Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Australia - The Epic Movie... Love It Or Hate It

BAZ Luhrmann's sweeping epic "Australia" finally premiered in four locations last night as its director hosed down the country's outrageous expectations for the film.

"Not everyone's going to love it, not everyone's going to see it," the director said of his $180 million film starring Nicole Kidman, Hugh Jackman and newcomer Brandon Walters. "All we can do is do our best and invite everyone to the party."

No matter what anyone thinks of the film - and initial reviews are positive without being effusive - Luhrmann knows how to throw a party. After viewing the 165-minute film, audiences in Sydney, Darwin, Bowen and Kununurra emerged to toast the biggest Australian film ever.

"It's not meant to be the second coming but it is meant to be let's have some fun and enjoy it, and that's what I came here hoping for," said Kidman, who plays an uppity English rose who falls in love with a rough-hewn drover, played by Jackman.

"This is a once-in-a-lifetime thing," Kidman said. "Rarely do you get to make a film that you've dreamed of doing since you were little which is to be part of the Australian cinema and I haven't really had a film that's done that in a big way. The simplest thing to say about this is (it's) a celebration - for me and hopefully for this country."

Such is the film's scale, Australian screen royalty such as Bryan Brown, Jack Thompson and David Gulpilil play relatively minor roles.

"It's a big one," Gulpilil said, before announcing it would also be his last film. "This movie is bigger than Superman and Indiana Jones. This movie Australia is a true Australian movie."

Its initial impact was on Sydney city residents when a chunk of George Street was closed to accommodate crowds and guests.

The film also premiered in key shooting locations: Darwin; Kununurra, Western Australia; and Bowen, Queensland.

Australia takes place in Western Australia and the Northern Territory in the years leading up to and during World War II.

At its core is a touching story about an indigenous child, Nullah, played by then 12-year-old Broome local Brandon Walters, and Luhrmann's declaration at the top of the film that it concerns the Stolen Generations.

The film's indigenous liaison officer, Steve McGregor, said Luhrmann had worked with "respect". "There were aspects in the film that weren't culturally appropriate, and once that was pointed out Baz accepted that and said how much can we navigate our way through and still enhance the story," Mr McGregor said.

Brandon looked rightly bemused at an occasionally shambolic press conference before the premiere. He should expect further chaos; despite Jackman and Kidman's chemistry, Brandon is the best bet for an Academy Award acting nomination.

He admitted he hadn't heard of Kidman before the film and "I felt a bit scared when I first met her".

Kidman is now scared for Brandon. "I feel very protective of him. If the film does really well, he is going to need a lot of protection," she said.

Luhrmann said he had auditioned about 1000 Aboriginal boys before choosing Brandon for his talent, charisma and strength of his family. Brandon's father, Paul, appeared overwhelmed by the hubbub yesterday.

The film's importance to the Australian film industry is being overstated. Australia is created by one of this nation's few true auteurs and funded by a major Hollywood studio, Twentieth Century Fox (owned by News Corporation, publisher of The Australian). It will have little effect on the vast majority of Australian films, which are made for less than a tenth of its cost.

And predictions by local executives that the film would beat Titanic's record box office take of $57 million in this country were premature and unhelpful. The fervour only heightened as Luhrmann conceded he had struggled to meet the deadline for a November 26 Australian release.

Yesterday he joked that he had to be taken from the mixing studio on Saturday night in a straitjacket.

Jackman and Kidman viewed the film for the first time last night. For Kidman, it might signal a hiatus from the screen. "I'm in a place in my life where I have had some great opportunities but I may choose to have some more children," she said.

She agreed the film's expected success might be helpful after a run of commercial failures. "I have a quirky taste ... but that's my body of work and I'm not going to apologise for it," she said.

Australia opens on November 26 and is rated M.

Article Text From The Australian

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