27 November 2008

Review (A Letter to Baz Luhrmann): Australia

Genre: Drama (Historical/Romance)

O, Baz! What have you done?! What an epic, what a charge, what an embarrassment!

Dear Baz,
It saddens me ever so greatly, to see you put out such an indelicate new work, especially when your preceding films have been so increasingly polished. As I sat there in the theater taking it all in, I couldn't help but wonder, what happened to your sense of balance? What to your eye for editing? What to your mind for argument?? It is in response to these pressing questions of mine, that I feel compelled to be typing this address to you now, in hope that you will heed my comments, learn from your mistakes, and not ruin Wicked for its expected filmic debut in 2010.

While Australia certainly had its (small) set of redeeming features, I found the majority of the film to, not only be exceedingly contrived, but to moreover be confused about its contrivance: While the sets had a certain stylized beauty and the costumes a similarly editorialized flair, the rest of the film seemed to be no more than a daytime soap opera on a grand scale, a melodramatic throwback to the films of (for example) David Lean but a throwback that seemed to cyclically forget and then remember again from where exactly it owes it sways. At opening a (to my eye) extremely conscious reproduction of the heavy-handed, romance-driven, and baseless sweeping scenes of those films of old, Australia was quick to slip away from such smart hyperboles of its origins and to thus slide into comfort and almost into seriousness in its overworked surroundings. That you seemed to genuinely want your audience to care during a significant portion of the film for its protagonists, instead of to merely nostalgically adore them as concise epithets of historical romance, is a surefire sign of the significant misgivings you must have had about the directions the work would eventually take. Such an unbalanced perspective on your product is not only imprudent but also irresponsible, and I must say it left Ms. Kidman, your gifted leading actress, more than a bit aflutter between the quite beautiful exaggerated huffs of metaconscious melodrama and the treacly swoons of "damsel-alia" and self-serious, true drama. Either take it or leave it, Baz: You can't do melodrama half of the way...
...especially when your editors are apparently incompetent. Sure, each of them has a previous Oscar nomination for his work, but each should have his stripped away for this travesty. Sloppy storyline compositions, excessive inclusions, and just endless, sagging second and third acts caked up more bluff than I could well tolerate. More than once did I shift in my seat, gaze lazily around the theater, and seek out the other bored film-goers for a brief moment of weary commiseration; and even once for such an act isn't good in my estimation. Please, clean it up, Baz; of it all, this, editing, was the most disappointing point of your latest work.
...the most disappointing, not only because such feckless editing stood out as weary-making itself but also because it saddled the film with the dubious quality of artifice, superfice, and pandering: that is, almost total lack of argument. While the film was introduced by a meaty premise of racial segregation and related prejudices manifesting as the tragic displacements of the members of the "stolen generations" in Darwin, Australia, it quickly jams into itself almost masochistically the most contrived and typical storybook romance of the stock independent damsel and the stock rugged poet, a marriage of unequals that plays more unstably than a seesaw. Instead of trying to build something interesting out of this situation, the film chooses instead to focus on Danielle-Steele-esque shots of Mr. Jackman's body, hollow reproductions of the sentiments behind the romance in Out of Africa (1985), and unfavorable relegations of the aboriginal/racial plights to the background as much as possible, so much so that the few moments in which they actually do take the spotlight are completley dominated by almost head-bangingly stereotypical sights and images. Again, though, this may all have been excusable with some handier editing and a wit that appeared to be always knowledgeable of what it was putting out there - but such tightness in the work was patchy at best. O, Baz, Baz, Baz...how did this ever mettle your approval?
I don't think I can go on much more here. All I have left is: if you intended on creating a really great C-level movie, congratulations! But let's try to keep aspirations higher next time.

Sincerely, your forgiving fan,

Grade: C+, unfortunate results of a once noble effort.

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