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A view on Blu-ray and DVD video by Leonard Norwitz

Australia [Blu-ray]

 

(Baz Luhrmann, 2008)

 

 

 

 

 

Review by Leonard Norwitz

 

Studio:

Theatrical: Bazmark

Blu-ray: 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

 

Disc:

Region: A

Runtime: 165 min

Chapters: 26

Size: 50 GB

Case: Standard Blu-ray case

Release date: March 3, 2009

 

Video:

Aspect ratio: 2.35:1

Resolution: 1080p

Video codec: AVC @ 22.5 Mbps

 

Audio:

Audio:

 

Subtitles:

English SDH, Spanish, Korean, Portuguese, Cantonese & Mandarin

 

Extras:

• Australia: The People, The History, The Location (7:01)

• Behind the Scenes:

• Production Design (5:30)

• Costume Design (6:58)

• Locations (6:22)

• Cinematography (6:44)

• Still Photography (4:37)

• Sound (11:05)

• Editing (11:05)

• Music (10:23)

• Visual Effects (8:40)

• 2 Deleted Scenes with Optional Director's Introduction in HD (2:02 + 0:56)

 

 

The Film: 6
After the such quirky love stories as Strictly Ballroom, Romeo + Juliet and Moulin Rouge, Baz Luhrmann settles down into a familiar, though not often visited genre: the Romantic Western Adventure. Australia is a sweeping, if not exactly epic, love story set against the country's burgeoning cattle industry, it's unique racial and class structure and the Japanese encroachment at the beginning of WWII. That's a lot for a script to chew on, but it's a long movie, and it does its chewing by way of Mark Rydell's The Cowboys, Lawrence of Arabia and, most of all, Giant.

Nicole Kidman's character is every bit as na´ve as Elizabeth Taylor's when it comes to relations between the whites and the native populations. Lady Sarah Ashley is just as put off by the treatment of the indigenous population as Leslie Benedict, and she is just as strong-willed about doing something about it. But Leslie is not lord and master of the ranch. Being suddenly stranded in the middle of nowhere with only her neighbors and a couple hundred years of tradition behind them, Leslie works behind the scenes – and sometimes behind her husband's back - to do what she can and what she thinks is right. Lady Ashley's husband, on the other hand, is found dead at their remote cattle ranch on the day of her arrival. She had come all the way from England to collect her husband, whom she was sure was leaving a life of debauchery and sell their ranch. Imagine her surprise. Ashley is willful – to the point of farce at times – but she may return to England whenever she pleases to an aristocratic life without a tinge of disgrace.

There are three or four forces at work, however, that keep her eye and her heart on the present however: the first is the half-caste boy, Nulla (Brandon Walters), whose aborigine mother is accidentally killed off shortly after Lady Ashley's arrival. Nulla's father is most likely Fletcher (David Wenham) the head wrangler for neighboring Carney Cattle, the only competing ranch in that part of the world. His boss (Bryan Brown) wants to buy out Faraway Downs, thus ending the movie before it starts, but Fletcher's behavior so infuriates Lady Ashley at every turn that she decides to stay on out of sheer orneriness.

The joker in the deck is The Drover (Hugh Jackman) who makes it clear that he works for no man. He doesn't fall in love either, it seems. What he does, he does well: driving horses and cattle on contract, and he would have taken Ashley's to market except that Fletcher took what hands she had with him when she ran him off the property. Needless to say, Lady Ashley convinces The Drover to take her cattle to Darwin where the Army is waiting to sort out a contract to the seller with the best offer. Their ragtag crew consists of a handful of men, women, a drunk, a boy, and Ashley. Comic relief soon turns serious: Fletcher is determined to see to it that they don't reach their destination with the help of a little fire and poisoned water as Australia's version of the Nefud Desert rises before them. While the Japanese bear down on Australia's northern coast, the authorities make clear their intention to bring the boy to the mission where the "black" can be stripped out of him.

 


 

Image: 6/8
The first number indicates a relative level of excellence compared to other Blu-ray video discs on a ten-point scale. The second number places this image along the full range of DVD and Blu-ray discs.

I would have preferred a movie with far fewer effects shots as the overall image suffers from their less than seamless incorporation. The image never quite coheres into what we expect for a Romance. Post-processing takes its pound of flesh, so Luhrmann rightly, but sadly for us, brings down the level of the non-effects photography accordingly. The result is a kind of fairy
tale look that works well in some scenes more than others. It's hard to know where the theatrical film leaves off and the transfer begins, but I'm suspecting that the transfer isn't right on the money either. The picture is surprisingly flat. Detail is lacking, sometimes washed out in the glitter of the sun. Contrast is high which helps neither the detail or shadow information. Color is nice, but it's a case of too little, too late.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Audio & Music: 7/7
Dialogue is clear, thanks to a lossless audio track – a good thing too since half the dialogue is in a foreign language that sounds only vaguely like English, so clarity helps a lot. The surround mix opens things up nicely when music underscores the drama or when the cattle are on the march or when crowds gather for a fight or when bombs blow up buildings and the odd ship.

 

Operations: 2
This has to be one of the most user-unfriendly menu designs on Blu-ray. The font is too small, and navigation is unexpected. The absence of a Play All for the Behind the Scenes passes understanding. And the menu is just plain unattractive.

 

 

 

Extras: 7
I found the Behind the Scenes Film School tracks to be engaging and informative, even if I've been down this road before. "Australia: The People, The History, The Location" is a misleading title: it's more EPK than it is a history or cultural lesson.

 

 

Bottom line: 6
No iconic pose or reaction goes undocumented. I don't mind, really. It's one of the reasons we love the Western – which this movie is, despite the occasional palm tree. But it's not fair that Jackman looks better than Nicole here. Between the script and Luhrmann's direction, the movie is too comical to be taken seriously when we're expected to, and its willingness to resort to magic whenever things get tough denies the threat of disaster. The image processing upends the intent of the vistas, which makes what should have been a lovely movie more than a little compromised. Worth seeing, perhaps, just keep your hopes on a short bit.

Leonard Norwitz
March 7th, 2009

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

About the Reviewer: I first noticed that some movies were actually "films" back around 1960 when I saw Seven Samurai (in the then popular truncated version), La Strada and The Third Man for the first time. American classics were a later and happy discovery.

My earliest teacher in Aesthetics was Alexander Sesonske, who encouraged the comparison of unlike objects. He opened my mind to the study of art in a broader sense, rather than of technique or the gratification of instantaneous events. My take on video, or audio for that matter – about which I feel more competent – is not particularly technical. Rather it is aesthetic, perceptual, psychological and strongly influenced by temporal considerations in much the same way as music. I hope you will find my musings entertaining and informative, fun, interactive and very much a work in progress.


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