Hi everyone! This is Anna from Film Grimoire, here to take over Shitfest for the day. Shitfest is one of my most favourite blogging events purely due to the amazing amount of snarkiness that arises from the depths of the internet during this hallowed occasion. Everyone gets into the spirit of the occasion and that is awesome. Really looking forward to reading everyone’s excellent reviews of extremely bad films!
This Shitfest, I chose to watch something that has received quite a bit of criticism, and (surprise!) it was totally deserving of it. If you want to read about a truly shitty film, look no further than this piece of shit by director Baz Luhrmann. Onwards!
SHITFEST 2015: AUSTRALIA (2008)
Have you ever wished for the type of time machine which makes time miraculously go slower? If so, I think I have the time machine for you. It comes in the form of the film Australia (2008), directed by Baz Luhrmann. Australia is pretty dumb and extremely long, and some people might call it an ‘epic’, but I’m not too sure about that. It tells the story of Nicole Kidman, who owns a ranch in the outback near Darwin, and Hugh Jackman, a drover who herds cattle for six months out of every year. Together they battle adversities such as rivals in the cattle trade and the bombing of Darwin by Japan in 1942, and wanting to raise a local Indigenous boy as their son. Australia is the perfect candidate for Shitfest because it is so overblown and full of itself that it has no idea exactly how shitty it is.
The question begs to be asked – what exactly is Australia? Is it an ode to the sunburnt country of outback Australia (not to be confused with Outback Steakhouse), is it a war film, is it a western, is it a comedy, is it a love story? Are we meant to believe that this stupid film is in any way indicative of the actual experience of Indigenous people who suffered as a result of the Stolen Generations, or that it’s making any sort of comment on that issue? So many questions, too much time where you’re distracted in pondering this film’s failings rather than engaging with the story and characters. It feels like this film is just overstuffed with so much content and themes that it doesn’t know what it is. And for a viewer, that’s a confusing and displeasing experience.
It doesn’t matter whether Nicole Kidman’s or Hugh Jackman’s characters have names or not because they never seem like anyone except Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman trying ever so hard to make a good film. Kidman in particular is so pantomime-y and ridiculous that even her more subdued moments are impossible to take seriously. Jackman’s character severely lacks depth, even when he is rescuing an island full of Indigenous children that have just been bombed, and even when several fairly lovable main characters meet their untimely demise. And yet they’re meant to be the stars of the show – these two performing weaklings (at least in this instance), these cinematic sleeping pills, who seem to be just as confused about this film as its audience.
I can’t even begin to describe how shitty this film’s treatment of Australia’s Indigenous population is. I will end up writing a thesis by accident. Suffice to say, the trope of the ‘magical native’ is rife in this and it’s really gross. The film also assumes that all Indigenous people in this pretty big country have the same language, which is just blatant and dangerous ignorance. It makes me feel so awkward. It is so tokenistic, and that is one of the shittiest things about this film.
Confession: I am Australian, and I may have my citizenship revoked for criticising Hugh Jackman. 2008 was a strange time in our country’s economic history, with a recession looming around the corner. The very next year our Prime Minister at the time handed out $950 to people who earned less than $80,000 per year, in order to stimulate the economy. So basically our PM gave us some money and told us to go shopping with it. Which I didn’t mind, because I got some nice sunglasses out of that deal (and made a tidy profit in re-selling them on eBay a couple of years later). But that’s beside the point. Australia came with a massive tourism campaign, and an entire episode of Oprah, both of which apparently made the country a shit tonne of money. Which I suppose is a good thing. My point is that this film does sort of feel like a long-form tourism advertisement. The visuals are shiny and beautiful, which is at odds with the difficult themes it attempts to address – war, bombing, the systematic persecution of the country’s first peoples. It just doesn’t match up and the mismatch is obvious.
There were two good things about the film, though. The costume design by Academy Award winning creative genius Catherine Martin is absolutely beautiful. Her interpretation of the style of the time is flawless and she makes 30s and 40s clothing look modern and wearable. The cinematography by Mandy Walker is also very nice. It’s a shame that such beautiful cinematography creates that strange thematic disconnect that I discussed above, but regardless, it is very pleasing to the eye. It’s also a shame that Baz Luhrmann’s direction is super pedestrian and predictable, failing to match the effort put in by Mandy Walker.
I can’t even say that Australia is disappointing because I didn’t even have any expectations for it to be good. All I know is that now I’ll have to watch out for security intelligence officers making sure that I don’t harbour treasonous beliefs against national treasures such as Hugh Jackman and Nicole Kidman. Thanks to Eric and Shitfest I’m pretty sure I’m now on a watchlist, so thanks heaps. At least the costume design and cinematography was nice. But ultimately, this was shitty, really shitty. As aforementioned, if you’re ever in the market for a film that makes time go slower than it should, this is for you. Alternatively, if you’re having trouble falling asleep, this doesn’t do too badly either. So at least it does have some form of commendable function.
P.S. Ladies and gents, the crowning achievement of Australian cinema, Hugh Jackman’s torso: