My wife and I saw the movie Australia at the behest (and the allowance of borrowing the DVD) of friends of ours. I was a bit apprehensive from seeing it, as the movie really isn't my style of something to watch. (To further my fears, the back cover lists the movie as a 'romantic action adventure, with comedy, drama and spectacle. High bar, much?) I surprisingly endured the whole 165 minutes (That's almost 3 hours!) without any alcohol, usually a must for this sort of 'adventure'.
Long story short, I would give the movie a 5 out of 10. It wasn't bad. It was... well... it was a movie, and it was obvious they spent a lot of time on it. However, for me to be writing about it, there would have to be certain irks, right?
Oftentimes, when I'm playing a video game or watching a movie (etc.), I like to do a little roleplaying in my head as if I were the writers, director, actors and so forth. It helps me to look past what I'm actually looking at or listening to--to actually understand what is going on here. Often, this makes things good, because I can be pleasantly surprised when my expectations are shown to be wrong. A good twist on a prediction always is worth a few points in my book. (You'll note that those points were missing from Australia's 5 given above.) Thus, I would like to mention my thoughts while watching Australia for the first (and probably last) time.
Pre-movie: The writers (there were 4 of them) brainstorm.
Writer 1: Alright, guys. We've got a sure blockbuster ahead of us. What should we write about? Come on. What sort of things are you all into?
Writer 2: Well, I'm certainly a fan of westerns and those sort of adventures. Oh, and I love Chuck Norris. Gotta be something like that in there.
Writer 3: Maybe, the Chuck Norris thing works, but we definitely have to do a war piece. I mean, look how successful 'Pearl Harbor' was! In fact, it's gotta take place in the middle of World War II. People can't get enough of that!
Writer 4: This sounds kinda dark. We need something lighthearted. Something pure and innocent... What if we included some sort of running theme tied in with a classic movie. You know, 'The Wizard of Oz' is my favorite movie. That Judy Garland....
Writer 1: Ok, ok... lots of different ideas. They're all so good, too. Seems like they would clash, though.
Writer 2: Nah, not at all. I'm sure we can fit them all in.
Writer 4: Yeah. "Wizard of Oz" would have been out by World War II, so that fits.
Writer 1: Just because something 'fits' doesn't mean it'll work though.
Writer 3: Sure it will. People love genre mixing. Romantic Comedies, Epic Adventures, that sort of thing.
Writer 1: Well, let's just see. I'll write down all these ideas for now, but I think...
Writer 4: Oh, you know what? You liked Chuck Norris, right Bill? I was watching X-Men the other day, and that Hugh Jackman looks a lot like him.
Writer 1: I don't think he looks exactly...
Writer 2: You're absolutely right! We must get Hugh Jackman to play the lead. He'll be all like carrying a gun on a beach, storming Vietnam...
Writer 3: Except it's World War II.
Writer 2: Yeah, World War II. But he's got a gun and he's all like, rat-a-tat-a-tat-a...
Writer 1: Wait a minute... just wait. I get a say in this, too. I was kinda hoping to do a period piece, maybe about life in Aboriginal Australia...
Writer 3: ...And then the Japanese can drop bombs all around him, and he comes up from the smoke running, sweat pouring from his forehead.
Writer 1: Guys...
Writer 2: And he has to rescue a house full of children from all of these evil army men. Just him and his obedient sidekick.
Writer 1: Guys?
Writer 4: Now, come on... This is way too violent. There's no way we can fit songs into this movie as it is now. I want songs! "Somewhereeee over the rainbow..."
Writer 1: GUYS! Now, I'm head writer, and I say we're going to do my Aboriginal Australia idea.
Writer 2: ... With Chuck Norris.
Writer 3: And bombs and soldiers...
Writer 4: And Judy Garland every 10 minutes.
Writer 1: FINE! Whatever!
I'll take a little break here. But you get the idea. Honestly, I've covered most of the synopsis of the movie with that little pow-wow. However, this was just one conversation flowing through my head. During the course of the movie, I also was piecing together a brief overview of the movie. As if to say, 'How could I describe this movie in about a minute or two? After all, it's almost 3 hours long!'
If you've never been to Rinkworks.com, Rinkmaster Sam has a section called Movie-a-Minute wherein he makes a (comical) shortened form of the movie that truthfully tells the movie. I'd like to do my own version below.
Dan's Movie-a-Minute of 'Australia'
Extra 1: Crikey, I'm Australian. Hear my strong Australian accent? Blimey. People love accents.
Hugh Jackman: Crikey, that's true. Accents make a movie worth watching. See how much Australian lingo I know? There's a Shirley crossing the never-never...
Nicole Kidman: I'm an uptight British lass in Australia. Hugh Jackman, you are a man of the land, whom I could never warm to.
Fletcher: Crikey, I'm a lecherous Australian man, but so is everyone else here, because it's World War II era, and there's no such thing as equality.
Nicole Kidman: Hugh Jackman, save me from these close-minded people.
Hugh Jackman: Crikey, I can't do that, Shirley, I mean, Ms. Ashley. I'm a man of the land. I go as I please.
Nicole Kidman: Please?
Hugh Jackman: Fine, but we do things my way. We have to move cattle.
Aborigines: We're just going to chant Aboriginal things. That ok?
Nicole Kidman: I love Australia. I've become so attached that I'm going to become motherly to everyone. WHERE ARE YOU GOING?! DON'T LEAVE ME!!
Hugh Jackman: Bye.
Fletcher: Hey, babe... Er... G'day Ms. Ashley. Your ranch will be mine, and I will bug you about it every day until you sign it over.
Townspeople: We hate the Aborigines and Hugh Jackman, because he likes them.
Japan: Huzzah! Bombs away!
Townspeople: We still dislike the Aborigines, but less now.
Hugh Jackman: I found myself. Anyone seen Ms. Ashley?
General: She's dead. Please, Mr. Jackman, please turn into Chuck Norris and save the children.
Hugh Jackman: Shapeshift into Chuck Norris!
Hugh Jackman: I'm back, after my loyal friend sacrificed his life, as per custom dictates.
Nicole Kidman: I'm alive!
Hugh Jackman: Wonderful! I'm going to the bar.
Fletcher: My life is ruined, which it pretty much has been this whole film. Die, main characters.
Aborigine Witch Doctor: No you don't.
Fletcher: Ack! I am dead.
Hugh Jackman: At least me, Ms. Ashley, and the aboriginal child can live happily ever after.
Really, this sums up the main points of the movie. Just stretch it out into 3 hours. I have more to say about this, but I'll save it for tomorrow. After all, we started the movie at 8:30 PM, and with me typing this all immediately after the movie, it's now Midnight on the dot.
8:00 AM, the next morning
Sorry, I was drifting asleep there last night. I still had a little more to go on about the movie. I did want to say real briefly that I thought the movie was okay. As mentioned at the outset, I would give it a 5, so there are some elements that really work for it. (Not to mention I keep expecting Hugh Jackman to grow claws and attacks the bad guys. The bar fight scene at the beginning doesn't help my impression.) However, there are 3 problems with the film that hinder it from being anything more than an 'ok' movie. I've listed those three problems below in increasing importance, along with a 4th 'It's just me' reason.
#4. It's just me... but it's not my type of movie. War movies are not my thing, and cattle driving isn't exactly a spectator sport for a reason. Of 3 hours, at least 1 solid hour of it involves watching them drive cattle, and about 35 minutes or so involves Chuck Norris-mode Hugh Jackman. In fact, now that I think about it, it was more like 30 minutes or even 25, which, comparitavely makes the cattle driving part seems not only much longer but the ending (where this is located) a bit rushed. All in all, just not my cup of tea.
#3. It's just too formulatic. I'm not a film critic. I only watch about 3 movies a year as they come out, and usually 2 of them are after the DVD is released. Yet, if I, the average joe, can predict everything that happens in a movie right before it happens, not enough thought was given the script. Granted, for a 90-minute movie, there's only so many 'twists' one can write in without seeming like a circus. Still, for a 3 HOUR MOVIE, this kinda becomes tedious. From the second Ms. Ashley arrives and 'proves that she's not as stuck up as the first 10 minutes of the film would lead you to believe' all the way to the 'if you kill the kid, we can't have a happy ending' last minute, most average movie watchers can predict what's going to happen. Nothing much exciting happening here, folks.
#2. There's no reason this should have been one movie. By now, you've picked up on these two points: The movie was tediously long and the movie encompassed two very differing genres involving cattle driving and war. Why couldn't this have been split into two separate movies? You had enough material, obviously. It even FEELS like a seperate movie once Drover leaves the ranch half way through. As soon as they even MENTION the war going on, flashbacks of 'Pearl Harbor' start flooding the minds of the watcher. I all but expect Cuba Gooding, Jr. to run across the beach of Darwin, Australia, looking to help Hugh Jackman out. This just feels like two movies glued together at the seam.
#1. 3 Hours of poor, poor cinematography. Oh man, this just stood out like a sore thumb the entire time, with the apex of goofiness during the moments that should have been tear-jerkers. I'll give you an example...
There's a scene where, while on the drive, Fletcher, the OBVIOUS bad guy* (See Below), is trying to sabotage the drive by running the cattle off of a cliff. Two of Drover's helpers try to steer them away from the cliff. One of the horses trips, sending the helper, Mr. Flynn, under the stampede. As he falls, the camera zooms in on his face (which looks cartoonish to begin with). However, there are jaw-droppingly bad blue/green screen effects going on that are so unrealistic, my pet cat, who watched the film with us, shook his head and laughed like Muttley from Hanna Barbara. I was supposed to be feeling for the man trampled to death, as well as the drovers who almost died stopping the stampede. Instead, I just sat there grinning, trying my best not to laugh.
I felt bad that I wanted to laugh, especially since my wife criticizes me for constantly making fun of movies. Still, this was just a taste of things to come. There were two reasons why the computer-imposed screens looked so fake. A) They ALWAYS were zooming in on the characters' faces during these moments, and the transition just didn't work well. B) They would always have a clearly live shot of, say, a canyon before moving to a computerized scene behind the people. The two just didn't match, and it was obvious. You just have to see the movie to understand what I'm talking about, but I guarantee you won't cry during the sad parts. None of them.
I do have an honorable mention to give, as footnoted above. This really isn't a 'bad' movie trait, as there are plenty of good movies that does this. However, those good movies usually get the last 4 points right. This movie really didn't justify bad guys or good guys as to why they did what they did. They just did. You know the whole drill. Good guys do good because they're good. Bad guys... well, they're Bad, right? They do bad things.
In most 'realistic' movies today, the writers give good reason why the bad guys do the things they do. Take the latest Batman movie with Heath Ledger. The Joker had a very sordid childhood, together with other elements that they explained well in the movie. He was believable as a villian, as was Two-Face (who I still believe is alive by the way--they just can't get rid of him THAT quickly!).
Australia, though... Fletcher is a bad guy because his father is a millionaire bigot. That's the only real reason they make him the way he is. Still, for three hours, he does all but try to push a boulder off of a cliff on the cattle drove. I'm surprised his horse doesn't say ACME on the side of it. All the way to the last minute of the film, he just comes across as a creep who gives no rational thought to anything except, "I'm evil, I must do evil." A little fleshing out of the characters would have been nice.
Ok, that's enough for me. Australia, it was good, but it needed some work...