Sunday, December 07, 2008

Outback or the Outhouse?

If you want a taste of the Outback, may I suggest you make a run to the restaurant or catch an Imax documentary?

But don't see the new "epic" Australia at the theater.

Yes, there are the wonderful images (that you could see at the Imax). Yes there's the aboriginal viewpoint (with horrid voice-over, which is almost always a good indicator of bad movie-making). Yes, there is Hugh Jackman, a silly, stewing, over-the-top cowherd called, of course, "Drover." Yes, there is Nicole Kidman, mugging it up and mucking up her cliched lines.

To be fair, I can only attest to half the epic. I walked out midway through the awful tale -- run off finally when the aboriginal boy somehow stops a herd of cows stampeding toward him at a cliff's precipice after the boy stares at them with ghostly mien and points mystical fingers while his ancestral grandfather witch-doctor watches proudly from atop nearby mountain with fire blazing. "I'm outta here!" The mysticism pervades the movie, which couldn't even muster sympathy from me for its two main stick figures (see above).

The filmmaker, Baz Luhrmann, uses mysticism for sympathetic effect and deus ex machina. Cheap and insulting. He exaggerates the image of the country's unique animals (In one scene, he's got a group of kangaroos jumping in formation next to a moving vehicle.) and then plays farce by having one of the aborginees shoot the lead animal, causing me and my fellow moviegoers to gasp and then laugh. (Great for comedic farce, not for epics.) At another point, he has a female friend of Drover run at a humanly impossible speed next to Drover's clunky pick-up to have a casual conversation with the blithe Drover, much to the feigned horror of the Kidman character. Such meaningless farce seemed an attempt to show Australians' reputation for being laid back in the Outback. There are other, more sincere and even funny ways to achieve character description.

Luhrmann has had the audacity to say that he's learned from the masters: David Lean (Lawrence of Arabia, Dr. Zhivago, Bridge on the River Kwai) and the directors of Gone With the Wind, Ben-Hur, Giant, Braveheart, Lonesome Dove and The Searchers. No, he hasn't. If you want to test his "learning," try to sit through Australia and then rent Lawrence of Arabia, and bask in bigger-than-life characters, magnificent acting, real drama and tremendous cinematography in what may be the best movie in the history of filmmaking (except for the ending). A true epic.

Usually in reviewing a movie that disappoints me, I like to poke a lot of fun. But after reading reviews of Australia, I had my hopes up for seeing another good rendition of my favorite movie format: the epic.

Instead, after the little boy stopped the cows, all I could think of was getting some relief in the bathroom. If there'd been an outhouse nearby, I would've found that a more appropriate place for a purge.


Burgess Laughlin said...

> "Usually in reviewing a movie that disappoints me, I like to poke a lot of fun."

As a reader, I look for reviews of books and movies I would like to read or see--not those I don't want to read or see.

The advantage of positive reviews is that they promote the good, which is in short supply, rather than castigate the bad, which is in a state of oversupply. I gain from the good, not the bad.

David Elmore said...

You also gain from knowing what is bad, so you can avoid it, and if the reviewer has fun skewering the bad, you may get a little enjoyment from that as you are being given a logical argument to make an informed decision about whether to see a movie or not.

Before you see a movie, you don't know whether it is good or bad, so you may read reviews (good and bad) to discover whether the movie is worth seeing. A bad review (with logical argument) fulfills the role of saving you precious time by not seeing a bad movie.

For the person writing a bad review, poking fun allows him to make fun of the metaphysically unimportant as he logically dissects the ridiculous and irrational.

As we go through life enjoying the good things mostly, there's nothing wrong with stopping on occasion to put the bad in its place. In fact, it is justice.

If you want to read a positive review on my blog of a terrific movie, then go here