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Australia Blu-ray Review

Australia (2008) movie poster Australia

Theatrical Release: November 26, 2008 / Running Time: 165 Minutes / Rating: PG-13

Director: Baz Luhrmann / Writers: Baz Luhrmann (story, screenplay), Stuart Beattie, Ronald Harwood, Richard Flanagan (screenplay)

Cast: Nicole Kidman (Lady Sarah Ashley), Hugh Jackman (Drover), David Wenham (Neil Fletcher), Bryan Brown (King Carney), Jack Thompson (Kipling Flynn), David Gulpilil (King George), Brandon Walters (Nullah), David Ngoombujarra (Magarri), Ben Mendelsohn (Captain Dutton), Essie Davis (Cath Carney), Barry Otto (Administrator Allsop), Kerry Walker (Myrtle Allsop), Sandy Gore (Gloria Carney), Ursula Yovich (Daisy), Lillian Crombie (Bandy Legs), Yuen Wah (Sing Song), Angus Pilakui (Goolaj), Jacek Koman (Ivan), Tony Barry (Sergeant Callahan), Ray Barrett (Ramsden), Max Cullen (Old Drunk)

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By Kelvin Cedeno

Many film fans have balked at Oscar winners, citing how predictable the Academy can be in its selections. It's been joked that to be a Best Picture winner, you must be epic in scope, run over two hours, have a basis in factual events, and have a lead character die. Obviously this is neither a consistent nor realistic litmus test, but there's no denying that most films that win the coveted award fulfill most of these requisites. Therefore, whenever a feature is released that happens to contain such qualities, it's automatically deemed as pretentious Oscar bait
(especially when said release occurs between Thanksgiving Week and New Year's Eve). This may or may not be justified, but the 2008 production that fit the bill was only nominated for a single technical category: costume design. That film was Baz Luhrmann's Australia.

The director's long-awaited follow-up to 2001's Moulin Rouge! centers on well-to-do Englishwoman Lady Sarah Ashley (Nicole Kidman), who plans to meet up with her husband in the rugged outback of Australia to sell his cattle farm. The area, known as Faraway Downs, also happens to be the only property in the vicinity not owned by a greedy investor known as King Carney (Bryan Brown). After discovering her husband dead and her cattle being stolen by Carney's right-hand man Neil Fletcher (David Wenham), Sarah enlists the help of a no-nonsense herdsman that simply goes by the name Drover (Hugh Jackman).

Sarah and Drover embark on a journey to get the cattle across the tough terrain and into the bustling city of Darwin with the help of the Faraway Downs residents. The most prominent of these is an Aboriginal boy named Nullah (Brandon Walters), who feels a special connection to Sarah. Throughout the excursion, Sarah forms a maternal bond with Nullah and, against her better judgment, finds herself falling for Drover. Things take a turn, however, with the approach of World War II. All Aboriginal children are taken by the government to be educated in the ways of white citizens. Meanwhile, Fletcher gains more and more control over Carney's monopoly and still has his eyes set on Faraway Downs.

Lady Sarah Ashley (Nicole Kidman) is distraught to see her personal luggage strewn about as part of a bar fight taken outside. Move over Wolverine and The Boy from Oz. Hugh Jackman has a new personality as Drover, an independent cattle herder who likes a nice tight shirt.

Australia has been called a modern-day Gone with the Wind, and the similarities are enough for that not to be too big a stretch. Both feature a female protagonist who learns to "rough it up" despite her high-class upbringing, an apathetic male protagonist whom the female initially hates, a private property that represents all that the heroine stands for, and a historical war serving as dramatic backdrop. Still, that's more or less where the similarities end, for Australia has enough of a distinctive flavor to set itself apart.

The most apparent characteristic is in the cinematography. While certain portions were filmed on a sound stage, the majority of it was shot on location down under, and the results are breathtaking. Baz Luhrmann is no stranger to eye candy, but his usually frenetic, fantastical visuals are supplanted here by majestic, natural scenery.

There have been more than a few criticisms directed at the story, most citing it as predictable. It's true that it's often easy to tell where the plot is going, and recognize various staples of the romantic genre. Australia really doesn't do much to reinvent the wheel, but that doesn't seem to be its purpose. Luhrmann's goal is to create the type of epic love story Hollywood hasn't made in quite some time. In reality, it has more in common with pre-1970s films than it does with something like Titanic, the closest modern-day equivalent that comes to mind. The cast (especially Kidman and Jackman) completely invest in the story and characters. Their sincerity is what helps sell the feature and makes it easier to digest the all-too-familiar narrative devices.

Aborigine preteen Brandon Walters earned Oscar buzz with his very first piece of acting as half-caste boy Nullah. Here, Nullah tries to ward them cheeky bulls away from a cliff with his magical hands. "Australia" has the visually striking thing going for it on a few occasions, including this unusual, sunny horse ride shot we get to see twice.

Some critics and audience members lamented the pacing, structure, and editing. These topics are harder to defend because the film really does suffer a bit in this regard. The first half-hour or so is frantically edited in Luhrmann's signature style and is ripe with comedy. Thankfully, he reigns himself in after this, but that doesn't prevent the opening act from feeling like it belongs in another film. With the overexcitement out of its system, the story is then split in two more parts.
The first is basically a road movie in which the characters (while on the cattle drive) brave various obstacles and conditions across the titular land. Once this is over, it becomes a war film, splitting the participants up as they react to the chaos around them.

A three-act structure is both common and vital in the world of cinema, but Australia really does feel like three smaller films that have a few threads linking them together. Getting past the tonally disparate opening, the middle and final acts feel disconnected from each other, probably because so little about the finale is suggested early on. Stories usually progress towards an expected conclusion, but for those who enter knowing nothing of the storyline, the final hour would creep up unexpectedly. It doesn't help that the second act has a conclusive ending of its own at a running time when most of today's movies would wrap up. It's been well-publicized that the film initially ran over three hours before the studio requested it be trimmed down. It's possible that that footage would've made the transitions more seamless. There are moments in the final cut that seem to reference things the audience is not aware of.

Even with an unbalanced narrative, Australia still comes across as strong. The performances are earnest and believable and are coupled with true visual splendor. Relegating it to Oscar bait is unfair since the tone isn't as pretentious as other entries in the genre. This isn't a picture made for modern sensibilities. Cynics are almost certain to hate it, but those who enjoy an old-fashioned, optimistic love story should be pleased by what's here.

Buy Australia on Blu-ray Disc from Amazon.com Blu-ray Disc Details

2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
DTS HD 5.1 (English), Dolby Digital 5.1 (Spanish, French)
Subtitles: English, Spanish, Korean, Mandarin, Cantonese, Portuguese
Release Date: March 3, 2009
Suggested Retail Price: $39.99
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (BD-50)
Slim-line Blue Keepcase
Also available on DVD


Australia comes to Blu-ray in its theatrical ratio of 2.35:1. A feature film of this caliber should offer nothing less than perfection in its presentation, and that's precisely what the viewer is treated to. Colors are bold and rich without seeing artificially enhanced. The image doesn't seem to have suffered from any sort of excessive filtering, for detail and fine film grain are present in the transfer (though the latter doesn't distract). One can only say so much about an image that's free of both print and digital defects.

The 5.1 DTS-HD track is equally impressive. It's expected for a new release to have excellent clarity and fidelity, but it truly surprises in the surrounds department. Whether it is a raging stampede of cattle, a rainy night, the ambience of the Australian desert, or the explosions of missiles, the sound field is dynamic and enveloping.

Lady Sarah's random, tense dinner is one of two short deleted scenes that comprise the entirety of Australia's DVD supplements. If you're still down with DVD, you'll see this main menu -- in which some of Baz Luhrmann's more expansive location shots are played on a computer recreation of the theater from the movie.


Australia comes with an adequate collection of supplements (all in HD), most of which are exclusive to this disc. The first (and only) supplements found also on the DVD edition are two deleted scenes: "What about the drove?" (2:02) and "Angry staff serve dinner" (0:56). The first isn't necessarily essential, but it helps clear up a character motivation. The second is extremely random and doesn't seem to make much sense out of context.
Unfortunately, no explanation is given for their deletions. This section is easily the most disappointing area of the disc as it's known that much more excised footage than this exists. Some of it is even visible in the "Behind the Scenes" featurettes and in the movie's trailers. Among such footage are two alternate endings, one of which was used as the final ending for quite some time before test audiences reacted unfavorably. Given Fox's love of alternate cuts, it's possible that these are being withheld for an extended edition release. Considering how weakly the film performed in theaters, though, it doesn't seem likely that Fox will revisit this.

The Blu-ray exclusive supplements begin with "Australia: The People, the History, the Location" (7:01). This blatantly promotional piece takes a quick look at the events and scenarios that inspired both the story and the setting. Some interesting archival footage from the era is shown and is mixed with on-set B-roll clips. Its inclusion is welcome for the sake of completeness, but it's not terribly informative.

"Behind the Scenes" houses nine featurettes that originally appeared online as podcasts before the film's release. Each piece focuses on a single element of production, including "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). Director Baz Luhrmann hosts each one, and key crew members explain their jobs and how their work applies to Australia. The challenge of filming on location and how visual elements are used to define the story and characters are among the topics explored. Sometimes the focus is a little too general (as is the case with "Editing" and "Visual Effects") with more time explaining intentions and not enough time demonstrating how it's done. Also, it seems bizarre that there's no featurette devoted to the actors. That said, these are very well-made and informative pieces, particularly when one takes into account that these were meant to be promotional in nature.

The disc concludes with three theatrical trailers (1:28, 1:31, and 2:02, respectively) that are a welcome inclusion on a new release title. A trailer for Slumdog Millionaire is also included, and the disc opens with more previews for Quantum of Solace, The Day the Earth Stood Still, and Marley & Me.

The main menu presents a montage of scenic shots within a film reel. The pop-up menu selections take on the same sort of 1930s-esque font as the logo. Navigating is slightly confusing as there's no cursor for every menu selection, only the major headings. The sublistings (such as the individual "Behind the Scenes" featurettes) are forced to be shown one at a time due to how narrow the pop-up menu is. The loading screen features the pivotal continent glowing and dimming in gray light.

The disc is housed in a standard blue case without interior artwork. A leaflet for other Fox BD titles is included. Interestingly, the back cover lists the bonus material as part of "Disc One," indicating that a second disc (undoubtedly a digital copy) was intended at some point.

If you thought that Baz Luhrmann got romance out of his system with "Strictly Ballroom", "Romeo + Juliet", and "Moulin Rouge!", then you thought wrong. Sarah (Nicole Kidman) dances with a cleaned-up Drover (Hugh Jackman) at a fancy social function. From a distance, in front of a pink sky, and on one leg, King George (David Gulpilil) is watching you.


Australia isn't really a film for everyone. Its uneven pacing may distract some, and its romantic clichιs may annoy others. For those willing to overlook such qualities, there's plenty of entertainment to be found. It's easy to invest in the drama at hand when the performances and cinematography are so strong. The film is replicated on Blu-ray with reference quality video and audio. The supplements, while not specifically created for home video, are enlightening and pleasing, but the lack of substantial deleted scenes is frustrating. Australia still earns a recommendation to fans of yesteryear's kind of sweeping romantic epics.

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Reviewed March 18, 2009.

Text copyright 2009 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 2008 Twentieth Century Fox, Bazmark Films, and 2009 Fox Home Entertainment.
Unauthorized reproduction prohibited. Images are screencaps from the standard DVD.