There have been mixed opinions surrounding this film. A huge, lengthy, effects-laden and cliche-riddled extravaganza that is sumptuous to look at as it is pointless to think about. Baz Luhrmann’s film is a ridiculous amalgamation of several (very unoriginal) plots and genres that tangle incoherently in this sweeping ‘epic’. Perhaps the most telling signs that it isn’t going to be the most cohesive film are the tags attached to it by imdb. Whilst not something I’d like to rely on to judge films generally, when the genre tags say ‘Adventure | Drama | War | Western’ you know all is not well.
Starting out as a drama about an English noblewoman who sets out to Australia to organise her husband’s business affairs only to find him dead, the film evolves into a strange outback comedy, before becoming a love story, and then ending up as a war epic.
It seems like a lot of the budget was spent on scenery. The grand canvases of the raw outback and the fiery destruction of the Japanese warplanes were all completed with intricate detail. However, they completely undermined their own goals by being so obviously computer-generated that they looked like those crappy desktop backgrounds from the 90s showing a wizard looking over a rough sea on some fictional planet across the galaxy. What’s more, in contrast to these alien vistas, the smaller scenes were so obviously sets that it looked almost like theatre.
The acting does little to bring any consistency to the film either, which is an especially strange phenomenon as Nicole Kidman was only left with two facial expressions after her numerous surgical procedures. Occasionally the object of ‘comedy’ as a snooty noblewoman in the outback, she is also is mother figure to a young mixed race child, a tender lover to a guy who is never called anything other than ‘The Drover’ (how’s that for intimacy??) and a gritty survivor in the face of conflict. ‘The Drover’ was a hideous construct who seemed more like a showreel for Hugh Jackman as “your new leading man!” than a nuanced character or even useful plot device. His appearance as, alternately, rugged outback hunk, suave James Bond-esque gentleman and gung-ho action hero was laughable.
But the ridiculous incoherence of the film is, in part, its saving grace. I squirmed in my seat for most of the first half of the film but by the time Hugh Jackman strode into the weird outback ball thing in his gleaming white tux I was just enjoying how funny the movie was. And to be fair, the war epic finale does deserve some credit as a kitsch piece of nostalgia film that, as the posters (at least here in the UK) suggest with their allusion to GONE WITH THE WIND. It is therefore not beyond the realms of possibility that if you go into the cinema expecting a laughable mongrel of movie, compiled with an eye for the absurd, you may even leave the cinema feeling like it was time well spent.
The bottom line: squashing a bunch of lame films into 2 hours 45 minutes has produced a predictably stupid film, but it’s nonetheless a funny frankenstein that’s worth seeing to point and laugh at.