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Saturday, April 4, 2009

Australia--Super-Size That?

I know it's not fashionable to enjoy neo-epics, but I have to admit that I'm a sucker for the BIG picture--love the scenery, thrill to the sweep of a thundering herd no matter what it is: horses, cattle, buffalo, people... I chose to watch Baz Luhrmann's Australia because it looked BIG, and I wasn't disappointed. Sweeping vistas of the Outback, breathtaking starry skies, BIG explosions, cattle, horses, romance, war, adventure, danger, good and evil--it has it all. Maybe that's a problem. Maybe Luhrmann tried to do too much.

Stiff English noblewoman Lady Sarah Ashley (Nicole Kidman) travels to the Outback, determined to sell the family's cattle operation. Upon arrival, she discovers her husband has been murdered, ostensibly by the mystical aborigine, King George (David Gulpilil). The estate, Faraway Downs, is surrounded by the land of cattle baron, King Carney (Bryan Brown) who wants to buy Lady Sarah out. The only way she can save the land is by getting her cattle to Darwin and selling them to the British seeking meat to feed English soldiers fighting WWII. A fiercely independent cattle drover called...Drover (Hugh Jackman) helps her reach her goal--and then provides a different kind of goal for the proper English woman.

It's only the beginning of a long, rambling story full of plots and sub-plots. It's Out of Africa set in Australia--the live-in wanderer lover, the cattle drive, the natives and independent woman. It's Empire of the Sun with the war, the evacuation, the separation of mother from son --though Lady Sarah is only a surrogate mom to the half-caste child Nullah (Brandon Walters). It's Saturday Morning Westerns, with the conflict between the innocent, city-girl ranch owner pitted against the evil cattle baron and his minions. It's Broken Arrow with the Anglo guy who goes native and marries the native girl who dies and then fights for her people. There's elements of Casablanca and a nod to the Wizard of Oz. It's so predictable, but that's part of its charm. It's comfortably familiar.

It's a John Ford epic shot through a modern filter. I was struck by the many scenes that seemed sniped from Ford's films and reset in the Outback. It was a soulful homage. I loved it.

But, is it good? Well...

It's fast-food Epic. All the necessary elements are there and it is satisfying, but even Super-Sized, it's still Epic Lite.