BMX Bandits (US - BD)
Gabe takes a little bike ride with this remastered Aussie kiddie classic...
Alright, hands up everyone that’s seen Mark Hartley’s Not Quite Hollywood. Hands up I said. What, this is it? Well everyone here that didn’t put their hand up is missing one of the best documentaries of the last decade. Not Quite Hollywood is an expose of the best and brightest of Aussie B-films, a vastly underappreciated lot covering dirty comedy, brutal horror, and rip-roaring analogue action. I was already a pretty fervent fan of Ozploitation thanks to genre classics like Russell Mulcahy’s Razorback, and Sandy Harbutt’s Stone, and I had actually reviewed several films featured on the doc, but following my first of many viewings (I actually watched it two days in a row, I loved it so much) I tore into as many of the covered films as possible. The majority of the movies recommend aren’t exactly what you’d call family friendly, but one piece of children’s entertainment is discussed towards the end – Brian Trenchard-Smith’s BMX Bandits, the story of three BMX riding teenagers (Nicole Kidman, Angelo D'Angelo and James Lugton) that run afoul of a group of bumbling criminals (David Argue, John Ley and Bryan Marshall). Trenchard-Smith was already on my personal radar because he directed my favourite Ozploitation classic Turkey Shoot (aka: Escape 2000), perhaps the goriest retelling of ‘Most Dangerous Game’ ever put to film.
Trenchard-Smith fanboy Quentin Tarantino equates BMX Bandits to Goonies in Not Quite Hollywood. The comparisons are reasonable – a gang of self reliant kids do battle with a gang of adult criminals – but the differences make the difference. Goonies, a movie I hate (I know, boooo me indeed), and which was made two years after BMX Bandits, has the better basic story, more impressive production design, and the scope to its advantage, but BMX Bandits features the better performances, and some cracking dialogue. The oral comedy here is a shockingly clever riff on the kind of deadpan sarcasm utilized in most of The Beatles’ movies.
Here are my two favourite samples:
“Hey, where’d you get this?” (holding a rope, but referring to a boat)
“It came with the boat.”
“…and the boat?”
“We looked on the end of the rope, and there it was.”
“(Angry) Listen, are you trying to tell me you don’t want to tell me? Because if you, you know, borrowed it or something, forget it, I’m not coming!”
“Shall we tell her the truth?”
“It’s not as much fun.”
“(Whispering) It’s his dad’s.”
“(Points at empty box) Explain this!”
“Um, your little walky talkies… have gone walkies?”
The adult cast isn’t very funny, despite featuring genre favourite David Argue (who positively owns Razorback), mostly because the jokes they’re written suck, and their over the top clowning is the kind of stuff that dates so many ‘80s kid’s flicks. For the most part the physical comedy is eye-roll worthy (I’ve never really found the Aussie brand of slapstick all that funny, unless it involves a lot of gore). One running gag that does work, however, especially to those of us that watch too many era exploitation flicks, involves the kids describing ridiculous horror movie plots to each other, culminating in a scene where Judy actually frightens the villains with such a tale while in captivity. The BMX stunts are impressive enough, if not a bit low key compared to modern X-Games equivalents, and the sometimes elongated set-ups meant to warn the audience what to expect (Do you see the way this guy just leaned that thing against that thing creating a ramp? Just you wait…) are quite funny. The climax is a minor masterpiece of cheapo action featuring a David Lean worthy sea of little BMXers charging the bad guys like T. E. Lawrence’s Arabian armies.
BMX Bandits has remained somewhat prominent in the public eye over the decades (apparently it still has a reasonable cult following in the UK) because it was Nicole Kidman’s theatrical leading lady debut, but I defy anyone to remember what future star they’re watching for any prolonged period. Little Nicole turns out to be a pretty good actress, even when she’s given a relatively thin character to base her performance on (though it’s plenty clear that she isn’t doing her own bike riding in most scenes – the double is male). Judy is a well rounded character, who manages to act as one of the boys without losing her femininity. She’s used as a damsel in distress, but never devolves into a screeching mess. Quite the opposite, she teases her captures, and doesn’t ever let them intimidate her. Kidman is apparently embarrassed by the film that got her started these days, but she really should be proud of this performance.
So I’ve never seen BMX Bandits before this moment, and have nothing to compare this transfer too, but damn if this isn’t one of the most impressive B-catalog releases I’ve seen in some time. The vibrancy of these eighties-tastic neon colours is just about enough to blind you. Usually I find a few specific hues to pick on and refer to as ‘poppy’, but here just about every single shade leaps off the screen. The seas and skies are unbelievably blue, the earth is incredibly red, and plants are green beyond all logical comprehension. I imagine a lot of the film’s colour coding is coincidental, like the practical interior sets, and street scenes, but Trenchard-Smith clearly chose wardrobe based on their vigorous colour qualities. Fine details aren’t incredibly important considering a general lack of major close-ups, but the 2.35:1 frame is packed front to back with outrageous ‘80s fashion and gorgeous Sydney vistas. The darkest interiors mark the only major shortcoming. These are particularly grainy, tend to be washed out, and the blacks in these sections are usually closer to dark grey. Outdoor night scenes are also pretty grainy, and lose some of the daylight scenes’ impressive detail, but here blacks are more pure, and the neon bits still stand out.
This Blu-ray version of the film comes fitted with an uncompressed DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 sound mix. The missing discreet LFE channel is a little disappointing, but there’s no real compelling reason for Severin to have remixed this particular film into a 5.1 track, especially since the stereo surround work is relatively immersive. The score and pop music themes are the most dominant aural element besides the dialogue. Colin Stead and Frank Strangio’s music is stylistically all over the place, from exceedingly goofy new wave inspired, video game-like action cues, to genuinely impressive suspense work reminiscent of classic horror cues. The most common piece of silly additional audio design is a whooshing sound employed every time the bandits do some kind of slow motion trick. These sometimes feature a bit of stereo movement, as does a soap suds explosion towards the end of the film.
Extras begin with a warm and honest solo commentary with director Brian Trenchard-Smith. The director kicks things off by letting us know he’s not going to spend the track congratulating himself on his achievements, and then starts running through all the facts and figures at a relatively speedy clip. Early on in the discussion Trenchard-Smith second guesses his choices concerning guns, and the threat of violence from adults, and later bemoans some of his work with the young actors. He shows some pride in the photography, which he reminds us was achieved by future Academy Award winning cinematographer John Seale ( The English Patient). Also valuable are the many moments where the director explains some of the dated Australian and British in-jokes. Trenchard-Smith’s son Eric and daughter-in-law appear towards the end of the film, following Eric’s childhood cameo.
‘BMX Buddies: The Men Behind the Bandits’ (38:00, SD) is a pleasant little behind the scenes featurette that features interviews with all the major production players including writers Patrick Edgeworth and Russell Hagg, director Brian Trenchard-Smith, and producer Tom Broadbridge, and actors James Lugton. Shockingly it was Turkey Shoot ( Escape 2000), a particularly trashy action gore fest that doesn’t even sort of resemble children’s entertainment. Other interesting bits includes building up Judy’s character because of Kidman’s screen presence, brief footage from Trenchard-Smith’s other films, and the struggles to get a kid-friendly rating. Extras are wrapped up with an excerpt from an Aussie television show Young Talent Time featuring a 16 year old Nicole Kidman selling the film (2:30, SD), a trailer, and trailers for other Severin releases.
BMX Bandits is a good time, and a fine looking film, making a Blu-ray purchase better than a DVD purchase. Fans (of which I’m assured there are plenty) will probably be shocked at how good this disc looks, and likely pleased with the extras, including director Brian Trenchard-Smith’s audio commentary, and a 38 minute long behind the scenes featurette. I can’t recommend a blind buy to non-fans, but those that enjoy a fun ‘80s kid’s flick, and want to see Nicole Kidman in her first leading role should enjoy a rental. Also, Mark Hartley’s Not Quite Hollywood is still available on Netflix’s streaming. I give that film my highest recommendation.
*Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray's image quality.
Review by Gabriel Powers
Some material may not be suitable for children
Release Date: 15th March 2011
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 English
Extras: Director Commentary, BMX Buddies: The Men Behind the Bandits, Nicole Kidman on Young Talent Time, Trailers
Easter Egg: No
Director: Brian Trenchard-Smith
Cast: Nicole Kidman, John Ley, David Argue
Length: 88 minutes
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