Thursday, January 08, 2009

Australia the turkey

Tourism Australia’s plan to boost its ailing tourism industry off the back of Baz Luhrmann’s new film Australia is in trouble, if the early signs are any indication.

As it has been well documented, the Australian government made the big step of pinning its hopes on Luhrmann’s film to revitalize its vital tourism sector.

After suffering declining numbers for the past few years, and the failure of its last big marketing campaign – Where the Bloody hell are you? – the new Labour government decided Baz was the trick. With Australia’s most famous two actors – Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman – a famous Aussie director in Luhrmann and a storyline set down under, what could go wrong? Hell, even the title of the film is the name of country.

But the simple fact is the film is bad, really bad. It’s a turkey. I saw the film in the UK and as an Australian citizen I wanted it to succeed, but the whole time I had to restrain myself from walking out, the film was that bad. Now I’m no Leonard Maltin, but take a look at some of the reviews Australia has been getting since its release.

New Zealand critic Michael Field described the film as "a long, tedious shocker and an embarrassment to a film industry with an otherwise outstanding record". He said: "Every white Australian character in the movie -- other than Drover (Hugh Jackman) -- is portrayed as a nasty white racist or ... a drunkard. The one seemingly intelligent woman, Lady Sarah Ashley (Nicole Kidman), is English. Aborigines are all spiritual beings ... Australian women are all painted in the movie as cows."

Rolling Stone magazine said: “If looks were everything, director Baz Luhrmann's epic salute to his native land would be the movie of the year. But, crikey, a padded script bloated with subplots and shameless sentimentality can wear you down… beautiful scenery and the best intentions can't save Australia from dissolving in goo.”

Peter Bradshaw, of The Guardian newspaper in the UK, commented that “Baz Luhrmann's ambitious attempt to make an antipodean Gone With the Wind is a shallow, overblown and embarrassing failure”.

Now reviews might not be everything, but even the Australian scenery in this cliché-ridden film doesn’t look that good thanks to all the CGI.

A classic story, good acting and lush scenery worked for New Zealand tourism with The Lord of the Rings, but Australia doesn’t even have one of those three. With so much invested in marketing the country through the film, it will be interesting to watch if tourist levels correspond to box office numbers.

What do you think of Australia the film? Should Tourism Australia be worried?


Reflections of Silver said...

It's not perfect and it isn't the Antipodean answer to Gone With The Wind, but "Australia" is one heck of an entertaining movie! Although there are ethnic and character stereotypes, and several plot improbabilities, it tries to tell its story with a heart. And of course, it's gorgeous to look at. Who says the big-budget period romance epic is dead? There is room for sentimentality and it certainly made me happy and contented. In such troubling times, why can't we leave the cinema feeling good about life or at least a little uplifted? The people who dislike it are cynics.

Matt Eaton said...

I'm yet to see this film, but an interesting side to this is the fact that both times i've tried to see it, the cinema has been booked out. I went again this afternoon and tried to get a ticket - couldn't. Booked out. Not just the early sessions, but all evening ones too. Box office sales in the US are going through the roof as they are in Australia. The punters are definitely speaking. Don't forget that Australia (the country) probably has THE worst case of tall poppy syndrome anywhere in the world. Cultural cringe is rife and critics love to bash most locally produced attempts at greatness. But all things aside, let me see the bloody thing first!

John Davidson said...

I agree that I'm a cynic, and Baz is trying to tell a story with a heart. But the problem is he fails miserably. I'm a fan of his earlier work, Strictly Ballroom is a particularly good and uplifting film, but Australia the film as a concept just doesn't work. And alongside other Australian films, like Mad Max, Sommersault, Jindabyne, Priscilla Queen of the Desert and Crocodile Dundee, the country just doesn't look that great in Australia. For sure the punters will decide its fate, and so will the number of visitor arrivals down under, but if I was Tourism Australia I'd be a little worried.