One of the best things about the art of motion pictures is its ability to transport us through time and space to far away places in forgotten times. Movies of this type can be grand spectacles containing sights and sounds that otherwise we could never experience. Films of this sort have been around since people first began to consider film as a major source of entertainment. These sweeping sagas have delighted audiences but the actual production is extremely difficult to pull off correctly. Cast members and crew often have to be taken to remote locations chosen more for their remarkable beauty than accessibility. The work of hundreds of people has to be coordinated perfectly to achieve the vision of the film maker. Things have been made easier with the current level of technology but movies like but they are still an arduous process. This is why films of this sort still come about only every few years or so. One of the latest is ‘Australia’ by stylish film maker Baz Luhrmann. This film has all the technical elements required for an epic; beautiful scenery, a ruggedly handsome leading man and a gorgeous actress to play opposite him. It is also a period piece taking us not only to a far away location but back in time as well. Typically an epic film needs a longer than usual running time; this one clocks in at 165 minutes. This puts a lot of pressure on the producers since there will be less showings per theater to rack those all important box office dollars. There is an inherent danger with the epic; the story has to be able to hold up for the added screen time. This is the main problem with ‘Australia’. It has the tendency to meander too much and loses focus. What holds together here is the fascination that we Americans have always shad with those from down under. Australia is a continent nation with incredible diversity. It is also a place that holds a mysticism and wonder for most people. The outback regions have a lot in common with our own wild west so amidst all the exotic settings there is a touchstone of understand and familiarity. It cost $130 million to produce this movie and although the return was disappointing here in the States it did become one of the highest grossing films native to Australia. In addition to this there was a tie in for tourism that made an impact on the local economy. This is the kind of film that will find an audience; there are still epic fans out there. the distribution of the film for the home market is through 20th Century Fox. They have the now standard two means to obtain the movie; DVD and Blu-ray.
The story comes from Baz Luhrmann with help for the screenplay from three other writers; Stuart Beattie, Ronald Harwood and Richard Flanagan. Luhrmann is a native son of the country and wrote his three previous movies; ‘Moulin Rouge’, ‘Romeo + Juliet’ and ‘Strictly Ballroom’. Beattie knows what it takes to write for a long, special effects driven movie having authored the screenplays for all three movies in the ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ franchise. Harwood is also not a novice in this field with credits for several award winning scripts that include ‘The Pianist’, ‘Being Julia’ and ‘The Diving Bell and the Butterfly’. Flannagan has the least experience for the group with the script for his novel ‘The Sound of One Hand Clapping’ as his only previous credit. The story employed here is solid enough for an epic melodrama but could have benefited from some time in editing. It is set in 1939 with a world war looming in Europe. A refined English noblewoman, Lady Sarah Ashley (Nicole Kidman), travels to Australia to look at the cattle that serves as an investment for her husband. He had arranged for a professional drover (Hugh Jackman), known only by his professional title, to drive the heard from Darwin to far off Faraway Downs. Sarah’s husband is murdered and a rival cattle baron, King Carney (Bryan Brown), is seeking to take over. There are some classic elements driving the story here. First there is the natural sexual tension between Sarah and Drover. But are very attractive people often alone in a romantic setting but she is married. The murder nicely takes care of that which leads to the second popular plot device; opposites attract. Sarah has been schooled in the finest educational facilities available. Drover is a rough and ready man far more comfortable in the outdoors than any social setting. You then get something right out of old school American westerns; the evil cattle owner out to rustle your heard. What does add a special touch and a little local flavor is the almost mandatory addition of Aboriginal spirituality. This also opens the story for one of the first potential distractions; prejudice. The white community rejects the Aboriginal natives and this prejudice resulted in the death Drover’s wife. The pending war and other social issues have their place but as presented in this film they take the focus off of the main characters and lost the narrative voice of the story.
There is one thing that will never be said about Baz Luhrmann as a director; he shows too much restraint. This is a man who has a vision and goes all out in seeing it through. He redefined the Hollywood musical with his precious work with Kidman, ‘Moulin Rouge’. Here his vision is a broad and grand as the titular country. Most of the people involved with the film are natives of Australia and the love they have for their homeland helps to carry the film. While the movie could have been vastly improved with a tighter editing and a quicker pace it does work as a travelogue and almost soap opera like melodrama. A film like this gets a lot of advanced hype and in this case fell short of its own publicity.
While the DVD version of this film is well done, no surprise for Fox, it really shines in the high definition edition. This is a film that brings out the best in Blu-ray. The 1080p video is fantastic. The myriad of colors are blended into a vibrant palette that draws in the audience and gives the feel that you are there. The DTS HD gives the listener a broad sound stage with a far better than average channel separation. The added storage space of Blu-ray allows the producers to include plenty of extras. There are times when you just need a epic to bring you out of your mundane world.