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AUSTRALIA ($40) is a throwback to old style moviemaking- a soufflé of romantic action melodramas, that is served with a side order of western, not to mention a frothy comic sauce that has been spooned on top. Coming from director Baz Luhrmann, AUSTRALIA is also a highly theatrical piece of filmmaking, which mixes real locations with artifice to create its own unique visual style. Set on the cusp of the Second World War, AUSTRALIA tells the story of Lady Sarah Ashley (Nicole Kidman), who travels from England to northern Australia to reign in her husband and to force him to dispose of his faltering Australian cattle station- Faraway Downs. Upon her arrival in Darwin, Lady Ashley is met by and transported to Faraway Downs by Drover (Hugh Jackman). However, when Lady Ashley arrives at Faraway Downs, she discovers that her husband has been murdered and that an aborigine referred to as "King George" (David Gulpilil) has been accused.

Of course it doesn’t take long to figure out that cattle baron Lesley 'King' Carney (Bryan Brown) and his man Neil Fletcher (David Wenham) are responsible for the murder, but proving it is another matter entirely. During this time, Lady Ashley finds herself taken with a little half-caste aborigine boy Nullah (Brandon Walters), who advises her that he has seen some of her cattle being driven onto Carney's land. Of course, Lady Ashley is no shrinking violet and decides to drive 1500 head of cattle to Darwin, where they can be sold to the military and break the monopoly Carney has on the beef industry in the Northern Territory. As the film plays out, a romance blooms, Lady Ashley’s maternal instincts rise to the surface and the Japanese attack Australia… The cast of AUSTRALIA also includes Jack Thompson, David Ngoombujarra, Ben Mendelsohn, Essie Davis, Barry Otto, Kerry Walker, Sandy Gore, Ursula Yovich, Lillian Crombie, Wah Yuen, Angus Pilakui, Jacek Koman and Bruce Spence.

20th Century Fox Home Entertainment has made AUSTRALIA available on Blu-ray Disc in a 2.35:1 aspect ratio presentation that has been encoded onto the disc with the AVC codec. The 1080p presentation is generally quite pleasing, but owning to the amount of artifice and digital effects employed, this disc falls short of earning a place in the demo pile. Sequences employing visual trickery have been graded and slightly softened to make the mixture of live action and digital elements more seamless. Shots without digital elements appear better resolved, especially close-ups, which exhibit some pretty terrific detail. Hues tend to be very strong and very vibrant, plus the flesh tones are highly appealing. Blacks are deep, whites are crisp and clean, plus the picture produces smooth contrast and a fairly healthy dose of shadow detail. The elements from which AUSTRALIA has been mastered demonstrate virtually no imperfections. There is a mild veneer of grain present throughout, which helps make the presentation seem organic.

AUSTRALIA is presented on Blu-ray Disc with a 5.1 channel DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack. The sound design is pretty impressive, with the action sequences servicing the outlying channels rather nicely. Sounds move around the soundstage in an effortless manner and convey a sense of acoustic space. Fidelity is pretty great, producing a rich sounding musical component for David Hirschfelder’s terrific score, as well as convincing sound effects. The bass channel is plenty deep, which enhances the thundering, sounds of stampeding cattle, engine roar and bombs exploding. Dialogue is crisply rendered and remains understandable, despite some heavy Aussie accents. French and Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 channel tracks are also encoded onto the disc. Subtitles are available in English, Spanish, Korean, Mandarin, Cantonese and Portuguese.

Full motion video, animation and sound serve to enhance the disc's interactive menus. Through the menus, one has access to standard scene selection and set up features, as well as some supplements. Featurettes include Australia: The People, The History, The Location (seven minutes), Photography (five minutes), Production Design (six minutes), Costume Design (seven minutes), Locations (six minutes), Cinematography (seven minutes), Sound (eleven minutes), Editing (eleven minutes), Music (ten minutes) and Visual Effects (nine minutes). A couple of Deleted Scenes and some Trailers close out the supplements.

If you long for old-style movie storytelling, AUSTRALIA is certain to please. The Blu-ray presentation is very strong despite a penchant for digital effects shots in the original production.



Australia [Blu-ray] (2008)


DVD & Blu-rayDisc reviews are Copyright © 2009 THE CINEMA LASER and may not be copied or reprinted without the written consent of the publisher.
THE CINEMA LASER is written, edited and published by Derek M. Germano.



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