Luhrmann’s outdoor opus still feels theatrical…

Let’s talk turkey. Is director Baz Luhrmann’s lovingly-crafted and famously overcooked Outback epic just a lavish portion of Twizzlers? And will this DVD enlighten you about the gap between his muchtouted vision and his movie? Or why Nicole Kidman’s forehead is about as mobile as Uluru? Nay, nay, and thrice nay…

Australia isn’t a dud: it’s a fascinating high-stakes misfire, a movie-mad movie that wraps together Luhrmann’s love of Hollywood cinema with his love of Australia in one big, shiny, highly artificial parcel.

The results are occasionally breathtaking (glorious Northern Territory landscapes, a heartstopping cattle stampede) and frequently over-ambitious (the bombing of Darwin stretches both the movie and the viewer’s patience). And when it comes to the stilted central romance between Kidman’s prissy Anglo-aristocrat and Hugh Jackman’s stereotypically rugged cattle-drover, Australia is sometimes downright embarrassing. Especially since Kidman seems to have swapped her Oscar-winning acting chops for a Stars In Their Eyesstyle Katharine Hepburn impersonation.

So, curious about why Luhrmann stylishly but fatally shoehorned together an Outback love story, cattle-drive, war flick and the Aboriginal history of the ‘Stolen Generations’? Or why the cast whistle ‘Somewhere Over The Rainbow’ endlessly? Alas, you’ll find no answers here. This near-barebones release (just two deleted scenes as extras, against the 10 featurettes on the Blu-ray version) has no chat-track. Even if they’re understandably hoarding goodies for the Special Edition, this seems a tad harsh.

Luhrmann talks a good movie, even when he hasn’t made one, and for lovers of his ‘Red Curtain Trilogy’, Australia is a film full of intriguing questions that we’d like answered. Why, for example, is the opening section a frantic, comic dash full of barbrawls and kangaroo-killing, which sits so oddly with a mystical, but curiously involving subplot in which urchin narrator Nullah uses the sacred magic of King George, his Aboriginal grandfather?

At a guess, Luhrmann couldn’t hold back his love of the unabashedly theatrical (his pistol-packing Romeo + Juliet, the velvety kitsch of Moulin Rouge!) – which chafes against the earthy, outdoor epic he’s attempting. You can see what he’s after in the naked homages to The African Queen, Red River and Lawrence Of Arabia, but the big-themes-and-wide spaces don’t gel here as in their illustrious predecessors.

Still, Australia gives it a damn good shot and even when its genres and ill-matched stars collide like bumper cars, its failings are in trying to do too much, not too little. The same generosity of spirit is notably lacking in the standard DVD, which inexplicably short-changes a bighearted movie with a small-minded presentation.

Kate Stables

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