Movie review: Australia (Baz Luhrmann, 2008)

Nicole Kidman and Hugh JackmanIt’s not that Australia is bad; the problem with this movie is that it was merely good when everybody expected it to be great. Whether from a sense of patriotic pride, fondness for director Baz Luhrmann’s previous works, or a natural curiosity about that “down under” country, people were expecting an epic. It’s not clear exactly when it stopped being just another movie, but it might have been related to the hype generated by its ties to Tourism Australia’s advertising campaign, turning it into the focal point for a swell of global interest in our Great South Land.

Despite actually being quite epic in length at a bum-numbing 165 minutes, it was quite entertaining throughout, with reasonably interesting if not particularly likeable characters, and of course the beautiful Australian landscape. But the pacing was terrible. My friends and family shared the same criticism, whether they liked or loathed it: the movie seemed to end every 45 minutes or so. Either the movie’s overall story arc was weak-to-non-existent, or else the sub-plots were too complex and elaborate. Or both, I can’t decide – I was too busy enjoying the scenery to be paying attention to things like the story…

It wouldn’t be a Baz Luhrmann movie without movie and music cross-references. In Australia, this is comes mainly from the song “Somewhere over the rainbow” from The Wizard of Oz. After you get over the groan-inducing pun on “Oz”, it’s not a bad fit. As I discovered during some cursory research on the history, it turns out that Oz was released not too long before the events depicted, and would very likely have been at the front of Lady Sarah Ashley’s mind. However, it’s bordering on comical when you have a ship full of Aboriginal orphans all humming the song a-capella as Darwin is bombed. (My wife will probably want me to mention that in spite of this, musically, it was still very beautiful.)

So in summary: don’t watch this movie if you’re expecting a character or plot driven story. Treat it like a scenic bus tour, catching various sights and sounds with the occasional interesting bit, and you’ll enjoy it so much more.

Australia on IMDB