AUSTRALIA is a magnificent disaster. A cinematic custard of of such epic proportions it rivals DUNE, WATERWORLD and BATTLEFIELD EARTH.
Australian auteur and king of kitsch, Baz Luhrmann, made two brilliantly inspired, wickedly funny movies - STRICTLY BALLROOM and ROMEO + JULIET. In each flick he took bold chances with genre and text and as luck would have it, everything somehow made sense. I was, however, unimpressed by MOULIN ROUGE! It was as if he'd taken everything that was brilliant in his previous work, injected it with speed and set a match to the celluloid. Everything was bigger, louder, brighter, faster. Watching MOULIN ROUGE! was like being assaulted with a disco-ball. I left the movie numb and disengaged - Luhrmann had crossed the line from loving whimsy and genuine pathos into smart-arse pastiche. Now I admit that I was in the minority in my disappointment with and MOULIN ROUGE! but all those worrying tendencies have expressed themselves even more fully in Luhrmann's disastrous follow-up AUSTRALIA. It's a movie that's so indulgent it comes off as a vanity project pure and simple. It's an orgy - a binge on genre cinema's most fatuous tropes. All this could've been regarded simply as a monumental misjudgment - poor taste at its most extreme. The problem is that AUSTRALIA tackles deadly serious material. Its sins, therefore, rank higher.
Luhrmann had the laudable audacity to try to create an epic history for his country in the manner of GONE WITH THE WIND. He wanted to speak to the Australian settler spirit, the travesty of the treatment of the Aborigines and of the Australian wartime experience. To that end he gives us a movie that combines elements of Westerns, melodramatic romances and war-time epics....Nonetheless, the story is as actually pretty thin given the movie's run-time. Nicole Kidman plays an English aristo who persuades an Australian drover (Hugh Jackman) to drive her cattle to Darwin and outwit an evil cattle manager called Fletcher (David Wenham). (Melodrama, fairy-tale contrast of good and evil, Western). During the long drive, the aristo learns to love the drover, the landscape and the half-Aborigine orphan who helps them with his magical powers. (Superficial attempt to tackle Australian racial politics.) The aristo, drover and boy make a home in Darwin but happiness is seemingly destroyed when the boy is interned by the Aussie authorities and the Japanese bomb Darwin. (Ham-fisted politics and clunky CGI war movie. Shameless manipulation. Ludicrous ending.)
The result is a sickly cocktail of wooden performances, absurd dialogue and furiously heightened visual back-drops topped off with a deeply patronising attitude toward the Aborigines and an insulting fairy-tale ending. AUSTRALIA is shot like a musical without the song and dance numbers; like a fable without the intuitive wisdom; like a romance without heart; like a war-movie without the high stakes and tension. It is without a doubt the worst film I have seen in 2008.
AUSTRALIA is on release in Australia, the USA, South Korea, Hungary, Belgium, the Netherlands, Egypt, France, Indonesia, Taiwan, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Germany, Greece, Hong Kong, Mexico, Panama, Peru, Portugal, Singapore, Slovakia, Spain, Thailand, the UAE, Austria, Bulgaria, Estonia, Finland, Iceland, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Turkey, the UK, Venezuela and Israel. It opens on January 8th in Argentina, on January 16th in Italy, on January 23rd in Brazil, on January 28th in China; on February 12th in Russia and on February 28th in Japan.