I love a sunburnt country …
And so off I went today to see Australia Baz Luhrmann’s epic, epic movie about … OK, no spoilers here, but can I just say spearing, crocodiles, the bombing of Darwin, cattle stampedes, Hugh Jackman, Nicole Kidman, romance … the attraction of opposites, dyed-in-the-wool villains, redemption, the stolen generations, a wonderful young actor Brandon Walters, all your old favourite Aussie actors, and a landscape to die for. Well a lot do in this movie. But it’s much, much, much more …
I knew some of what to expect from the video podcast series Set to Screen that’s been released gradually on the iTunes Store this year. The last episode on ‘Editing’ was released only last week. In these really excellent and free 10 minute or so videos, the business of making movies was introduced supposedly for Higher Ed students by Luhrmann himself. If you are at all interested in what goes on before, during, and after a shoot, download the series. Nice bit of product placement for Apple of course.
But back to the experience of the movie. It’s an old-fashioned, gutsy, romantic movie and it wears its big heart on its sleeve. It’s derivative and excessive in parts, but it is also sweetly comic, tender, and reveals a landscape that is astonishingly beautiful. The soundtrack and especially the music is as lush as is the production design, and that’s just fabulous … as you would expect from Catherine Martin. The integration of live-action on location, studio shots and CGI is well-nigh seamless, though a couple of the Darwin panoramic shots looked a bit artificial … I’m carping. The performances are all terrific, and the casting of Jackman and Kidman as a screen couple is quite simply, perfect. Nicole Kidman in a recent interview on how she found working so closely with Jackman said it was ‘nice’ to go to work each day … I bet.
The story is highly charged, energetic, and as packed as it can possibly be without exploding out of its tight riding britches … it runs already at a whopping 165 minutes. It’s a Baz Luhrmann movie that’s for sure, and his hand is very firmly on the tiller. He’s said he has deliberately made a movie for everyone, and that he will probably be ‘killed for it.’ I doubt it, but this ambitious aim also creates the movie’s most significant weak spot, in that it does try to be all things for all audiences.
The light-hearted and broadly comic opening sequences do jar a little, but maybe that was me. I was reminded here of Strictly Ballroom (1992) and some of the comic nonsense in Moulin Rouge (2001). Australia then steadily generates momentum and gear shifts into darker, more violent and guilt-laden territory. Some of the background on the stolen generation and indigenous Australia is of course necessary, but it’s perhaps a tad obviously expositional when it comes.
I loved the Darwin outdoor pictures sequence as the boy Nulla watches Judy Garland, the Tin Man, Scarecrow and Cowardly Lion in the Wizard of Oz. His referencing of this classic 1939 movie throughout Australia shows Luhrmann the movie-maker at his most poignant, clever, and imaginative.
And I was moved deeply and unexpectedly by the slide at movie’s end which declared that in 2008 the Prime Minister of Australia apologised to indigenous Australians for the treatment of the stolen generation. That was a good thing I reckon … that I was so moved. I hope it has the same effect on others.
Stay for the credits by the way. You will get to hear Elton John and Rolf Harris and a whole lot more.