I like it. I don’t love it.
And I see why it is not getting the word of mouth it deserves.
My take on the film is primarily from a broad story perspective. I don’t go into dialogue, performance, SFX etc. because I believe they are secondary and ultimately not decisive for the success of the film.
PUSHING IT: ACT STRUCTURE
In my view, Luhrman and Beattie have knowingly taken a few risks. The main one is the four-act structure. Here I mean: four acts according to the traditional three-act model. Not three acts with the second cut in two.
Both the drover and Sarah have a clear four-act journey. Their first objective is to get the cattle to Darwin, which spans most of the film. As a ‘road movie’, it works fabulously to my taste and it is in the second act that the film has its best moments, including some instant-classic scenes such as the cattle stampede threatening Nulla.
Ironically, the expectation of a traditional three-act structure is reinforced by the death of Flynn, perfectly halfway Act Two.
Then, when they reach Darwin and succeed in their objective, a new objective is set for the next act: the return to Faraway Downs. Here is where the structure begins to collapse. Where we had an instinctive feeling we were moving towards the end of the movie, we have exactly one more hour to go.
Act Three climaxes in the realisation that Nulla is in danger and drover decides to save him. The final act is the rescue of Nulla.
UNDERESTIMATED: POINT OF VIEW
The only other major potential problem is the multiple point of view (POV). Each POV has a serious problem.
The film is told through Nullah, Sarah and Drover.
Nullah’s story is that of the stolen generation: he is trying to stay out of the hands of those who want to take him away from his community.
This story is scattered across the movie and it doesn’t really have the power to span the entire film, to keep the three hours together. When we are in Nullah’s POV though, we all empathise with him because we understand this is a struggle for freedom, a basic human instinct. When sifting through the hundreds of promotional photo’s on australiamovie.net, the photo above is the only one I could find of Nullah. It says a lot about how important the filmmakers see this character and his story.
Sarah’s journey does a better job in tying the movie together, for at least three acts. In order to save her cattle station, she and the drover must undertake an epic cattle drive to Darwin. On the way, she falls in love with him. We empathise with Sarah, because we understand her journey, too. Because of the love journey, she is probably the most powerful POV in the movie. Everybody accepts her falling in love with the drover as he represents masculinity, freedom, her future.
Drover’s POV is more problematic. He wants to help Sarah, then falls in love with her. Here is the problem. Sarah Ashley is portrayed as a completely undesirable female. She is uptight, annyoing and sometimes plain naive. Who would desire such a woman, when you can get much better? I don’t believe many audience members would therefore identify with the Drover.
Looking at the three options, Sarah is the most likely character to identify with. After all, Hugh is a desirable male! I would like to see a breakdown of the demographics in terms of audience reception for Australia. It wouldn’t come as a big surprise if it turns out to be a chic flic.
Like most other good but not great movies, if you drill down you’ll find a lot of issues that keep you from fully participating.
Towards the end of the movie, I was getting totally annoyed by the mind-numbing repetition of the WIZARD OF OZ theme “Somewhere Over The Rainbow”. The original score of Australia is strong enough, there was no need to revert to this blatant recycling. A film’s identity gets lost when it has to rely on references to other movies to get a point across.
Finally, I found the visual style gorgeous until the arrival in Darwin, where things got completely out of control. Effects became totally in-your-face, unnecessary and plain badly executed. Luhrman had almost created a timeless classic piece of cinema, but in the last two acts he blows it.
That said, I enjoyed AUSTRALIA. The word of warning about its length did help me, as I gave it the time and space it needed.
And about the fascinating heated discussions after posting an article from the SMH and one from The Guardian on my Facebook page and Jason Gordon’s article on the Story Department Group at the end of last year, I would like to say the following: I am a Belgian and I look at Australia’s history with a certain level of neutrality. I find it hypocritical of a nation to say sorry but continue to celebrate Australia Day on 26 January. But I don’t have a desire to see social, political and historical issues resolved in the cinema.
In my view, despite its failure to appeal to the mass audience, AUSTRALIA is still one of the most entertaining Australian films of the decade.
Karel Segers wrote his first produced screenplay at age 17. Today he is a story analyst with experience in acquisition, development and production. He has trained students worldwide, and worked with half a dozen Academy Award nominees. Karel speaks more European languages than you have fingers on your left hand, which he is still trying to find a use for in his hometown of Sydney, Australia. The languages, not the fingers.
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5 thoughts on “Structure: Australia”
I partly agree with you but differ only in what I see as an area constantly overlooked by anyone critiquing this piece. That is, I believe there is an extra genre in this work running concurrently with several others. This is ‘parody’. I think the role of Sarah is set up as a parody, which if we take her seriously makes her appear an unattractive character. The same for the role of the Drover, which plays on cliches and parodies the ‘chick flick’ idea that had the audience laughing, at least through the performance I attended. The film rolls through the different genres, melodrama, western, romance, adventure until it gets to the war film genre and my impression was that the passing through all of those genres was to demonstrate, and I think adequately the personal growth of the Sarah character from the different points of view.
I take umbridge at the labelling romantic films with women as the love interest ‘chick flicks’. It’s a derogatory term, demeaning to women and meant to imply that men don’t find them worthy intellectually. We need a new term to label, insignificant, light, sentimental films with a romance theme.
Thanks for sending me this I find it very interesting
Okay, saw it. It was Gone with the Wind, Wizard of Oz, Jedda, Pearl Harbour and Rawhide all bunched up into a visually stunning gigantic Chanel No.5 TVC with every famous Australian actor who had time in their schedule. Aside from that, wow, if I only had the ability and the energy to do something like it. It really was several movies in one, I’m glad I got a Gold Class ticket at Greater Union because you really do need a couch to watch the damn thing. The art direction was of course meticulous, the structure… well I’ll leave that to you, there was so much, I just couldn’t keep up with the fog machine that moved you from one scene to the next.
The gay boys had to be loving that outback scene with Jackman and the soap suds.
And another thing. Why would ‘the drover’ go for Ashley you ask? Why did John Wayne go for Maureen O’Hara in all those oldies, it was the classic set-up. Opposites attract… (but sometimes, I admit, it was just too corny.) However, she was okay by me the minute she horsewhipped Fletcher.
‘Australia’ was pure entertainment – classic Baz Luhrmann that had the elements of fantasy, parody and stunning visuals.
I felt like there were two movies for the price of one. The movie could well have ended once the cattle were on the ship and as often happens with engaging movies, I would have walked out thinking ‘I wonder what happened to the characters and if they ended up getting back to and keeping Faraway Downs?’
Well ‘Australia’ answered that. However, it felt as though Luhrmann was trying to fit another whole movie into the second part of the story which seemed fragmented and not structurally tight.
I enjoyed most the performances from the stellar cast but Nullah was fabulous.
Tottally lapping it all up.It’s one of those movies that just takes you far far away,yet you feel so much at home through images of this great land of ours.Australia,let us all rejoice.Baz, are you ready for a gay musical?Email me and we’ll talk.xxx.
I’ve finally seen ‘Australia’- having been warned off it by almost everyone I knew. I found it an interesting parody of everything from American cinema to American notions of Australia generating Australia as the last bastion of the spaghetti western genre. The Good the Band and the Ugly (the first image we see of Hugh Jackman is a duplication of the classic image of Clint Eastwood in The Good The Bad and The Ugly (hardly surprising as it is held that he was originally given his break in the US because of his resemblance to Clint Eastwood.) There is also the parody of a parody (the parody of the ‘Where the Bloody Hell are You?’ commercial – where they were cleaning up the beaches (same fighting style and moves and shot.) The list goes on. The film was less of an Australian film than a Spaghetti Western set in Australia with a few iconic Australian bits thrown in. BUT… one thing I would really like to know is where did he get off calling the ‘cattle stations’ ranches – I know it was made to exploit the American market but surely a bit more cultural accuracy would be better.
It is interesting how different generations view the film differently – perhaps those who lived through the 60’s and 70’s or have a grasp of film history and genres see the parody where as those who haven’t experienced it view the film in its own right because they have no other frame of reference. One really good thing the Americans can no longer claim that they were the only ones attacked by Japan.
I am amused to say that my teenage students when they want me to ‘throw another shrimp on the barbie’ (thanks a lot Paul Hogan) I ask for the smallest persona in the room to put up their hands and explain that in Australia a shrimp is a small person and it is illegal to chuck one of the barbie. But no so amused when dealing with teenagers thinking Australia has a different language to English or that we are American (they can probably be forgiven for this by the fact that we keep trying to make American movies). At the moment the cultural representation of Australian’s is as fair as a ……. Stone the crows mate can’t we have a bit less C. J. Dennis or maybe a bit more in context where we don’t have to self-consciously explain our culture (and colloquialisms) to others or dismantle them for a better projected profit margin.