCH IT!
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on 28 September 2009
A simple but multi-layered film that doesn't make judgements or seek easy answers. Ravishing visual scenery and impressive acting - especially by Keisha the young female lead. Poetic, emotional but not a rom-com or a chick-flick by any means. The humour and New Zealand culture (think of the All Blacks rugby chant) make it appealing to a wide audience. This one's a keeper.
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on 2 September 2004
"Whale Rider" would be best described as a modern fairytale. But don't let this put you off the film if you're not a fan of sentimental Disney schlock. In this film, emotions are always close to the surface but they are handled brilliantly by both director and actors. Added to this are poignancy and humour that most films (let alone family movies) struggle to achieve, and that pushes the PG rating.
The story of Kai is played out brilliantly, respecting the Koro's tribe and culture but at the same time remaining relevant to a modern audience. In this director Caro is helped by sincere writing and a brilliant range of characters, led by the superb Keisha Castle-Hughes (she fully deserves to be the youngest ever Best Actress Oscar nominee). Castle-Hughes is inkeeping with the tone of the entire film with a brilliantly honest performance. Kai's character arc is recognised well and she deserves to become a star. However, with the attention Castle-Hughes has (justly) garnered as Kai, the best performance in the film has been overlooked almost completely. Yet, as Koro, the resolutely traditional grandfather and chief desperate for a successor, Rawiri Paratene is utterly compelling throughout the film, from his anger with Kai to the complete hopelessness when no newchief can be found.
The film works effortlessly to a climatic speech from Kai, which is so beautifully delivered that it is impossible not to be moved. After this, the film centres around the beached whales, the largest and most stubborn of which is a perfect metaphor for Koro. But the whole film is full of symbolism, which adds to the magic of the piece. There are criticisms to be made, mainly in the form of disregarded subplots (what happens to Hemi?), but these are fairly minor. Plaudits should go to the composer of the film's haunting score, Lisa Gerrard, and the cinematography also deserves recognition (shots of the whales are particularly good). Overall, this film has much more to offer than most of Hollywood's current output combined. See it.
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