Friday, November 7, 2008

Mel at the Movies: Australia

The posters are up and the trailers are playing for the upcoming "event" of 2008: Jackman and Kidman, together again for the first time, in...

To be honest, I don't go to the cinema much; the last movies I saw on the big screen were IRON MAN and Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull ... both of which I enjoyed vastly. (I know some people are rubbishing Jones now, but I personally enjoyed the movie, so, what they hey? It had a great sense of both humor and the ridiculous; it knew when to laugh at itself; Harrison Ford has turned into a likable old codger who, in this incarnation, could go on for a long time. Okay, he's not young anymore. Where is it written that a person has to be young to be likable? Spielberg and Lucas cast an attractive young dude as Jones Jr., and Cate Blanchett gets to strut her stuff outrageously, so who's got a complaint? The movie was FUN, people.)

Having said that I don't go to the theater much, I shall certainly be sitting in the middle of one of the big ones at the Marion megaplex later this month ... Australia is a movie I gotta see.

In the last couple of days I've been watching numerous trailers. In case you've missed them, and are interested (!), here you go:



A second, different trailer.

...There are about a half dozen trailers and sneak previews circulating right now, each giving a different perspective on the movie. One of them at least is "getting rotten reviews" as a trailer! Peanut gallery critics are not even waiting for the movie to come out -- they've got Australia labeled as a lousy movie because they found the trailer "baffling and incomprehensible."

It's true that if you don't know much about Australian history, you could be confused. It's equally true that Aussies and Kiwis might find the trailer for a movie about the American Civil War to be confusing ... doesn't mean it's going to be a lousy movie: just means that the parochial education -- necessary to understand the visual references used in the shorthand with which movie trailers are crafted -- is missing in folks from way downunder. High duh factor on that one. Same difference with the trailer for Australia. I watched the exact same 90 seconds that had rubbed this person the wrong way, and the footage made perfect sense to me.

What's going to take me to the movies to see this one on the big screen is sheer curiosity: my gods, it's a movie about Australia, with real Australians in it!!! Hugh Jackman, Nicole Kidman, Bryan Brown, Jack Thompson, Bruce Spence, David Wenham, Bill Hunter, John Jarratt, David Gulpilil, Ray Barrett, Arthur Dignam ... they're all Aussies!!

It's seldom that a movie about Australia is actually 1) about Australia, 2) done properly and not turned into a pastiche from foreign perspectives, 3) FILMED in Australia, 3) cast with real Aussie actors.

For example ... The Thorn Birds, filmed in Hawaii in 1983, starring Richard Chamberlaine, Barbara Stanwick, Rachel Ward, Christopher Plummer, Jean Simmonds, Piper Laurie, Earn Holliman ... the dramatisation of the crash-hot Australian monster novel of the early 1980s. Not one single Aussie actor in it. Not even filmed here.

The year before ,The Man From Snowy River premiered locally with the kind of pomp and fireworks that are usually reserved for things like Return of the King and Revenge of the Sith...

In its favor were the cast (all Aussies with the exception of Kirk Douglas who played two parts and was actually very good in both ... don't count Gus Mercurio as a Yank: he'd been here for so long, he was as Aussie as any of us by '82), and the cinematography, which was so vast, so sweeping, so color-saturated and amazing ... it looked like a Marlbro country commercial half the time. Sorry, guys, but it did. In the end, the massive cinematography (reminiscent of Brokeback Mountain) looked like the cigarette commercial, and ended up as a detraction.

The big problem with The Man From Snowy River was that, for most of the audience, the whole movie ... all 102 minutes of it ... hangs on about four and a half minutes of action which, admittedly, knocks your eyeballs right out of their sockets. The thing is, you have to wade through 95 minutes of Nineteenth Century Soap Opera to get to this. Now, if you fell instantly in lust with Tom Burlinson or Sigrid Thornton, you sat there drooling for an hour and a half. If you didn't, you kinda toughed it out and waited for this:

There you go: there's The Man From Snowy River in a thimble -- at least, the bit that counts, the bit the greater percentage of the audience remembers. The rest is soap and teen romance, and glorious backdrops. This highspot is well worth the rental price of the DVD, if you have a big-screen TV. Trust me on this: you will get goosebumps.

Not quite what some of us had in mind when we imagined a movie about Australia. Sure, Snowy was as Aussie as the dog on the tucker box -- which, in a big way, was a relief. But ... a movie about Australia?

A couple of years earlier, we came close

"From a place you've never heard of comes a story you'll never forget." Whoever wrote that slogan got it right. Gallipoli is less a movie than an experience ... and it's an experience it'll take you a week to get over. Not that it's graphically violent by today's standards: if you're thinking along the lines of Private Ryan and We Were Soldiers -- wrong. To many people (myself included) too much too-graphic violence causes compassion fatigue well inside the 120 minute running length of a movie. What shocked me in Reel One doesn't rouse much of an emotional reaction in Reel Six. Gallipoli is the exact opposite. It's like an exercise in virtual reality. You are there ... you live and work with these guys (Mel Gibson in the days when he was an Aussie, and drop-dead gorgeous, and Mark Lee, who has always been an Aussie, and equally drop-dead gorgeous). And you die with them. The movie stands out in my memory as the most amazing Australian movie done to date ... but I can't watch it more often than about once in three years, because it's almost unbearable, especially in the last ten minutes or so.

Here's the sneak-preview:

YouTube has a couple of uploads of the end, but the good one of them is dubbed from a copy with what looks like it might be Dutch or Danish subtitles. I find this distracting, but give it a shot:

(Yes, of course I have a copy, and I know it line for line. I wasn't at the premier, but I saw it the first week it played here (parts of it were shot in South Australia, so it was a big event here; believe it or not, Mel Gibson used to live in this city a loooooong time ago, before he went well and truly bonkers. I can tell you, the audience was full of very elderly veterans of the actual campaign ... and you had to swim out of the theater. It was that good. That real.)

Australia opens here on November 26th, and I just have to be there. A real Aussie movie, with real Aussie actors and ... everything. From the trailers, it looks like it's going to be tremendous, and certainly Hugh Jackman will be a sight for sore eyes:

I'll talk more about the movie when I've seen it. For now, my recommendations regarding Aussie movies? Gallipoli (keep the kleenex handy), Quigley Downunder (there, now I've astonished you, right?), Man From Snowy River (learn where the fast forward button on your remote is), The Chain Reaction (if you're lucky enough to find a copy) ... and here's hoping that I'll be able to add Australia to this list very soon.

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