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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 27.84%
Average: 4.12%
Pretty Bad: 13.4%
Total Crap: 23.71%

3 reviews, 79 user ratings

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by Erik Childress

"Going Way Down Under To Baz Luhrmann Hell"
1 stars

Visualists can often get aware with poor storytelling skills simply because some people’s eyes are so dazzled that it turns off the light to their brains. It usually benefits the filmmaker to at least linger at such images of grandeur so our cornea’s can take it the wonder with the appropriate “oooh’s” and “ahhh’s”. When you have Baz Luhrmann at the helm though, you can be a speed reader with the learning capabilities of a Matrix character and still not process what he’s trying to convey even when he’s given over two-and-a-half hours to do it. You can spend fifteen minutes at your local museum staring at a painting and manage to craft the tale that the artist was trying to tell. Luhrmann’s hyper-edited style from Moulin Rouge and his uber-disasterous Romeo & Juliet has no place within the branding of an old-fashioned travelogue adventure. Yet even when he does slow down the pace (helping his 156 minutes feel like 468) and limits his splices to 8 per every 24 frames a second, he manages to find a way to take us even further out of Australia, a self-consciously bloated epic that wastes the talents of its stars and Lord knows how many millions of dollars.

Prim and proper Sarah Ashley (Nicole Kidman) is determined to see what’s taking her hubbie so long in selling off a piece of faraway Aussie property. It’s because he’s dead, seemingly speared by one of the shunned Aboriginies, but more likely from the scheming of ranchhand Neil Fletcher (David Wenham) and regional meat baron, King Carney (Bryan Brown). Also on the property is the “is-it-a-boy-or-a-girl” Nullah (Brandon WaltersI guess boy then), a “half-caste” part of the continent’s Bulworth-ian policy of trying to keep screwing each other until they’re all the same color. Then there’s The Drover (Hugh Jackman, who was born for roles like this), the man so handsome no one dares ask him his real name. No one hires him. No one fires him. He’s his own man and naturally proves an uneasy alliance with the well-scrubbed Sarah. At first.

With King Carney ready to sign a major military contract for his own cattle, Sarah must get her own steer to the ports of Darwin or lose Faraway Downs forever. With The Drover leading the way alongside Sarah, Nullah, the maid, the cook and a saused bookkeeper named Kipling Flynn (who else but Jack Thompson?) the baker’s dozen must travel 1,500 miles while fending off the sabotage of Fletcher and his men as well as the growing passion that begins, as it always does, after an evening of rum. If only a bottle were enough to develop as much in any of the audience as the film slugs along towards an excruciatingly extended final act that even with all its explosions and trumped up drama is as lifeless as taking a walkabout with the cast of Gerry.

With a screenplay credited to four writers, including Luhrmann, Australia’s massive introductory expository suggest that we’re supposed to be in for a far-reaching epic involving unlikely romance, rugged old school adventure and continental politics. Instead it’s really quite a simple affair that doesn’t come close to justifying it’s 156 minute (sans credits) running time. But simple could have worked in its favor if Luhrmann wasn’t so obsessed with creating his idea of an epic, filled with historical intentions and social faux pas’s that are supposed to have us taking something away from our experience other than the dusty melodrama of opposites attracting. Instead, by unnecessarily extending the film (and, in process, shortening what should have formed its crux), Australia manages the almost unfeasible feat of becoming a less honest film than Michael Bay’s Pearl Harbor.

The centerpiece of the film is supposed to be Drover’s drivers making the trek through the outback with the cattle. Part glorious, part treacherous, it’s the classical road trip scenario. Just where Sarah and the Drover (coming this fall to CBS) should be getting to know each other, their time together is reduced strictly to a single away-from-the-campfire buzzed-up makeout. And this is supposed to convince us of the beginnings of a relationship. Apparently all Sarah needs is a bottle of rum and a good shave and she’ll succumb to just about anyone after the death of her husband. Since the rest of the film is supposed to depend on their union and subsequent parting, Luhrmann’s insistence on semi-grandiose shots and putting his ’33 film on ’78 speed when exposition is needed, leaves no room for any heart, understanding or true love. And this still isn’t its greatest sin.

With little serious romance to appeal to the ladies, Luhrmann’s handling of the film’s set pieces are downright unforgivable. The first sabotage on the drive by Fletcher’s men (almost a direct lift from the dinosaur chase in Peter Jackson’s King Kong) is a standout in how it reveals Australia’s absolute failing in creating the bare minimum of spectacle. The cattle is stampeding, the drivers are chasing or fleeing, the cliff is near but enough wide open space is visible to mount a set piece of visceral exuberance. But Luhrmann is a close-up fiend and his ADD has us focusing between a kind of poor man’s David Lean camera placement and shots that are so obviously CGI that it makes CNN’s hologram technology look like something out of Madame Tussaud. In-and-out, one after another from real to staged with more greenscreen shots than Peter North standing at Kermit the Frog’s front door. And if you think that just took you out of the review, imagine the equivalent of being taken out of the sequence and just about out of the film completely.

Luhrmann continues to misstep by setting up a suicidal march through “never-never land.” A lack of water, a man down and time up against them – how will they survive? Well, we’ll never really know since the sequence is reduced to a few scattered out-of-focus shots of them apparently riding in peril for maybe two minutes and emerging unscathed and prettier than ever on the docks of Darwin where Baz botches yet another race between the rivals to load their cattle first. Its here where Australia could have settled in for the big fade, providing a finale (that should be exciting) and getting its lovers together for a final realization amidst the backdrop of the twirly mustached villains losing power. Instead, the film continues for another 50 minutes so he can work in the Japanese attack of Darwin (post-Pearl Harbor), play “just kidding” with the deaths of major characters and hammer home a theme that is less about obvious theatrics involving dreams and family and all about Luhrmann’s attempt to out-ego M. Night Shyamalan about his own brilliance.

Dubbed The Wizard of Oz himself, Luhrmann doesn’t just inject the “no place like home” thematics into Australia, but nearly the entire film. We get to watch clips, hear dialogue, given a plot summary and, most insufferably, hear Over the Rainbow sung, hummed and harmonized so often (even the Chinese cook’s name is Sing Song) that we pray a house will crush one of the protagonists, or at least the one occupying the director’s chair. One of Australia’s many obvious influences in Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in the West which also began with a proper gal who arrives in a foreign land to find her husband murdered and evolving into a strong, independent protector of her land. Leone’s film was a full-blast homage to the westerns of its time, filling nearly every frame with a reference to a shot, tough guy line or plot strand from any number of classics. Luhrmann does the same such as the famous closing moment from The Searchers, the cattle drive that formed the A-to-B of Red River and drawing from the tempestuous working-man/well-dressed gal courtships of The African Queen and The Quiet Man. At one point you fully expect Jackman to tell Kidman that he doesn’t give a damn. Too bad Luhrmann didn’t pay more attention to those films, particularly the treachery of the desert trek of Lawrence of Arabia, which is not only scaled down but has its gut punch of nobility (when O’Toole demands a drink for his companion) many, many scenes later as the Drover invites his Aboriginal comrade into a bar exclusive to sweaty, drunken Australian stereotypes. To tell an epic, you need to be a storyteller and have the patience to get the little details right that earn its extended length. Baz Luhrmann is nothing of the kind and audiences shouldn’t have any more patience for it.

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originally posted: 11/26/08 16:00:00
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User Comments

6/20/11 pwhite98270 good story but not very memorable 3 stars
3/18/11 peter a Politically correct rubbush 1 stars
1/24/10 MV Magnificent movie....amazing scenery, brilliant acting. Anyone with a <3 would love this!! 5 stars
9/20/09 Man Out 6 Bucks A Mexican soap opera, but more insipid. Formula is top star. Anyone see the ending? 1 stars
9/20/09 Oswald Outbax I cancelled my trip to the land Downunder after seeing this indulgent flop of flyblown plop 1 stars
7/08/09 *Holy_J@lapeno* Probably one of the most boring movies I have ever watched. I will never watch again 1 stars
5/14/09 Chan Totally unbelievable, best part was when wallabies got shot, only true part! 1 stars
5/05/09 the dork knight The feral kid was a great character. Good performances 4 stars
5/04/09 Joe Smaltz tedious! would have been more interesting if Nicole had shoed more skin. 2 stars
5/04/09 Linda Ellis Absolutely boring and far too long, a bit of everything from past big movies 2 stars
4/26/09 DK Romantic, lavish, epic and wildly entertaining. 4 stars
3/23/09 eidy V Great romantic movie!!! Loved it 5 stars
3/09/09 CTT Big, old-fashioned flick grabbed me right away 5 stars
3/08/09 Aussie Meep Had it's moments, but had to watch much of it in fast forward lest I become bored 2 stars
3/06/09 erik patterson i liked the movie to actually say i liked it 5 stars
3/03/09 BJ If you have a bit of an idea about the real Australia it makes a huge difference this film! 5 stars
2/02/09 aliceinwonderland I do not understand the rating this movie gets.Nothing new and almost boring at times. 2 stars
1/23/09 Missy Absolutely amazing film. Definately in my top 5 ever! Incredible cinematography! 5 stars
1/21/09 steve Wow! Just loved this one! It deserves some Oscar nominations! 5 stars
1/18/09 UK Glenn Beautiful film that doesn't take itself too seriously. I loved it!!! 5 stars
1/09/09 malc so borded. worst film I have ever seen. what a waste of money. and time. 1 stars
12/18/08 ronald a. gagne superb.....great cast 5 stars
12/12/08 Barry Lurmenschenbedektenbrodenwurst Best movie ever period evryone must see it !?! 5 stars
12/12/08 Heidi Predictable. If you must see it, wait and rent it - save the money. 2 stars
12/11/08 Dennis Loved it..will go again great entertainment 5 stars
12/09/08 Elizabeth It's an okay movie, but should have been half-as long. 3 stars
12/08/08 frank had little expectations, but ended up loving it 5 stars
12/06/08 Dan Great movie, terrific human story, and themes. Makes you grateful for goodness in others. 5 stars
12/06/08 CB No wonder people overseas have such stereo-typical views on Aussies - terrible film. 1 stars
12/05/08 Charleton Heston Hugh Jackman is a homo. 1 stars
12/05/08 Murray Loved it, a movie like they used to make 5 stars
12/04/08 Tim Spectacular film! There are a few cheese ball moments, but all in all, the movie is an enjo 5 stars
12/04/08 Leslie Did not care for the move but Hugh Jackman takes my breath away. Looking at him saved it. 3 stars
12/03/08 Shane Could have been a Disney production. What a waste of time and money. 1 stars
12/03/08 kerry great movie that recgnised the stolen generation thanks 4 stars
12/03/08 jcjs33 ok Atonement, a film that doesn't deserve to be up for anything 4 stars
12/03/08 Eddie I was so bored. 1 stars
12/02/08 Misha If this was a series I would be hanging out for the next episode! Just loved it. 5 stars
12/02/08 Eliza Loved the movie! The storyline between Drover, Sarak and Nulla was fantastic. 5 stars
12/02/08 Phil from away The only thing missing was a villain twirling his mustache 1 stars
12/02/08 Andy Not a good movie!!! Walked out before the end. 2 stars
12/01/08 Claire Self-indulgent direction, wooden acting, terrible cgi ... don't waste your money 1 stars
12/01/08 Elaine Agree with review-enjoyed the movie. went to see more of Hugh Jackman, got my wish 4 stars
12/01/08 Mark R Absolutely superb, Nicole was fantastic, perfectly cast, critics should be ashamed.. 5 stars
12/01/08 Amy Fun movie, entertaining, don't listen to the critics! 4 stars
12/01/08 pattie A predictable plot and extremely loud cescendos in case you didn't get the point. 3 stars
12/01/08 Mark An Austrailian "Gone With The Wind" it was Faraway instead of Tara. 4 stars
12/01/08 Kat Nicole gets Baz! Great performance & direction-Loved it, will buy dvd 4 stars
12/01/08 Cathy Loved it. The cinema photography was amazing and the romance was fabulous 4 stars
12/01/08 Susie I watched the credits waiting for the movie to get better. It didn't. 2 stars
12/01/08 Moi Torturous, boring, melodramatic, cliched, "crikey" Jackman tragic: young boy tops 1 stars
12/01/08 Sheryl Lovely. Like an old-fashioned epic. See it. 4 stars
12/01/08 cie59 One of the worst movies that I have ever seen Bad Acting, scripting and editing. Stay away 1 stars
11/30/08 vic go to hell ya US bashers...great movie 5 stars
11/30/08 chris from Perth Wow Aboriginal culture was so out there in this movie- Well done Baz you did us proud 4 stars
11/30/08 Tansi Loved Nullah and the landscape. Story was a little beat... 4 stars
11/30/08 Laura I loved the movie, and never felt that it was too long. 5 stars
11/30/08 Lisa Williams The best movie in a while, beautiful scenery, great acting, and romance. 5 stars
11/30/08 tori Bowie Enjoyed it so much I did not notice the lenght at all. 4 stars
11/30/08 Ian Macdonald Acting great, characters fantastic, scenery unbelievable, a ripping yarn - just a tad long. 4 stars
11/29/08 Lynette I loved every minute of it. It Is like Australia's version of "Gone with the Wind"! 5 stars
11/29/08 Philip Nakashima I love the character of the bush, I love this film for brining this out so powerfully 5 stars
11/29/08 Marianne Loved every minute of it. We need more movies like this. 5 stars
11/29/08 John from NZ Awstrayla...bloody rubbish, should of rented Croc 1 & 2 what desperate movie!! 1 stars
11/29/08 Paulette Lee Stunning photography, fwonderful score, but filled with cliches and cartoon characters. 2 stars
11/29/08 Shelley Manipulative and not effectively so. Tedious 2 stars
11/29/08 Roman Great if you have the mentality of a 12 year old. melodramatic, predictable...boring 2 stars
11/29/08 Bri Goode engrossing and real...way better than the american crap i've seen lately 5 stars
11/29/08 ALEX BELL One big cliche!!!....walked out after the first hour... 2 stars
11/28/08 Marcia Went in with no expectations, and LOVED it! Will watch it again 5 stars
11/28/08 Richard Yes, the story-line has loop holes, but I still loved it. 5 stars
11/27/08 Miranda Great. Alot better than the shit that comes out of America 5 stars
11/27/08 Alex Maxwell It's been a long time since I spent $10 so badly 1 stars
11/27/08 Barbara - American living in Aussie The audience applauded at the end. It was so awesome and I totally agree with the review. 5 stars
11/27/08 David Hastings Pretentious, perfunctory, confusing and distracted. A children's movie. Post-modern junk. 1 stars
11/27/08 Mick All Americans are officially homeless bums. UHZZIES OWN THEIR SHIT! 5 stars
11/26/08 Mark 'Australia' is an incredible film. Wonderful, unashamed melodrama! 4 stars
11/26/08 vanessa stevenson what a bloody barry crocker - in austrlain term: a SHOCKER 2 stars
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  26-Nov-2008 (PG-13)
  DVD: 03-Mar-2009


  DVD: 03-Mar-2009

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