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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 13.48%
Average: 3.55%
Pretty Bad: 3.55%
Total Crap: 12.06%

3 reviews, 123 user ratings

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Whale Rider
[] Buy posters from this movie
by Stephen Groenewegen

"Chief among peers"
5 stars

The hero of Whale Rider is a 12 year-old girl. This is one of those all-too-rare films that appeal to adults and children alike, because it refuses to condescend to either audience.

Pai (Keisha Castle-Hughes) lives in a small Maori community at Whangara, on the east coast of New Zealand. Knowledge of the traditional ways is dying, despite the fierce efforts of the present chief and patriarch, Koro (Rawiri Paratene), to keep them alive. Pai is Koro’s granddaughter and comes from a long line of chiefs. Her father named her after the legendary Paikea, whale rider, who led the Whangara people to shore 1,000 years ago when they were lost at sea.

Naming his daughter after Paikea was an act of defiance for Porourangi (Cliff Curtis), because only the eldest son of each generation is entitled to become chief. Porourangi’s son died with his mother during childbirth, when Pai was born. Having refused to succeed Koro, it was up to Porourangi to provide an heir.

Although Pai is a keen student of her culture, her stubborn grandfather won’t teach her because she’s a girl, much to the exasperation of his long-suffering wife, Grandma Flowers (Vicky Haughton). Koro even establishes a school to instil in the local Maori boys the qualities of a chief, and deliberately excludes his granddaughter. But the Whangara people need a chief to unite and advance them. Finally, Pai proves that sometimes the best way to uphold tradition is to break it.

New Zealand director Niki Caro, adapting a young adult novel by Witi Ihimaera, carefully grounds the fantastic elements of the plot, which include Pai’s spiritual connection with whales. She filmed along Whangara’s rocky coastline, where the novel was set, and cast local Maoris as extras. The landscape, as seen through cinematographer Leon Narbey’s lens, is ruggedly beautiful.

Keisha Castle-Hughes wins our sympathy, not through cuteness or girlish pluck, but a quiet determination that doesn’t seem pre-digested or overly calculated. Even when her proud grandfather bluntly rejects her, she won’t give up on him. It’s an extraordinary performance, given that Castle-Hughes had no previous acting experience. Casting director Diana Rowen, who recommended Anna Paquin for The Piano, has again struck gold. Curtis and Haughton provide added humour and emotion as Pai’s father and grandmother, respectively. Even when you want to hate Paratene’s pigheaded and belligerent Koro, you can sense the desperation about his dwindling culture that drives him to extremes.

There is so much texture to this film, conveyed through the images and stories, even the weather-beaten faces of the extras. Niki Caro tells this tale with the simplicity and power of a fable, and I watched Whale Rider unfold with wonder.

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originally posted: 05/07/03 07:58:40
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2003 Sundance Film Festival. For more in the 2003 Sundance Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2003 CineVegas Film Festival. For more in the 2003 CineVegas Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2003 Seattle Film Festival. For more in the 2003 Seattle Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2003 San Francisco Film Festival. For more in the 2003 San Francisco Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2003 Tribeca Film Festival. For more in the 2003 Tribeca Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Brisbane Film Festival. For more in the 2005 Brisbane Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

4/30/11 aussie girl saw the movie in english twice both times it was total crap!! 2 stars
5/25/10 Alvin, Lee Jia Ren Watched it two times, both in english classes. Not very interesting, but not boring either. 3 stars
5/03/10 emma it is a horriable movie!! i wouldn't reckomend it to anyone!!! 1 stars
10/19/09 gal from oz Beautiful tear jerker. U'll need: a box of tissues, chocolate, ice cream... 5 stars
1/17/09 Samantha Pruitt Great movie, the little girl does a great job, love the story, and the visuals are great! 4 stars
1/12/09 Shaun Wallner Wonderful story. 5 stars
11/24/08 jsmith Probably one of the top five performances by a child actor - ever - she carried the movie. 5 stars
9/23/08 Laur' The ending kept me on the edge of my seat. 4 stars
12/28/07 Taylor Fladgate One of the best movies of 2003. Should have won a Golden Globe. 5 stars
8/23/07 J.Won very boring/ not interesting 1 stars
8/23/07 dsadad worst movie in history 1 stars
8/14/07 wade hyland itwas boring but some bits were ok 3 stars
6/20/07 sal Good movie, but waaay too predictable 4 stars
6/12/07 bob worst movie ever!11 1 stars
5/28/07 Ryan What, what, what happened? 1 stars
12/07/06 Jedi good film watch it 5 stars
12/04/06 Britney I also was forced to watch this in college.I did find it moving and at times irritating. 4 stars
10/26/06 Shirantha. R i h8 it very much 1 stars
10/24/06 Samantha Great film, very meaningful 5 stars
10/12/06 Ella my dad liked it but i hated it my dad made me whach that movie over and over again. 1 stars
10/10/06 Noddie a good nz film and probably worth watching some humour and great meanings! 4 stars
10/06/06 jess it was really boring 1 stars
10/03/06 austin it sucks srry 1 stars
7/06/06 rachel heavy hearted, beautiful, capturing 5 stars
3/30/06 emma shit 1 stars
11/08/05 yesenia guardado i loved this movie it was great!!! 5 stars
11/04/05 Anna Terribly boring film I was forced to watch in college. 2 stars
10/20/05 Nicole Davies Moving, emotion history movie... exceeds all expectations! 5 stars
8/22/05 Adam Valka Dull, boring crap 1 stars
8/09/05 Nancy Sparks Heartwarming and awesome. One of the best films I've seen 5 stars
7/26/05 Kankasaur Island folk mythology is under the microscope, but truly universal in scope. 5 stars
6/15/05 Regina Madut its a great film and i wouldn't mind seeing ti again for the third time 5 stars
6/05/05 calvin jarabane one of the best films 4 educational motives 5 stars
5/28/05 av great and touching i cried all the way through. A must see. As i said the touching movie iv 5 stars
5/08/05 Mc V It's better than doing English (we watched it in school for english) 4 stars
2/20/05 sam it was quite good 4 stars
1/11/05 Katie Heath most emotional and gut-wrenching story 5 stars
11/03/04 Cassie it is the most sadest, heartbreaking film i have ever seen and i would watch it again...... 5 stars
6/22/04 Daniel Jefferies Its crap 1 stars
5/31/04 Nobody YAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAWN 1 stars
4/27/04 Nyomi Cook i thought this movie was poo 5 stars
3/22/04 anon I thought it challenged traditional cultural beliefs and attitudes exceptionally well! 5 stars
3/17/04 Carol I love this movie! A beautiful story about relationships, culture, & inner strength. 5 stars
3/03/04 miare it's cool, keisha is very identical to my 15 y.o. daughter 5 stars
2/29/04 jimmy two times powerful and powerful without europeans saving the day. she should win the oscar. 5 stars
2/25/04 Wilby Anyone else notice how most Maori were aloof to what two obsessors deemed culturally vital? 2 stars
2/22/04 Shades of The Last Samurai MorePC OD-ing on obsessing on most inflexible tradition at expense of REALcultural richness 3 stars
2/18/04 Nancy I saw the movie twice in the theater. I never do that, but I loved this movie 5 stars
2/01/04 Smitty Absolutely amazing performance for a kid that never acted a day in her life 5 stars
1/28/04 y2mckay It was pretty decent, but Jesus Christ people (and critics), it wasn't THAT great! 4 stars
1/17/04 Leila This movie is the best I have ever seen 5 stars
1/17/04 Nick Tyler I can relate to the "whale Rider" movie, I come from a line who have sharks as protectors. 5 stars
12/27/03 Two-G - horror_blood2 (aka Double G) (1 G) ahh... stupid movie, back to sleep I go. ZZZZZ! 1 stars
12/24/03 Snickerdoodle Pretty good; the sexist grandfather grated on my nerves but the ending was good. 4 stars
12/23/03 smartmusician Was extremely surprised 5 stars
12/05/03 Josephine Henry Quite slow, more about the legend of Paikea would have been better 3 stars
11/29/03 Johnny's Been Rotten JJ, did you even see this movie? It was amazing!! 5 stars
11/10/03 alisha what a great movie, i wish Hollywood would sit up and take notes! 5 stars
11/10/03 alisha what a great movie, i wish Hollywood would sit up and take notes! 5 stars
11/10/03 alisha what a great movie, i wish Hollywood would sit up and take notes! 5 stars
10/22/03 Wai Haenga Awesome and so true 5 stars
10/16/03 Popcorn Hunny Beautiful! That little girl deserves an Oscar!!! 5 stars
9/29/03 Honolulu Tur J.Lo wishes she could act 1/100000th as good as the girl in this movie-it'll never happen 5 stars
9/12/03 JJ from da block Whale rider? Sounds like me on JLo's jigglin booty 2 stars
8/30/03 Suzz beautifully photographed but predictable and a bit slow 3 stars
8/25/03 Marinomoana Ward I had to go and see it again and again, it is such a wonderful movie. 5 stars
8/18/03 Susan Deer Cloud Shows how traditions have to sometimes change for tribal people to keep spiritual power 5 stars
8/12/03 shelley stults wonderful...beautifully set and inspired...gotta see 5 stars
8/10/03 Georgina McLaren moving, wonderfully acted fillm 5 stars
8/08/03 Ramona Woods What kind of whales are they? 5 stars
8/05/03 ASilva A wonderful story! 5 stars
8/04/03 Eric S. It's unfortunate that most people would rather see drek like Bad Boys II instead... 5 stars
8/02/03 john wonderful 5 stars
8/02/03 Chinese NZer Most beautiful movie I've ever seen!! 5 stars
8/01/03 Kekai Kane This movie is amazing, to bad it will get no recignition come oscar time 5 stars
7/29/03 Jenette One of the best films I have ever seen 5 stars
7/27/03 Bam Margera Words can't describe how brilliant this movie is,amazing in every aspect. I love this movie 5 stars
7/27/03 Sylvia J. Brightwell Best movie I've ever seen 5 stars
7/25/03 Rawiri Winiata Nau mai haere mai mo tenei movie ki tatau tohora. 5 stars
7/25/03 your worst goddamn nightmare Wow! ok? Wow! Such emotion in this movie! That little girl is amazin'! 5 stars
7/23/03 Cameron Slick Incredible, the best movie of the year, see this movie if you have any good taste in films! 5 stars
7/19/03 skye loved it 5 stars
7/14/03 Kimmy Johnson I'm in love with this film 5 stars
7/14/03 Kia Ora Waht a fantastic movie. That little girl deserves an Oscar. 5 stars
7/10/03 Polohu Abela I thought the movie shows a variety of things such as the simularity of most of poly/cultur 5 stars
7/09/03 ? Kia ora kotokatou whale rider is da shit!!! 5 stars
7/09/03 Toby Petterson A must-see! 5 stars
7/09/03 Dead Ringers FX Rule! A beautiful film that could defeat the cynics all together. I hope to have a tough daughter 5 stars
7/09/03 Skiv Incredible vision and storytelling. Really unique work. 5 stars
7/08/03 blabity blah blah blah Awesome acting. Powerful movie!!! Was awed!!! 5 stars
7/07/03 Emperor's New Clothes? Nope. Just a Fat, Ugly, Naked, Guy. "No interesting?" Learn some English. Come back. The young actress is most impressive. 4 stars
7/07/03 Arnie Wasserman I finished this movie totally exhausted and emotionally drained! 5 stars
7/06/03 Bette I saw it twice in one day. I've never done that before! 5 stars
7/05/03 Get Bent Kal Most beautiful mover ever. Pity that it's too deep for some. 5 stars
7/03/03 Tiffany Broadbent i loved it 5 stars
7/01/03 Bill Hodges It's the best, complete film I have seen in years. 5 stars
7/01/03 Kal no interesting 1 stars
7/01/03 MovieLuvr The most beautiful movie I've ever seen. That kid deserves an oscar! Mini Maori Meryl 5 stars
7/01/03 NoRefill A very moving film. 5 stars
6/27/03 Mary Burrows Absolutely Beautiful 4 stars
6/26/03 Brenda Cooke I saw this movie 5 times, and found it as compelling and beautiful, every time. 5 stars
6/26/03 Brenda Cooke I saw this movie 5 times, and found it as compelling and beautiful, every time. 5 stars
6/21/03 alien assassin A beautifully made movie. Great performance from keisha 4 stars
6/17/03 ray rrrrrrrrrrr 1 stars
6/12/03 Jake Booth best movie ive seen in years 5 stars
6/12/03 Charles Night Wonderful, inspiring, a whale of a tale for all ages 5 stars
6/11/03 Gerard Motola Keisha is a great young actress! 5 stars
6/09/03 Deb Scott Keisha rules! My girls and I went twice. 5 stars
6/06/03 Nicholas Good acting, touching story, let down by terrible execution. 2 stars
6/05/03 Mike Winblad Fanstatic performance by Castle-Hughes. Just give her the Oscar now. 5 stars
6/03/03 Christina Khabbaz One of the best films I've seen in a long time 5 stars
5/28/03 Pearce Duncan A simple story beautifully told 5 stars
5/25/03 Mark Jensen My stomach aches and my chest hurts.. the power of a wonderful performance from Keisha 5 stars
5/22/03 A. Grace Magical, wonderful and inspiring! 5 stars
5/22/03 Richard Higginbottom This film has wonder at its heart, moving the spirit and the heart .A great film 5 stars
5/19/03 Jenny Liu TOTALLY AWESOME! 5 stars
5/15/03 Anne Ware Fantastic scenery and story 5 stars
5/14/03 Holger Hansmann impressive performance by Keisha Castle-Hughes 5 stars
5/13/03 rubens Magical!!! 5 stars
5/12/03 Ebony faaah man it is tha bomb!! no doubt its awesome 2 tha daiz chur 5 stars
5/10/03 C.Ihaka. It is the BOMB!! I cryed 2 and its a really good movie. Go watch it, its a must see movie. 5 stars
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  06-Jun-2003 (PG-13)
  DVD: 28-Oct-2003

  11-Jul-2003 (PG)

  08-May-2003 (PG)

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