13 June 2009 | Tony Dummett
Wonderful Movie - remember to check your disbelief at the door.
Having resisted the urge to see Australia for many months, I finally hired the Blu Ray version because my mother in law was staying over for the night. I thought I'd get something suitable for an octogenarian lady who likes "nice" films with pretty people in them.
Well, it turned out she'd seen it, and anyway she and my wife were off to a show at 8pm, so I'd have to watch it all by myself (a one night rental, you see).
We have a home theater set up with high quality HD projection and a large 12 foot screen... perfect for expansive Blu Ray vistas. I thought I'd get at least some Academy Award nominated eye candy out of Australia, if nothing else. Not being a big Kidman or Jackman fan, I was hoping some of the supporting roles would hold my attention.
I was glad I could watch Australia alone, as it made my laughing out loud and the tears rolling down my face (sometimes simultaneously) less embarrassing.
This is a wonderful, sprawling, completely overdone, yet breathtakingly entertaining movie. I'm not interested in where it fits into the Baz Lurhmann body of work. I watched Australia for itself, as a one off experience... and the film delivers a cornucopia of cinema treats.
Be warned: to enjoy Australia you have to suspend disbelief. That is a given. Don't look for a sensitive, subtle, academic treatment of the plight of the Aboriginal Stolen Generations, redolent with citations, statistics and sober commentary. This film presents the situation crystallized around the story of one little boy, as a representative of the thousands who were removed from their mothers and fathers, destined for lives as domestic servants in white homes or as cheap workers on white cattle stations in the Northern Territory.
Likewise, the depiction of the mystical Aboriginal holy man is not meant to be taken literally. To my mind, the director's intent was to bypass stuffy academia and get to the soul of the Aboriginal person's ties to the land, which after all go back tens of thousands of years. There is no more magic in this movie than in any of the Indiana Jones movies, or Star Wars films, where the ability to rip out a beating human heart, magic stones that ensure prosperity, the Arc Of The Covenant as a force that can destroy armies, a mystical chalice which will impart immortality to those who drink from it, or The Force which enables levitation of large spacecraft and the manipulation of minds... all these are accepted by most filmgoers without demur. The same could be said of any of a thousand successful movies: the Lord Of The Rings Trilogy, even Ghostbusters. They assume from the start that their viewers will willing to suspend disbelief. This film requires that too.
Once your disbelief is checked at the door, you can sit back and indulge yourself in Australia. It is a film about emotion, not a documentary. It's whether the emotional truth of the film, often melodramatically worn on the director's sleeve, can grab your own heart and allow you to wallow in it unashamadely.
Other reviewers have said here that they were able to watch the whole film with rapt attention from beginning to end. I join those ranks, and proudly. There is hardly a moment when the action - emotional or actual - is not hitting you right between the eyes, be it the stunning vistas or the awful badness of the baddies, the tender first kiss between the Drover and Lady Sarah, or the razor's edge existence of the young "creamie" boy, Nullah, always on the run from the well-meaning but misguided authorities who would "breed the Aboriginal out of him".
Sure, there are some CGI sections that at first seem way over the top, even comic book-like in their execution. But I'm not sure these weren't intentional. I wonder whether they were deliberately done they way they were to reinforce the magical and mystical thrust of the story? Yes, in Australia there are elements and style quotations from scores of previous movies. It pays homage to Indiana Jones (all four of them), Out Of Africa, Star Wars, any of the great westerns, The African Queen, Pearl Harbour (yes, Darwin really was bombed by the Japanese just after Pearl Harbour, with great loss of life), even The Wizard Of Oz. The latter was used as a metaphor for the boy's journey from grim reality to a mystical land full of evil characters, good fairies and magic animals. When he finally gets to see the movie itself, I'll guarantee even the most hardened eye in the audience will be struggling to hold back a tear.
The music was an eclectic collage of emotional cues, from the original score, thru the Hollywood musical and on to Elgar's Variations, with jazz, swing and bobbysoxer dance themes in between. Why not? The visuals and the sound reinforced each other, reaching not for footnotable, citable truth but for emotional truth (which is what all good films have ever done).
This was a great film, completely contrary to my preconceived notions of what it would be like to watch. It receives from me just about the greatest accolade I can offer any move: it's one I know I will watch over and over again, and get more out of with every viewing.