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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
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by EricDSnider

"By far the best movie about whales EVER."
5 stars

The first chief of a particular Maori tribe, so the legend goes, arrived on the back of a whale, and all subsequent chiefs have been his descendants. "Whale Rider" tells the story of what happens when the current chief's heir in this patriarchal society is, in fact, an heiress. In so doing, it delivers a first-rate cinematic experience, and some of the best performances of the year.

Our narrator and heroine is Pai (Keisha Castle-Hughes), a boyish 11-year-old girl whose twin brother died at birth, along with their mother. This was soon followed by her abandonment at the hands of her young, irresponsible father (Cliff Curtis), leaving her in the care of her grandparents. Her grandfather, Koro (Rawiri Paratene), is the tribal chief, desperate for an heir, his two sons both having failed to live up to their potential. With Pai's twin brother gone, that leaves her. But a girl is of no use in a society that allows only men to be chiefs. "My grandfather's wish was that I'd never been born," Pai tells us. "But he changed his mind."

If ever a grandfather loved his granddaughter, it is Koro. He picks her up from school each day on his bicycle and turns up to support her in her school performances -- where, notably, she is the lone girl forced to do traditional male dances. When he sees some boys making fun of her, he gives one of them a gentle but stern smack in the head.

But Koro's love for Pai is tempered by his certainty that she can never be chief, and is thus no good to him. He endeavors to find an alternate, going outside the family line and training the first-born sons within the village, refusing to let Pai attend the training. Pai is hurt by her grandfather's rejection, yet cannot stop loving him. She gains strength from her grandmother (Vicky Haughton), who has lived with the old codger all her life and has found small ways to stand up to him. ("You may be chief out there, but I am chief in this kitchen!" she hisses at him when he tries to boss Pai around at dinner. Subdued, Koro defers to her authority.)

Directed by Niki Caro and adapted by her from Witi Ihimaera's novel, the film sweetly examines the struggle between love and one's perceived duty. Koro and Pai love each other immensely, yet there are clear boundaries that must not be crossed, and yet the existence of those boundaries does not diminish their love. The situation is heartbreaking: It would almost be better if Koro didn't love his granddaughter at all. His rejection of her as a potential leader would somehow make more sense that way.

Incredibly, the film makes both points of view sympathetic. For as stubbornly old-fashioned as Koro may be -- and though it's obvious he will have to change his way of thinking before the film's end -- we nonetheless feel for him and his old-school way of thinking. There is a moment late in the film when Pai narrates, "He wanted to die. There was no reason to live anymore." The shot is of a whale that has beached itself, and that's who Pai is ostensibly referring to -- but standing next to the whale is Koro. That composition is no accident, I'm sure.

Leon Narbey's cinematography is beautiful, almost surreal, as if a place like this couldn't really exist in our world. Lisa Gerrard's musical score lends a similarly ethereal effect, leading up to the film's mystical finale.

Keisha Castle-Hughes, new to films, gives a natural, unforced performance as Pai, her large, expressive eyes telling much of her story. As her grandfather, Rawiri Paratene is equally natural, lending utter believability to a role far removed from most viewers' lives. And Vicky Haughton deserves special recognition for bringing beauty and grace to the role of the grandmother.

I'm sure I have never seen a film like this before. It is subtle, but makes its points clearly and simply. It is storytelling at its very best.

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originally posted: 06/30/03 10:35:00
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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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