Sunday, September 26, 2010

Dead Dogs Tell No Tales: A Rather Late Review of Australia

I've decided I'm going to revise Chekhov's famous gun rule this way: If a dog is introduced in the first act, it will die tragically in the third. Filmmakers everywhere apparently have a tacit agreement that dogs can and should be included in a film as a means to manipulate the audience's emotions when said dog is senselessly shot/poisoned/has its neck snapped. Dogs have become the new version of the obligatory unnamed Star Trek cast member who appears and dies in every episode.

Why am I ranting about this particular little movie tidbit? I finally got around to watching Australia. Yes, I know it's not my usual movie fare (not to mention two years too late), but everybody kept telling me how wonderful it was and how I had to see it. So I Netflixed it. And yes, the dog dies.

Every person I talked to raved about the beautiful scenery, the exquisite cinematography. So while I didn't have high expectations for the film itself, I was prepared to be blown away by the breathtaking experience that is panoramic vistas in Blu-ray. So imagine my disappointment when I watched the actual film. Yes, there were certainly a few scenes with the stock Australia-type footage. Everything in between, however, appeared to have been filmed in a studio in sunny LA. Even the big outdoor scenes were split by badly transitioned close-ups that were obviously shot in a studio. One second Nicole Kidman or Hugh Jackman would be kicking up dust astride a horse, and the next second there would a poorly-lit head shot of them with a Sears Portrait Studio background behind them and a oscillating fan to the side. The shift between location and studio shots was so poor that after a while it became physically jarring.

Of course, dead dog and bad filming aside, the biggest problem with the film was that I'd already seen it. Yeah, I saw it back in 1992 when it was called Far and Away. Different time period, you say? Different country and no Tom Cruise, you point out? Well, it doesn't make any difference. The films were so similar in feel and circumstances to be laughable. The boy narrator even refers to Kidman once as the "Far, far away lady." Did the writers intend that as a joke? I hope so because it would be the only clever writing in the entire film.

Now, I must temper my harsh words with the reminder that the sweeping historical romance is not my usual choice when it comes to film, so I went into this whole experience with a bit of bias. Nevertheless, I watched the movie with as much of an open mind as I could muster hoping to be pleasantly surprised. Alas, I wasn't. The expected people died. The predictable misunderstandings and moments of poignancy went off like clockwork. No new ground was trod by this film or its director/writer, Baz Luhrmann.

All that being said, the film was entertaining and full of suspense. Nicole Kidman's costumes were beautiful, and she looked like an ivory goddess (as usual.) Hugh Jackman was appropriately craggy and emotionally unavailable, and love conquers all in the end.

Love wasn't enough, however, to overcome the bad writing and poor cinematography. It also didn't save the dog.