Australia, the movie

I watched Australia last night.

I wanted to like it. I really did.

I love Australia, the country.

Sydney Harbour Evening Panorama

The land, the people, the animals, the history. Warts and all. Various things have kept me from visiting in person over the years (usually time and/or money constraints), but I still dream of one day going there. I’d weather the heat that I absolutely hate to do that. I actually considered emigrating there at one point, back when I was young enough to be able to rack up enough points to be considered a worthwhile immigrant (now I’m far too old to be able to do it without having shedloads of money and/or an Australian husband).

And I love Australian television and movies. Campy, comedy, or dramatic. The Australian show “Home and Away” is probably responsible for the birth of my true passion for the country as it gave me my first real taste of Aussie accents and the beauty of the land (Mel Gibson’s Mad Max movies and Gallipoli being my only real experience with Australian entertainment up to that point). My inner voice has an Aussie accent almost solely because of this show and its influence on me. It was my gateway drug.

Australia (the movie)So, despite my strong personal aversion to Nicole Kidman as an actress and despite the frequent negative reviews I kept reading, I was looking forward to seeing the movie.

Overall, it was a disappointment. I wonder at the critics who described the photography as “jaw-dropping, picture postcard camerawork”. Sure, there was some of the usual visual imagery of the Australian outback. But, overall, instead of the really stunning images of Australia that I’d come to expect from other Australian movies, we were subjected to scenes that could have been shot anywhere and scene after scene of mediocre green-screen/CGI shots.

You don’t get the sense that they built amazing sets in authentic locations, even though they did. Instead, you get the impression that they built sets somewhere bland and benign — a studio sound stage perhaps — and then plugged in the landscape around it. I don’t necessarily fault them for resorting to that — some of the scenes couldn’t have been filmed properly without endangering the people and animals involved or would have been prohibitively expensive or too logistically complex to film without use of CGI — but I do fault them for doing a rather poor job of it throughout the entire movie (the lighting is just a little off, the CGI images just a little too smooth and slick), and for doing so much of it.

Even scenes that could have been easily shot without CGI frequently give the impression of having had backgrounds added later for enhanced effect (the scenes about a third of the way through the movie where Flynn throws down his bottle of rum prior to the big drove are examples where it looks as though the close-ups of the individual actors on their horses were filmed against CGI backgrounds where the wide shots appear normal). I don’t know if that is an artefact of the filming process used or if they really did indeed use CGI for those scenes, but it all lends a decided B movie feel to the whole thing. (Actually, it makes it look a lot like the latest Indiana Jones movie, but I didn’t want to say that — that’s too much of an insult.)

Brandon Walters against a clearly green-screened/CGI backdrop

Brandon Walters against a green-screened/CGIed backdrop during cattle stampede

David Gulpilil looking over a clearly green-screened/CGIed backdrop

David Gulpilil looking over another mediocrely green-screened/CGIed backdrop

The movie was also poorly timed — too long and the various parts of it too disconnected from one another to be really effective. It actually started off quite well. If they had kept up the same sort of campy feel and pace throughout the movie, it would have been a fun romp even with the CGI issues.

Hugh Jackman and Nicole Kidman drive to Faraway Downs

The Drover, Kipling Flynn, and Lady Ashley drive to Faraway Downs

Instead, Baz Luhrman cobbled together slow campy, dramatic, soppy, funny, classic, love, and action scenes in a messy hodge podge. The use of the Stolen Generations as storyline fodder was also ineffective and poorly integrated into the overall story. At almost 3 hours in duration, it would have been better suited to being a TV mini-series — or at least being better edited for brevity. But the rather disjointed storylines of the first and second halves of the movie wouldn’t even have made a decent mini-series. Perhaps movie and sequel might have worked, somehow, but it certainly didn’t work as a single movie.

That being said, what did I like about it?

  • Brandon WaltersBrandon Walters, the young Aborginal boy who played Nullah, is a charming little guy who really kept the movie from becoming a complete waste of time. Hope to see more of him.
  • Hugh Jackman, even in a mediocre and disappointing movie, is always worth watching in my eyes.
  • What real imagery there was of Australia was pleasant.
  • Australian accents. What can I say? I’m a sucker for them.
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2 thoughts on “Australia, the movie

  1. I agree with much of your take. Kidman is low on my list too, but she at least is holding up well. I wanted to like it more than I did like you as well.

    The CGI was all over. It could have been tighter, and the green screen got a little old. I like your caption above: “David Gulpilil looking over another mediocrely green-screened/CGIed backdrop.” That says a lot.

    Here is my take on it if you are interested:

    http://fortresstakes.wordpress.com/2009/03/09/australia-2008/

  2. As the reigning king of Texas, I feel justified in using a Spanish expression to express my feelings about your review of the movie—-“Muy bien hecho!” Very well done, and I look forward to future similar postings on your blog. I also reviewed the film and posted it to my blog, but I humbly defer to your characterization of the film. Once again, “Well done!”

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