Benny's World

Friday, January 02, 2009

Teh Movie that Shouldn't be Mentioned by Name

On New Year's Eve, Mr. Benny and I went to see the latest Baz Luhrmann film that takes place Down Under. Roger Ebert thought it was a decent movie with romance and sweeping cinematography, even with its flaws. Most of the time I agree with Ebert's opinion and Mr. Benny likes movies, so we thought we'd give it shot since it was New Year's Eve and didn't have other plans. But this is one of the few times we went to see a movie, and walked away wishing we hadn't paid the $8.75 pp. I'm very picky about what movies to pay to see, and I felt as though we got ripped off. My hand expressions throughout the movie told the story: waiting for Godot yet seeing something so predictable with the worst looking computer-generated war scenes in it.

I wish I had read Tom Long's review first. He nailed it by calling the movie a big turkey. And that's what the name of it should have been, A Big Turkey instead of Australia. It was like going to someone's house for Thanksgiving dinner, the meal simply awful because the turkey and dressing either under-or- overcooked and the company was miserable as a result.

Mr. Benny and I went to a restaurant/bar after the movie for a light dinner and we spent the entire time trying to find anything good about it. It was a challenge, but at least at times we were able to laugh about it.

To review, Long's synopsis is this:
"Australia" is a film about the call of the wild, about pioneering spirit, about clashing cultures, the strain between nature and civilization, class systems, racism and, oh yes, it's a love story in which a noblewoman falls for a rough-hewn wrangler.

What's interesting is that the problems of the movie are a cross fertilization of the criticisms lobbed by Ebert and Long. Ebert says that the movie is "a cross between "GWTW" and "Red River," with an infusion of "Rabbit-Proof Fence" (2002) and World War II. Along this same vein, Long says the film was trying to accomplish too much by trying to pack so many themes in. He wrote, "Ultimately, it's about so much that none of it really matters."

Ebert's says that the premise of aborignals possessing powers may have been one of the flaws when he penned,
"The film is filled with problems caused by its acceptance of mystical powers. If Nullah is all-seeing and prescient at times, then why does he turn into a scared little boy who needs rescuing? The climactic events require action sequences as thrilling as they are formulaic, as is the love story. Scarlett and Rhett were products of the same society. Lady Sarah and Drover meet across a divide that separates not only social class but lifestyle, education and geography. Such a gap can be crossed, but not during anything so simple as a moonlit night with "Over the Rainbow" being played on a harmonica."

I'll take this a step further. First, the little boy is the narrator in the film, but often the lens is not through his eyes. It's more through Nicole Kidman's character, which was a big mistake. It's as though they are trying to blur the lenses of Nullah's and Karen Blixen from "Out of Africa", a movie that I think the director was trying to closely emulate rather than GWTW (Gone with the Wind). There is no explanation about aborginal life or why Australians accepted that they did have powers, unless the direction team assumes that one has seen Crocodile Dundee, which actually does a much better job, even for a movie which is supposed to be more comedic. No, readers, the narrative should have come from Drover (Hugh Jackman) who is a widower of an aborginal woman and could have explained the connections, and also point to the boy's grandfather as being wise instead of being the accused murderer of Lady Ashley's husband. Instead, we have bits and pieces, and Jackman is too busy trying to be Denys Hatton. Yes, he's handsome like Redford, but Drover's character is too superficial to believe him. As a result, we cannot find the thread--too many disconnected themes--as a result of a misplaced narrative.

In addition, some technical problems. The diction is terrible thus the film is difficult to hear as well as understand. Sound quality is mediocre. The costumes don't fit the period either because the director is still trying to make a western. While Australia as a continent is probably the last frontier, I still think women would have dressed more like the 30's and 40's. I also disliked that a perfectly wonderful song, "Somewhere over the Rainbow" is repeated and it conflicts with the aboriginal music. An American songbook standard trying to be used as a metaphor of magic or wizards to symbolize the powers of King George or Nullah doesn't work.

I did like Nullah and the aboriginals in the movie, but I have a fondness for them and their culture because I visited Australia in 1987; hence one can see what I am so disappointed in the film.

My title post includes that shouldn't be mentioned by name comes from a line in the movie whereby someone dies, her/her name shouldn't be mentioned again. That's how Mr. Benny and I felt about Australia--it died early on. The romance between characters portrayed by Jackman and Kidman, nor the little boy Brandon Walters (who plays Nullah) whom they sort of adopt, could not save this movie.

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  • Thanks for the review. I guess we'll wait for the DVD. Our local theater charges 9.50 for movies now.

    By Blogger Chancelucky, at 10:35 PM  

  • CL--it's not even worth renting a DVD unless you have a Netflicks account.

    By Blogger benny06, at 5:12 AM  

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