Review – Australia

December 23, 2008

I think a movie is supposed to evoke an emotion.  That’s how we know it’s good, right?  It makes you feel whatever the director wants you to feel.

The emotion Australia filled me with is, “Damn, I wanna go home and watch Moulin Rouge!

It just doesn’t hit on quite the same level as Baz Luhrmann’s previous hits.  And I’ll tell you why.

Australia isn’t the movie it thinks it is.  I’ve been thinking a lot about theme recently there are definitely a number of thematic elements that reveal what the author is going for.  The biggest is the question of belonging: where do I, as a person, belong in society?  Another is what defines success. But in a Baz Luhrmann film, the cinematography is as much a character and theme as those are, but here it’s kind of amorphous, nebulous, swinging back and forth without really knowing why.

It’s a multi-act film (four or five acts), with a fake ending after Act 3.  Up until that point, it’s set in the barren Outback summer: red, dry, and immense, with much of the scenery reminiscent of an IMAX or 70 mm film.  But that story completes with the fake ending, and continues into a lush green spring, which lasts only a few minutes before descending into a bleak, gray, war-torn city.

If that first part had been the first part of a trilogy, the scenery itself could have been treated with the diligence it was due, as could the threats that were being presented by the human antagonist.  As it was, the fourth and fifth acts felt like an afterthought, necessary to wrap up the loose ends with the villain, with the war, and with the “stolen generation” of the half-breed aboriginal star, Nullah, rather than contributing something real to the film.  It lacked imagination and a proper treatment, perhaps fearing it was already too long.

More to the point, the most dramatically stunning moment in the film occurred about a third of the way through, and nothing occurred after that to even remotely approach that level of suspense.  I don’t know that that last segment could have served to correct that, but even if it could have, the survival of our protagonists in the face of war occurs out of serendipity, not climactic decisions.   As a result, we keep getting further and further away from the climax, which occured 60, 80, 100 minutes earlier.

So although it’s not bad, and it’s definitely worth seeing in the theater for some of the stunning images, it’s not great, and ultimately a little disappointing.


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