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From the beginning of the prologue you can tell this film won’t be an enjoyable film as such. More like an insight into history and how it affected certain people. Those certain people are the Aborigines, who are known to have been harshly treated by white Australians over the years. Here is one such tale that will be disturbing yet probably uplifting at the same time, such is the remarkable journey taken by the characters. If you’re in the mood to watch something quite serious then grab yourself a copy of this disc, sit down and witness the story. The true story of the rabbit proof fence.

Movie
Back in Western Australia during the 1930’s, the Aborigines were getting more than a raw deal. As explained in the opening minutes of the film, a man named Mr.A.O.Neville, Chief Protector of Aborigines, had been given the power to remove any “half-caste” child from their family. These were Aboriginal children, and the intention was to take them away from their relatives and basically breed these people out of existence. Sounds quite harsh, doesn’t it?

In this story three young girls are in exactly that predicament. Sisters Molly and Daisy as well as their cousin Gracie are taken away from their mothers in the town of Jigalong. This scene itself is a very disturbing one. But what is to come is an extraordinary tale of the girls’ escape from the confines of their forced home almost 1500 miles away from their mothers. Just witnessing the other indigenous children suffering the same fate in their makeshift bedroom makes one wish the three girls took the whole group with them.

Rabbit-Proof Fence: Collector's Edition

The picturesque landscape of the West Australian outback is utilised fully as the girls make a monster trek on foot, pursued by a skilful tracker sent out to find them. After getting caught trying to steal eggs from a farm the girls decide to set out along the rabbit proof fence to the east, which will hopefully lead them back home.

Australian Director Phillip Noyce has encouraged the three lead girls, with no previous acting experience, to turn in remarkable performances. Raw talent for a raw film, I suppose. Even though for the most part they are meant to look reserved and vulnerable there are times when some real poise shines through. Everlyn Sampi, Tianna Sansbury and Laura Monaghan play the young girls to perfection, endearing themselves to the audience in an instant.

There could have been any number of stories about the indigenous people and Noyce has no doubt chosen a harrowing one. But the story follows an all-too-familiar narrative to lift it into the outstanding category. Perhaps part of its critical acclaim came from those too apprehensive about pointing out anything negative on such a touchy subject in Australian history. There’s no doubt people are more sensitive than ever about the plight of the indigenous people and the film couldn’t have come at a more important time, but for some to proclaim it as a masterpiece in Australian history is perhaps going a little over the top. Interesting and true to life it might be, but a work of genius it is not.

Instead we are treated to a rather stock-standard narrative given a boost by some interesting characters and a unique story, at least for mainstream cinema. Thankfully the film was afforded a large release not only in Australia but internationally as well, meaning many were filled in on just some of the background concerning the Aboriginal race. When I first saw the film on a plane to, ironically, Western Australia I was quite interested to learn a lot of facts about the time I had never been privy to before. This probably says a lot more about the state of Australian history in schools as opposed to any ground-breaking information on behalf of the script.

Anyone familiar with Aussie TV will no doubt recognise the majority of the cast from various local drama series’. Collectively they do a good job at giving the film an adult influence rather than the film focusing on the almost silent three girls the whole time.

On the whole this is an important film to see. It is certainly not the masterpiece some have labeled it as, being far too episodic to become truly original (walk some miles, meet someone new, move on, walk some more, meet someone else etc). But this is a very interesting tale of three truly courageous girls driven by an undefined desire to somehow make their way home. It is not a very enjoyable story in that you probably won’t end up smiling at the end, but it is definitely an emotional one. You try not feeling anything during the epilogue. If you’re after a great tale that’s at least somewhat different to your average adventure then you can’t do much wrong in picking this film up wherever you are.

Rabbit-Proof Fence: Collector's Edition

Video
Presented in anamorphic 2.35:1, this film looks absolutely stunning thanks largely to some brilliant cinematography. The challenge with this transfer was to deal with the harsh landscapes and bright colours without any imperfections, and it comes pretty darn close to top notch. There are some minor artefacts here and there and grain does become visible in various parts, but on the whole you can’t really find anything at all distracting about this transfer. Just sit back and enjoy the wonderfully constructed visuals.

Oh yeah, there’s also a 4:3 transfer included here. What can I say? Yippee? I think not.

Audio
Included on the disc is a Dolby Digital 5.1 sound mix that does the job quite well. There’s not a lot of surround use save for some ambient sounds here and there, but with prolonged silences and only atmospheric noise to be heard for the most part you can’t expect much more. The score by (the) Peter Gabriel sounds fantastic out of all five speakers, almost haunting at times and definitely fitting perfectly with the action on screen. Overall a pretty serviceable sound mix.

Extras
The first disc contains, of course, the two transfers, as well as a commentary track from Director Phillip Noyce, Peter Gabriel, actor Kenneth Branagh, writer/producer Christine Olsen and Doris Pilkington, who wrote the novel the film was based on. Noyce et al cover everything from locations to the story itself in this track which has been compiled from audio grabs, hence everyone speaking for a part of the film without interruption. A very thorough and informative commentary, with Noyce by far the most insightful and interesting of the bunch.

The second disc contains a few interesting extras, not the least of which is the Follow The Rabbit Proof Fence documentary. The best part of this 45–minute piece is the initial casting footage, where we get to see Everlyn Sampi and the rest of the hopefuls audition. It is great to hear Noyce’s footage over the top and witnessing the way he interacts with the girls, trying to convince them to forget about the cameras. This is a real documentary. Brilliant.

Rabbit-Proof Fence: Collector's Edition

Also included are some interviews with all of the major crew members as well as seasoned actor Kenneth Branagh. Sadly, only a couple of the eight interviews run for more than a minute so there’s nothing really in depth but they’re worth a look nonetheless. A play all feature would have been welcome on this one.

There are also some well-constructed biographies of the cast members, the theatrical trailer as well as a teaser and a couple of commercials, and some DVD-ROM content which includes a study guide and press articles. Overall a nice little package to add to the film.

Overall
While probably not the outstanding work of art many have decided to label the film, Rabbit-Proof Fence is definitely a wonderful tale. Very emotional and often confronting, the cast and the landscape make this one definitely worth a look. The visuals are stunning, the audio mix is great if only for the subtle score and there are a couple of extras to really beef up this two-disc set. Recommended, but probably not for everyone.


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