Australia (UK - BD RB)
Our Marcus goes over the rainbow to a far away land called Oz on Blu-ray Disc
1939, Australia. Lady Sarah Ashley (Nicole Kidman) travels from England to her husband's Australian cattle station, Faraway Downs, with the plan to sell up. When she arrives, she finds that her husband has been murdered and learns from the young Aboriginal boy Nullah (Brandon Walters) that much of their Faraway Downs cattle was being passed across to rival cattle farmers behind her late husband’s back.
Discovering that Faraway Downs could actually turn a profit if the cattle are delivered to Darwin in time, Sarah asks for help from the Drover (Hugh Jackman), and they set out to achieve the seemingly impossible task of saving Faraway Downs.
Australia is a hell of a bold effort from director Baz Luhrmann. Moving away from the heavily set-based stylings of his previous movie Moulin Rouge!, Luhrmann takes to the real outdoors and by real outdoors I mean the middle of nowhere in Western Australian. On top of that, he is telling a story drenched in real Australian history, namely the Lost Generation of mixed race Aboriginal children who were taken away from families by the church as well as the Japanese bombings of Darwin. The Red Curtain Trilogy this ain’t.
Being a Baz Luhrman movie, this isn't only about the harrowing details of this part of Australian history. He populates his tale with characters that come with equal measures of depth and fun. The fact that Baz Luhrmann seems to be the only director alive who can bring out the fun side of Nicole Kidman is as usual, a delight to watch. I generally like Kidman’s work, but I’m never that excited about what she’s doing next. Her role here, as Lady Sarah Ashley, is a great show off of her abilities. Starting as a stuck up cliché Englishwoman of the thirties, her over the top reactions to the almost alien world of Australia is a lot of fun but as the movie progresses, her softer side is played upon wonderfully and her journey is really what hooks you into the events as they unfold.
Playing alongside Kidman is the clawless Hugh Jackman. His role as the Drover is one that will get the ladies falling head over heels. Seriously, every time he was on screen my wife was grinning like a schoolgirl. Whether it be the obvious topless showering scene, riding horses or him saving kids, this is one of those characters the women are gonna be loving and Jackman plays it well.
Other shout outs to the cast have to go to Brandon Walter as Nullah. This kid is as charmingly natural as they come. His beaming smile, his fantastic dialogue delivery, ‘Getting those big bloody cheeky bulls on the big bloody metal ship’, he just makes you want to look after him as much as Lady Sarah Ashley did. Also in a real stand out performance is David Wenham as Neil Fletcher, who’s just about the vilest villain I’ve seen all year. Everything about him is evil, especially in the second half of the movie. His little greasy ‘yeahs’ at the end of some of his lines boil my blood.
So with the cast all doing their jobs well, what of the movie? Well for the most part Australia delivers the goods. It has a handful of great moments and as a movie that tries to emulate the golden age of cinema it captures the mood quite well. Luhrmann still manages to have a lot of fun within these perimeters as well. The opening ten minutes or so, that introduces the characters and set-up is kinetic and fun and comes together nicely in a ‘Welcome to Australia’ smile.
It’s not all quite as sharp though. The movie was criticised by many a reviewer when it hit cinemas for being a little uneven with its tones and general style. I have to agree. While everything fits together well enough, some of the jumps from very natural photography to computer generated backgrounds can be very jarring, even if some of them were intentional. Also, there are two distinct segments to this movie. The first, which is all about the cattle drive, is almost satisfactory enough to stand alone, but then when that comes to a nice rounded ending, the second segment of the movie begins for the last hour or so, which brings about the Japanese attack of Darwin and with a plot device separating Sarah and the Drover which is frankly too heavy handed to really believe in after the events of the first segment.
I saw Australia in the cinema at the end of last year and I enjoyed it a lot. The concern I had was that it wouldn’t be quite so watchable on the second viewing, especially having the knowledge of segmented storytelling. I have to say, it was an easy re-watch and having had time to soak it all in the second time, this works as a complete movie, despite all the issues mentioned above. Australia covers everything these wartime/romantic epics require. It’s got the old school romance story, it’s got the war visuals and it has characters that work even if they are heavily placed in their stereotypical constraints for the most part. However, on the negative side and much like Pearl Harbor, it merely does its job. And while it has a few key moments that shine, it’s far from truly remarkable.
Well as you’d imagine, the vast landscapes of Australia look pretty damn spectacular in HD. Bathed in an almost white light of the burning sun everything looks bright and realistic in the big establishing shots of Faraway Downs. Closer up, everything looks detailed and bold, especially against the bright blue sky as the constant backdrop.
The warm orange and brown interiors of Faraway Downs play a great contrast to the starkness of the exterior, and even though many of the digital shots look a little too fake, there’s no denying they look good in HD.
One strange occurrence in all this is a slight, but noticeable level of grain in some of the shots. The opening shots of the Aborigines dancing against the sunset were a concern, but it soon disappeared. More strangely, Nicole Kidman’s face seemed to attract the grain in every close up, at least in the first hour or so of the movie anyway. This is even more bizarre because everyone else’s face looks great. The dirty, tanned and stubbly faces of the ranch hands as well as The Drover all have great levels of texture and detail, so I guess the grain just likes hanging out on pale skin.
The second segment of the movie has an almost completely different palette. The bright, warmness is replaced by the greys and greens of the military presence in Darwin as well as the tone change for the characters. The transfer performs well with the bombings, with explosions screaming out of the greyness around them and overall the transfer even holds up well in the darker scenes. One stand out is the town burning against the night sky, after the bombing. It was a fantastic image as were many of the devastating aftermath shots of the harbour as the movie comes to close.
This is quite a subtle experience to begin with, even though all of the surrounds are used nicely. The first wave of things to take notice of comes with the Drover's fight scene, in which his punches being bass heavy and loud, sound just like old Hollywood fights should.
As the cattle enter the story more, the bass is used in more impressive ways with volume sneaking up and massive amounts of bass taking over when the stampede kicks off. The rumble of the running cattle is pretty amazing and even though the score gets a little lost in the track it still does just enough to stay impressive.
As for the basic stuff, dialogue is always clear and strong, atmospherics skip between great and almost unnoticeable and the music plays a nice part in the overall mix.
Building up to the big Darwin bombing, this once again fills the 5.1 nicely, even if it’s not that dynamic. Explosions hammer home, planes sound good flying by and this time the presence of the score holds its own without getting rumbled down a few notches by the sound effects.
Now this is where you begin to get hints that this might not be the last edition we see of Australia.
To start, we get two deleted scenes: ‘What About the Drove?” (01:57 HD), which fills in a small gap in the story, and ‘Angry Staff Serve Dinner’ (00:51 HD), which ain’t all that exciting.
‘Australia: The People, the History, the Location’ (0 6:56 HD) is a very formal EPK that gives a fairly nice overview to what the movies all about.
The ‘Behind the Scenes’ (HD), is by what I can tell and if memory serves correctly, a collection of the online webcasts that hit in the build up to the theatrical release. Each one is presented by Baz Luhrmann and each one covers a different element of film making, from production design to visual effects. I actually found all of this quite interesting, despite having seen numerous amounts of these sorts of thing before. Each one is presented in a fairly laid back fashion, with the films score drifting over the top. Even though none of them really goes into too much detail or insight (remaining tight lipped in the build up to the movies release) Baz Luhrmann’s input is both effective and welcoming and he really makes for a director who is great to listen to when discussing his art.
Outside of that, there’s a trusty Digital Copy.
Australia isn’t going to be for everyone and I’d imagine the older portion of the audience will enjoy this a lot more. I for one enjoyed the story Luhrmann took me on and even though some elements did feel a little undercooked, particularly the motivation that pushes the two leads apart, Luhrmann proves once again that he’s not a director looking to take an easy route or even the same route everyone else is taking in modern cinema.
A/V wise, the video has exceptional moments, but is never consistent enough to be deemed an overall standard setter and the audio comes with plenty of power even if it doesn’t quite feel balanced enough in places.
The features are really the only let down here, even though I enjoyed them all. I just can’t see this being the last edition we see of the movie about down under and hopefully the next one will be a little more specific to the final finished movie.
* Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray release.
Review by Marcus Doidge
Suitable only for persons of 12 years and over
Release Date: 27th April 2009
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English, Audio Descriptive Service English
Subtitles: English HoH, Danish, Finnish, Swedish, Norwegian
Extras: Deleted Scene: What about the Drove? , Deleted Scene: Angry Staff Serve Dinner, Featurette: Australia: The People, The History, The Location, Behind the Scenes
Easter Egg: No
Director: Baz Luhrmann
Cast: Nicole Kidman, Hugh Jackman, Brandon Walters
Genre: Adventure, Drama, Romance and War
Length: 165 minutes
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