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Set in Australia on the brink of World War II, Lady Sarah Ashley, an English Aristocrat (Kidman), travels to the faraway continent where she has inherited a cattle ranch, owned by her late husband. When Australian cattle barons plot to take her land, she reluctantly joins forces with a rough-hewn local known as The Drover (Jackman) to drive 2,000 head of cattle across hundreds of miles of the country’s most unforgiving land, only to still face the bombing of Darwin by the Japanese forces that had attacked Pearl Harbor. When tragedy strikes and Lady Sarah becomes unofficial guardian to a “half-caste” boy, the unlikely couple must come to terms with a prejudiced society, dishonorable business associates and the impending arrival of the Japanese.
For more about Australia and the Australia Blu-ray release, see Australia Blu-ray Review published by Martin Liebman on March 5, 2009 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Starring: Nicole Kidman, Hugh Jackman, David Wenham, Bryan Brown, Jack Thompson, David Gulpilil
Director: Baz Luhrmann
» See full cast & crew
Australia Blu-ray Review
This uneven picture enjoys more ups than downs.
Reviewed by Martin Liebman, March 5, 2009
Somewhere over the rainbow...
Australia is a bold and ambitious project from Australian-born Writer/Director Baz Luhrmann, director of 2001's Moulin Rouge!, recipient of a 2001 Best Picture Oscar nomination. Certainly, Australia is a film with lofty aspirations and expectations, coming on the heels of a slew of Awards-season wins and nominations for the director's previous outing, and starring two of Hollywood's hottest commodities, Nicole Kidman (Eyes Wide Shut) and Hugh Jackman (The X-Men trilogy). Australia is a well-meaning picture that offers something from most every major genre cramped into its 160+ minute runtime while it consistently tugs at the heartstrings, eliciting plenty of emotion from the audience, both real and contrived. It's not a perfect picture, but it certainly receives the highest of marks for effort. Australia borders on being the epic it desperately yearns to be, but a few blemishes keep it from enjoying a status as a modern-day masterpiece.
Briton Lady Sarah Ashley (Kidman) travels to Northern Australia in the late 1930s to confront her husband and force him to sell his failing ranch, Faraway Downs. Her husband is at odds with his her, displeased with her aggressive stance, and attempts to reject her trip, citing fear of imminent war. Sarah persists, and when she arrives she is greeted by a "drover," (Jackman) or cowboy/herder, whom she simply refers to as "Drover" throughout the course of the picture. When they arrive at the ranch, she finds her husband dead, supposedly murdered by an aboriginal dubbed "King George" (David Gulpilil). Sarah becomes suspicious of the ranch's manager, Neil Fletcher (David Wenham), when a young aboriginal child, Nullah (Brandon Walters in his motion picture debut), accuses him of herding the ranch's cattle towards a competing ranch owned by cattle magnate 'King' Carney (Bryan Brown). When the racist Fletcher threatens Nullah and his mother and attempts to physically beat the boy for informing Sarah of the situation, he is fired and finds himself a suspect in the slaying of Sarah's husband. Sarah decides to make a go of it at the ranch and convinces Drover to stay on and take the herd to the city of Darwin so they may sell the cattle to the Australian army. They find themselves in a race with Carney's cattle as they head for the city, finding peril at most every turn. Can the budding romance between Drover and Sarah, not to mention their insistence on caring for young Nullah, survive both the specter of war and the rampant racism against aboriginals in the country?
Australia features all of the makings of a classic epic -- sweeping vistas, a romance between its leads, a villain that is easy to root against, plenty of action, a rousing score, a length approaching three hours, fantastic cinematography, and a Scope presentation. The question is, does the film try too hard to be a classic? Sometimes, the answer is "yes," and that is the film's greatest downfall. Australia is like the hitter that closes his eyes and swings with all his might. Occasionally, he'll knock one into the upper deck to win the game and look terrific doing it, but he'll also strike out with regularity. Australia is more of a winner than it is a loser, but the problem remains that it often seems overzealous in its attempts to make something out of nothing, or perhaps better stated, to make something more out of something already good. As noted above, Australia employs just about every bullet point in the "guide to making epic movies," but it sometimes just doesn't know what to do with them. The result is a generally entertaining, oftentimes moving, and usually beautiful-to-behold motion picture that could have been far better, but could have also been far worse. It does indeed give it its all, which right or wrong, hit or miss, is a worthy endeavor in its own right.
Make no mistake, there is plenty to love about Australia. It takes the movie a while to get going, but once it finds its legs, it becomes a compelling journey of adventure and self-discovery while offering a message on the importance of love and belief in others, despite the cloud of clichéd characters and predictable angles that hangs over the film. Australia manages to rise above mediocrity thanks to good performances from its leads and compelling plot lines that aren't hard to see coming but nevertheless work in the context of the whole production. The entire first act, one that sees the introduction and set-up of the characters and locations, is another of the film's weaknesses. This act is hard to get into, slightly confusing, and occasionally bland, but in the case of Australia, patience is a virtue and the film improves by leaps and bounds in the second and third acts (and the film features very obvious demarcation lines between the acts). When tragedy strikes the cattle drive -- a deliberate attempt by the film's villain to kill the Faraway Downs' herd -- the movie takes on a rare combination of both Action and Drama that sees each component at the very top of their games. A true sense of dread sweeps over the picture during this crucial sequence, and the power and emotion of the scene, in combination with the danger, makes it one of the more compelling scenes in recent memory. The second act -- arguably the film's best and highlighted by this scene -- is worthy of the best Westerns since the golden era of John Wayne and Gary Cooper and contributes to the re-kindling of the once great and storied genre that is enjoying a revitalization in recent years.
Australia is also an emotionally-charged film; many viewers will likely shed a few tears during its most pivotal sequences, but the question that arises is just how manipulative is the film in eliciting extreme emotions from its audience? "Manipulative" might be a strong word to employ, but several scenes do seem to play with some overzealous sappiness that makes the scenes a bit more contrived and conducive to tears than they may have been in some other picture. This isn't necessarily a fault, and maybe Australia is really just that good at tugging at the heartstrings, but every such scene just feels constructed with tears -- rather than heart -- in mind. The scenes succeed not because of how they are constructed but because they are centered around people, people the audience will likely come to care for during the course of the film. Australia overcomes the clichés that make up its trio of lead characters. Nullah is the outcast with an abundance of energy and hope in the future, a loving boy that sees past the racial make-up of those around him and judges those he comes in contact with based not on their appearance but rather their heart and soul; Sarah Ashley is the prototypical "fish out of water" who must adjust to the rough-and-tumble life she now finds herself in; Drover is the cowboy with an eye for women, a strong back, and a big heart. Australia rises above these stereotypes and truly and efficiently develops its characters. The love story is particularly moving and character development goes well beyond the clichés that superficially make up its characters. It is because Walters, Kidman, and Jackman are able to bring to their characters a greater sense of depth than they deserve that the film is often able to overcome shortcomings that may have otherwise been too much for a lesser film to endure.
Australia Blu-ray, Video Quality
20th Century Fox presents Australia on Blu-ray with a stunning 1080p, 2.35:1-framed transfer. Generally, This is a fabulous transfer, often rivaling the best available on Blu-ray. Colors may be a bit warm with a red push, particularly in flesh tones, but it's incredibly clear and well defined, with a gorgeous color palette that stands out nicely, particularly the blues. The blue of the ocean, the outfit Sarah Ashely wears as she arrives in the Land Down Under, and even the blue of her eyes stand out with vivid precision that allows them to jump off the screen. Detail is often extraordinary; from the sandy, rocky terrain to the musky interiors of a bar, viewers are privy to the very finest of nuances to be seen in the film. It's truly a testament to the power of film, great cinematography, and the Blu-ray format to be witness to the weeds, rocks, and other natural wonders of the Outback with the level of clarity and resolution as found on this disc. The transfer is generally nothing short of beautiful; film grain adds a bit of a cinematic feel to the proceedings. Its presence is never intrusive and it is rarely seen in abundance. On the downside, black levels are sporadically spotty, tending towards a very dark shade of gray, but only in a few scenes. Banding is extremely minimal but noticeable in a few shots. A few scenes also reveal less-than-stellar levels of detail in faces; at times, detail looks washed away in several close-ups. Still, these very minor blemishes are more likely inherent to the film itself rather than some hiccup on the film's way to Blu-ray. There seems no cause for knocking the transfer, and the awe-inspiring imagery seen during the vast majority of the film is worthy of the perfect score the video receives.
Australia Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Australia features a high quality DTS-HD MA 5.1 lossless soundtrack. The film's rousing score consistently serves as one of the audio highlights; it plays effortlessly and fills the soundstage with vigor, its reproduction clear as a bell and a joy to behold. The track offers plenty of minor environmental ambience -- blowing winds, for example -- that travel nicely around the listening area. Surrounds aren't put to full use in every scene, but they do come in to support the track when needed and offer the occasional discrete effect, all of which allows for the track to create a nearly seamless environment. The track often features thunderous bass, particularly when herds of cattle or horses pound their hooves on the dusty, barren terrain. No surprise, though, the sonic highlight of the film comes during the war sequences. Japanese Zeros scream across the sky and swoop through the listening area; machine gun fire and explosions rattle the windows and bring a powerful, engaging listening experience to the final act of the film. Dialogue is also strong and accurately delivered. While not quite on the same level of excellence as the film's visuals, this lossless soundtrack delivers the goods and serves as a fine compliment to the Australia experience.
Australia Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Australia travels to Blu-ray with several bonus features in tow. Australia: The People, the History, the Location (1080p, 7:01) is a brief, dryly narrated, and fluffy promotional piece that looks both at the film and the history of the locations seen therein. Behind the Scenes is a series of nine interesting and informative shorts, presented in 1080p high definition, that examine the various pieces of the production that came together to create Australia. Among them are Photography (4:37), Production Design (5:30), Costume Design (6:58), Locations (6:22), Cinematography (6:44), Sound (11:05), Editing (11:05), Music (10:23), and Visual Effects (8:40). Also included are two deleted scenes -- What About the Drove? (1080p, 2:02) and Angry Staff Serve Dinner (1080p, 0:56). Concluding the supplements are three 1080p trailers for Australia and one for Slumdog Millionaire.
Australia Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Australia is a fine movie that might have been more. Parts of it feel like the filmmakers tried too hard to make it perfect rather than allowing the story to flow naturally. It is rooted in good ideas and it has its heart in the right place, but it never quite manages to gel into a complete, epic experience. The primary cast delivers, the cinematography inspires wonder at the grandiose scale and wondrous locales, and the score is befitting the narrative. Australia isn't rightly dubbed a "missed opportunity," because the end result is fine and well worth watching, but it might have been more given some additional tweaking here or there. 20th Century Fox's Blu-ray presentation of Australia is exceptional. Although the disc does not include an extensive selection of bonus materials, it does sport impressive video and audio that alone are almost worth the price of admission. Australia seems to be a polarizing picture, but its fans may rest assured that this Blu-ray release is first class.
Australia: Other Editions
Blu-ray bundles with Australia (2 bundles)
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