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Australia (2008)

20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
Blu-ray Disc Released: 3/3/2009

All Ratings out of
Movie: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 3/10/2009

I typically have strong feelings one way or another for most filmmakers. But, I'm not sure what I think of Baz Luhrmann. Like many, I saw his second film, Romeo + Juliet first. Although I was excited about the movie based on the previews, I found it to be too bombastic. I then saw his first movie Strictly Ballroom, and conversely, liked it much more than I expected. I didn't know what to expect from Moulin Rouge, but the mixture of modern music and hyper camera, combined with a moving story, created a unique experience. Luhrmann's latest, Australia, looks totally different from his other films. Would it solidify my view on Luhrmann?

Nicole Kidman stars in Australia as Lady Sarah Ashley, who travels from England to Australia in 1941 to fetch her husband, Lord Ashley, who owns a cattle ranch in Northern Australia called "Faraway Downs". Lady Ashley meets The Drover (Hugh Jackman), a cattle wrangling expert, in Darwin and he takes her to her destination. When Lady Ashley arrives at the dusty, remote location, she learns that her husband has been murdered, presumably by a local. At the ranch, she meets Nullah (Brandon Walters), a local mixed-race child who is hiding from the authorities who want to send him away. Cattle baron King Carney (Bryan Brown) offers to buy Faraway Downs, but Lady Ashley refuses. (She learns that Carney's men have been stealing some of the cattle as it is.) She decides that she will take the cattle to Darwin herself. With the help of Nullah and The Drover, along with some others, this prim and proper Lady is going to prove that she can take care of herself. But, little does she know that Carney will go to extremes to stop her.

I can only imagine that there are some writers who, while writing a screenplay, get the idea for a sequel and go ahead and write it as well. With Australia, not only has Baz Luhrmann and his three co-writers done this, but he's gone ahead and shot that sequel as well. With this idea in mind, Australia is an oddly-paced movie. The first hour passes with very little story coming to fruition. Then, the cattle-drive begins, and things pick up somewhat. This piece of the story concludes around the 1:40:00 mark, and I'm not kidding when I say that the movie reaches a logical conclusion. I would not be surprised to learn that there were people who saw this in the theater who began gathering their belongings at this point. But, the story then continues for another hour, and we get a third (fourth?) act which features the same characters, but a new story. Honestly, it feels like a bonus episode or sequel.

With Australia, Luhrmann is exploring the history of the continent and he clearly wants to touch on as many points as possible. Part 1 (as I think of it) deals with the Australian cattle industry in the early 40s and the plight of mixed-blood Aboriginal children who were taken from their homes. Part 2 continues the story of the children, but then brings in the devastating effect World War II had on Australia. By focusing on these ideas, Luhrmann has created two genres in one (not to mention two movies in one). The movie is one long history lesson, and, knowing nothing about this period of Australian history, I must admit that I did learn a lot. However, he has attempted to shove a lot of drama in between the history and it comes off feeling quite contrived. Luhrmann wants the story to tell itself, but it can't, as we are missing too many key elements. What is Lady Ashley's background? Why don't we learn The Drover's real name? Their romance feels very forced and given the recent death of her husband, comes off as scandalous. The movie also mixes in a great deal of Aboriginal mysticism, as Luhrmann tries to give the movie a dream-like quality at times, but this feels as if it's coming from another movie.

Say what you will about Luhrmann (and I will), but one must admit that he has a great visual style. Even when the story in Australia is bogged down either in historical facts, or worse, nothing at all, the movie is filled with great shots. Using CG and blue-screen, Luhrmann has re-created period Australia and his camera roves the countryside, showing off the beautiful locations. But, this isn't a travelogue, it's supposed to be an entertaining movie, and on that front, it ultimately fails. At once, Australia bites off more than it can chew, yet is too shallow. Once must applaud Luhrmann for the courage to try a project this big, and let's hope that his not movie is more cohesive (and only contains one film).

Australia sings you to Blu-ray Disc courtesy of 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc contains a 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 30 Mbps. The image is very sharp and clear, showing no overt grain and no defects from the source material. Much of the film takes place in a bright, desert region and the lack of grain or noise is a real testament to the clarity of this transfer. The colors are good, although they are clearly intentionally muted at times. The image displays a fantastic amount of depth and the landscape shots seem to go on forever. We also get a good level of detail. The Disc contains a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 4.0 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. As with most Fox DTS tracks, this one doesn't disappoint. Simply tune to the cattle drive scenes and you'll be treated to thundering hoof-beats coming through the subwoofer and the overall sound of the herd surrounding you through the rear channels. The in-film music sounds very good, and the last reel contains explosions which will rock the house. Overall, a very good Blu-ray.

The Australia Blu-ray Disc contains several extras. The Disc offers 2 DELETED SCENES which run about three minutes. Both are from early in the film and one offers a tense scene between Drover and Fletcher. "Australia: The People, The History, The Location" (7 minutes) is a brief making-of which contains comments from Luhrmann, Kidman, and Jackman. It shows us the film's locations, as well as archival photos and footage from the era. The piece also looks at the historical relevance of the movie's take on Aboriginal children and the Japanese attack, which is again supplemented by historical footage. "Behind the Scenes" contains nine sections, which were apparently originally podcasts. "Photography" (5 minutes) is a unique piece, as it profiles the on-set still photographer, James Fisher, and we see examples of his work. We also learn that "guest photographers" were on-set. "Production Design" (6 minutes) offers comments from Catherine Martin, who explains all of the work and ideas which goes into creating sets and locations. We also hear from Martin again in "Costume Design" (7 minutes), where she talks about the challenge of costuming the film, with nearly 2000 costumes in the movie. In "Locations" (6 minutes), Luhrmann and Philip Roope discuss finding the settings for the film and how they contribute to the story. Director of Photography Mandy Walker describes her job and the challenges of this film in "Cinematography" (7 minutes). "Sound" (11 minutes) shows us how ambient sound, dialogue, ADR, and sound effects are recorded. "Editing" (11 minutes) has comments from Editors Dody Dorn, Mike McCusker, and Dany Cooper enlighten us on piecing together a film of this size. Luhrmann talks about his use of soundtrack, and how he uses music teams to create the melodies in "Music" (10 minutes). "Visual Effects" (9 minutes) explores how CG backgrounds and images were used to enhance the film and re-create historical places. The extras are rounded out by three THEATRICAL TRAILERS for the movie.

Review Copyright 2009 by Mike Long