With Australia, writer/director Baz Luhrmann has given us a hopelessly romantic and towering epic depicting the lives and loves of several individuals during some very extraordinary circumstances. Nicole Kidman (also the star of Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge) arrives in the land of Oz to visit her wealthy cattlemen hubby. To her surprise, she learns that her husband has been killed, and she is now the proud owner of several hundred hunks of beef, including co-star Hugh Jackman. Unable to bear children of her own, Nicole develops a mothering relationship with a half-Aborigine/half-Caucasian lad (played by newcomer Brandon Walters–who serves as the movie’s main storyteller and central focus point) and eventually falls for the rugged, muscle-bound and handsomer than handsome Mr. Jackman (and who could resist, really?).
FX star Bryan Brown and David Wenham are on-hand as the bad guys (well, some of them — more on that later) intent on ruining the lives of our earnest and honest individuals every step of the way, whether they’re competing against Nicole in the cattle market, attempting to have the authorities take the young boy away, or just trying to kill them outright.
Much like the director’s earlier Moulin Rouge, Australia starts off as a light-hearted and almost comical motion picture, but the laughs soon subside and the story takes on more of a western feel (such as when Nicole and Co. head off a large cattle drive into a barren and unforgiving outback), before turning into a very serious drama about Australia’s abominable Stolen Generations practice. As the movie draws to a close however (providing you stay awake throughout the 2 hour and 45 minute runtime), our epic tale switches to a wartime effort as we witness the country’ s unfortunate introduction into World War II when the Imperial Japanese forces (the other bad guys of the story) bombed and invaded the city of Darwin shortly after attacking Pearl Harbor (there are some rather well-done moments here, by the way).
Frankly, Australia isn’t the finest motion picture ever made: the movie just can’t seem to make up its mind as to what its purpose is. Fans of The Wizard Of Oz will no doubt love the numerous references to the film throughout, and there’s also a lot of Aboriginal spiritualism going on (which will probably confuse the hell out of many American viewers). But for me, the downfall (apart from the running time) was an often-extensive use of bad CGI (if you’re going to make an epic about Australia, show us Australia, not green screen) and the uneasy feeling you have throughout, sensing that Baz’ actors and actresses could break out into a musical number at any moment (as to why Luhrmann didn’t make this one a musical is beyond me–although if you listen to the songs over the end credits, you’ll wonder if he considered doing such).
Even with the bad CGI moments, Australia comes across as visually aesthetic, and the DVD relays the lush 2.40:1 widescreen presentation admirably: the picture is very clear and clean of any debris (which one would well expect considering it was made last year) and the colors are striking to say the least. The English 5.1 Dolby Digital sound is another plus for the film: this is a solid mix that actually gives your rear speakers a bit of exercise every now and then (unlike many other 5.1 mixes out there). If you can get into the movie (I just couldn’t, I’m sorry to say), you definitely won’t be disappointed with the transfer here — although you may be a bit let down when you head over to the Special Features menu to find nothing more than two deleted scenes (there are also some trailers that play when the disc boots up). Blu-ray owners interested in this film will be delighted to know that the BD version contains additional bonus material.
The Bottom Line: Baz Luhrmann’s Australia may be far from perfect in my eyes, but it’s still a lot better than Michael Bay’s Pearl Harbor.