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HTF REVIEW: "Rabbit-Proof Fence" (with screenshots)


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#1 of 20 Ronald Epstein

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Posted April 09 2003 - 10:03 AM

Posted Image

Rabbit-Proof Fence






Studio: Miramax
Year: 2002
Rated: PG
Film Length: 94 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 16X9 Enhanced Widescreen (2.35:1)
Subtitles: English



1500 Miles Is A Long Way Home


Because I receive dozens of screener titles each
week, I often have to make difficult choices on
which films I wish to review as opposed to those
I just don't have time for. In all cases, I try
to select different types of titles that cover a
wide range of interests. With the HTF membership
always in mind, I try to offer reviews on a diverse
variety of titles. This brings me to Rabbit-Proof
Fence
, a film that I had never heard of before,
but was immediately attracted to based on its
factual historical significance.

Rabbit-Proof Fence tells the true story of
a shameful episode of Australian history and
decades of prejudicial treatment endured by the
aboriginal peoples. Until 1970 it was official
government policy to remove fair-skinned ‘half-caste’
children from aboriginal homes and transplant them
to white families, with the intention of ‘breeding out’
aboriginal characteristics and thus preventing
the creation of “an unwanted third race.” It
was hoped that by the third generation the blackness
would be bred out of their descendents and Australia
would be a more purely white society.

Posted ImagePosted Image

The film begins in the early 1930s where we meet
Molly, Daisy and Gracie, three young Aboriginal
girls living with their family at Jigalong, on
the edge of the Little Sandy Desert, on a reserve
in Northern Australia. Unbeknownst to them, a
special committee has been set up to contain this
mixing, headed by A. O. Neville, Chief Protector
of Aborigines (Kenneth Branagh). Neville decrees
that all half-cast children be placed on a special
reserve where they can be civilized and assimilated
into white culture.

Posted ImagePosted Image

Before we know it, the three girls are seized from
their families and taken - in a cage - to a school
in the south, where they are to learn to be white
and speak only English. Molly, the oldest of the
girls, decides to escape, dragging the younger girls
with her. The girls' only hope of finding their way
home is to follow a mesh rabbit-proof fence that
crisscrossed the country and divided it from north
to south. They better be careful however, as hot
on their trails is Moodoo (David Gulpilil), a tracker
who tends to easily find and recapture escapees from
the school.

Posted ImagePosted Image

Though I found the factual story of Rabbit-Proof
Fence
to be a very powerful one, I was disappointed
that the film lacks memorable soul-wrenching content.
There's very little here that draws us emotionally
into the plights of these three girls. Rather than
being pulled into the story, I felt as if I was
watching it from a distance. Still, one can't help
but to be inspired by the courage of these three
girls who seek nothing more than their own freedom.


How is the transfer?


Miramax has given us a generally pleasing transfer
with video that looks clean, although somewhat soft.
I must point out that the director chose to make
some stylish choices that affect image quality. The
scenes that take place in Jigalong are enhanced
with a good amount of background grain. Once we
leave that location, the transfer takes on a much
cleaner and smoother look with clear, bright and
accurate color rendering. Some of the beautiful
Australian outback scenes often suffer from
excessive bright contrast, but I expect, again,
this was the intent of the filmmaker.

The 5.1 Dolby Digital mix sports great low
frequency, a wide front stage and rumbling .LFE
and rear support that adds texture to Peter Gabriel's
evocative score that uses Aboriginal and contemporary
sources as a highly rhythmic backup to the film's
mostly silent action. The rears do a nice job of
reproducing the ambient sounds of the Australian
outback. Very nice listen!


Special Features

Posted ImagePosted Image

First up is a feature-length commentary with
Director Phillip Noyce and featuring musician Peter
Gabriel actor Kenneth Branagh, screenwriter Christine
Olsen and Author Pilkington Garimara. The commentary
begins with the deep James Earl Jones-like voice of
director Phillip Noyce who tells us about the night
he was awoken from his sleep at 3am by a phone call
from a strange-sounding woman who was pitching him
the idea of making a film based upon her screenplay.
That woman was screenwriter Christine Olsen, and she
begins to tell us how she happened to come upon
the book, Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence by
Author Doris Pilkington. The book told the story
of her mother's return to her homelands from the
Moore River Native Settlement using hundreds of
kilometers of rabbit-proof fence as a guide. The
author had the opportunity to go to Jigalong and
talk not only with the children who resided there,
but Molly and Daisy themselves. Director Phillip
Noyce wastes a lot of time venting about his
frustrations over begging Harrison Ford to star in
The sum of all fears. I suppose the reason
the director is doing this is to make a bold
statement about the tyranny of the Hollywood star
system and why a film like this became so attractive
to him. Author Doris Pilkington tells a very
detailed story of her Mother's plights including
the separation from her baby daughter. About 40
minutes into the commentary, Peter Gabriel begins
talking about constructing the film's soundtrack
using naturally recorded sounds. This is a great
listen as Gabriel gives us some specific recorded
examples, including the sounds of a magpie that was
recorded and then slowed down with added reverb.
Alas, unless I am mistaken, Gabriel only talks for
approximately 4 minutes in this entire commentary.
Although rather dryly presented, this commentary
offers a lot of background information on a very
dark period in Australian history.

Posted Image

Following the Rabbit-Proof Fence takes us
to the western Australian outback where we meet
director Phllip Noyce who is searching for three
Aboriginal children to star in his film, Rabbit-
Proof Fence
. We watch the director as he
interviews a few of the hundred children that have
shown up to audition for the roles. Through raw
video footage, we watch as the kids are put
through acting and improvisational classes that
will ultimately prepare them for the film. We also
get a very in-depth idea of the casting process
and how the choices are narrowed down, and the
final selection of girls are chosen. Finally, we
watch as the young actresses have their makeup
applied and hair done before they venture to the
outdoor sets where we see them perform in front of
the camera. This is a totally engaging and highly
interesting documentary that is well worth watching.
(length: approx. 42 minutes)

Although the film's original theatrical trailer is
notably absent here, there are Sneak Peeks
for the films Frida, Quiet American and
(Kieslowski's) Heaven


Final Thoughts

Posted Image

Although Rabbit-Proof Fence is a sad and
terribly touching story, the film never becomes
the powerful emotional experience it should have
been. Nonetheless, the film is certainly worth
a watch -- especially for the fact that it brings
Aboriginal issues back into the open.

If you see it on the rental shelf, give it a try!


Release Date: April 15, 2003


All screen captures have been further compressed.
They are for illustrative purposes only and do not
represent actual picture quality

Ronald J Epstein
Home Theater Forum co-owner

 

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#2 of 20 Yumbo

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Posted April 09 2003 - 11:09 AM

darned DHL delivery is late.

score CD is quite good (sounding).

#3 of 20 David Lawson

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Posted April 09 2003 - 11:17 AM

I can't recommend this film enough, and couldn't wait for the R1 release, so I imported the two-disc R4 edition from Australia (which includes the theatrical and television trailers, as well as cast and crew interviews and biographies) months ago. Enjoy!
He obviously misinterpreted what it means to "be bullish."

#4 of 20 oscar_merkx

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Posted April 09 2003 - 12:02 PM

I have to disagree with Ron on this one as I felt being pulled into the movie from the start and Peter Gabriel's music is spot on. I thought it was an emotional issue, and once the movie was over, felt numb. I thought Branagh's character was very well done in portraying him as a sadistic person who did not care at all. At the same time this was my first exposure to what happened to half caste children. Not a pretty sight indeed.

If anybody can help me gain more knowledge about this period in time, let me know as I am absolutely interested in learning more

Regards

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#5 of 20 Jason Seaver

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Posted April 09 2003 - 12:51 PM

Quote:
I thought Branagh's character was very well done in portraying him as a sadistic person who did not care at all.
Huh; you're the only person I've heard describe him like that. Most of the folks I've talked to agreed with me that what made Neville scary was that he honestly believes he is doing the right thing.
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#6 of 20 Vince Maskeeper

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Posted April 09 2003 - 04:08 PM

I saw this film in theaters with zero knowledge going in, and loved it. Can't wait to buy the dvd to turn my friends onto this great piece.

-Vince
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#7 of 20 LaMarcus

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Posted April 09 2003 - 10:55 PM

I never heard of this movie before, nor this being done in history. When I saw the title of the film in Ron's reviews, and it being in the Disney section; I thought it had something to do with Roger Rabbit, LOL.

What a big surprise! I will check this movie out for sure!!

#8 of 20 Lew Crippen

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Posted April 10 2003 - 03:34 AM

I have to disagree with you on this on Ron. I found the film emotionally very powerful. Perhaps some of that (for me) may be due to having lived in Australia, something that might make the subject matter somewhat more immediate.

So you know, children like these are commonly referred to as, the stolen generation. This concept is even today quite controversial, as the current government has denied that there was in fact a ‘stolen generation’. But this seems to be definitional, as to how comprehensive the program was, rather than a denial that it occurred.

I recommend this film highly.
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#9 of 20 Richard Gilmore

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Posted April 10 2003 - 05:17 AM

This played locally at an art/foreign film theatre and received good reviews. I didn't get a chance to see it, but plan on getting the DVD. Incidentally this was one of the last films to play at the theatre until it closed down. It was recently bought and now it plays second tier new releases. Sad that the art/foreign movies couldn't succeed there, which makes DVD's that much more valuable to me.

#10 of 20 Ed St. Clair

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Posted April 10 2003 - 05:32 AM

Great, as always, too see Film Reviews, on this site.
No, this title will not make your HT rock.
However, it should bring up a thought provoking moment, or two.
Hey, my mind & body, is all for "Movies", just that "Films", is were the soul is.
Movies are: "The Greatest Artform".
HD should be for EVERYONE!

#11 of 20 Richard RogersBerry

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Posted April 10 2003 - 08:17 AM

Count me as another that disagrees with Ron on this one!

I was surprized to see that it did not have the (all too frequently used) *Highly Recommended* tag. The beauty of the environment is so well captured and in contrast to the brutality of the policy - it is literally gutwrenching.

With all due respect, you must have been having a bad day. This is bound to turn up on many top 10 lists! I hope this review will not influence anyone to let this profound film pass.
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#12 of 20 Ronald Epstein

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Posted April 10 2003 - 08:48 AM

Quote:
With all due respect, you must have been having a bad day.

No, Richard, actually I was having a very good day.

I am sorry that so many of you that have actually
seen this film disagree with my opinion of it, but
let me make a couple things a little clearer....

First, I think the subject matter of this film is
extremely sad and powerful. I am sure that no-one
can argue that point.

Do I feel that director Phillip Noyce was able
to properly convey what should have been a powerful
portrayal of these girl's plights? Not really.

The film basically portrays these girls walking
a straight line beside a fence with very few
obstacles along the way. The movie almost makes
everything seem too easy, and I am sure it was not.

There also very little presented here that gives us
background on the reasons that such laws were put forth
that allowed this tragedy to occur or the reasons
and attitudes that lead to the decision to repeal
those laws. In fact, what did people across the
country think of what was happening with these girls?

While I am not denying this was a very good film,
it seems to be missing elements that could have
really made it a powerful epic.

Bottom line is, I did enjoy the film and recommend
it as a rental. Highly Recommended? For the subject
matter yes --- for the execution of it, I am afraid
not.

Ronald J Epstein
Home Theater Forum co-owner

 

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#13 of 20 Holadem

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Posted April 10 2003 - 09:34 AM

Quote:
Do I feel that director Phillip Noyce was able
to properly convey what should have been a powerful
portrayal of these girl's plights? Not really.

This highlights one of the benefits of watching movies in the theater: emotions are stronger when felt as a group. The distance you felt didn't exist for me at all, as we were all one entity rooting for these girls to make it.

The music during the ending credits was incredible.

The other Noyce film of last year, the Quiet American is even better.

--
Holadem

#14 of 20 LaMarcus

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Posted April 10 2003 - 04:38 PM

I agree with Holadem about the benefits of watching movies in the theater. More times than not I will judge a movie different than I would had I seen it in the theater first. It's just something about those damn buildings.Posted Image

The opposite happened for LOTR:TT I didn't enjoy it in the theater because the crowd was so dry, I wanted to cheer and shout, but it was the wrong crowd. I'm hoping to develop more feeling towards it at home.

Seeing movies at the theater can be a blessing or a curse.

#15 of 20 Lew Crippen

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Posted April 11 2003 - 03:04 AM

Quote:
There also very little presented here that gives us
background on the reasons that such laws were put forth
that allowed this tragedy to occur or the reasons
and attitudes that lead to the decision to repeal
those laws. In fact, what did people across the
country think of what was happening with these girls?

Not at all an attempt to change your opinion Ron, but a bit of an explanation.

Since this is a film made by Australians (Noyce/Doyle et. al.) based on a book by an Australian, produced by Australian production companies, funded by Australians and, at the end of the day (as the Aussies would say) made for Australians, the requirements to make explanations of Australian society and laws (of the day) is not really relevant nor necessary. Indeed, for Australians, such explanations (even in a backstory) would get in the way of proper editing and would seem to Australians to be either boring or patronizing. Or worse, both.

Think of some American film such as To Kill a Mockingbird or Do the Right Thing. Neither has much exposition as to laws or societal issues. Spike Lee and Robert Mulligan assume that their audiences have sufficient background to understand the context of the film.

While I accept that you may have some valid criticism of the portrayal of the difficulties of the journey, even this would be more understood in context by the intended audience.

I think that it might be a fair comment that some of the film is a bit too simplistic and it really needs to be more complex in order to be a film of the highest rank. But I do think that you miss the point on how Americans (or non-Australians) should view this film.

BTW, the very fine portrayal of the tracker, is the same actor who played the young aboriginal in Walkabout.
¡Time is not my master!

#16 of 20 Yumbo

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Posted April 11 2003 - 11:58 AM

ok,

sound is good.
picture uses varying stock it seems.

watched the making of first, which had me mesmerised, and then bawling during the shooting of the abduction.

I lived in Adelaide (where production was based) for 5 years, and can very much relate.

Along with the White Australia policy, it is a very shameful part of Australian history; not to say that Australia is now a pretty fantastic country. Still, it has the issues of 'apology' etc.

To comment further would entail the injustices of colonial rule in general.

reminds me of the movie BlackFella - anyone seen that?

still watching.

I applaud Philip Noyce for going back home.

grin - the train used in the opening is actually a tourist train in Adelaide that goes down to the coast. And the bald guy in charge of the home, is a famous comedian.

the gums, the acacias...

#17 of 20 James T

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Posted April 11 2003 - 05:04 PM

Quote:
darned DHL delivery is late


maybe not. I got an e-mail at work saying that the movie got delayed until April 22.

#18 of 20 Yumbo

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Posted April 11 2003 - 05:44 PM

grin,

we normally get a Tuesday morning (3 day) delivery, but no flight from LA this week.

we got it yesterday arvo (Friday) along with Drumline and The Transporter.

rest of movie - I'd agree with Ron somewhat (but the same can be said or worse of many other movies). The epilogue was emotional.

realised (figures) that most of it was shot in the Flinders Ranges - nice place to visit.

#19 of 20 Lew Crippen

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Posted April 14 2003 - 03:00 AM

Quote:
realised (figures) that most of it was shot in the Flinders Ranges - nice place to visit.
I lived in Adelaide (Glenelg) a couple of years or so myself. I’ve gone bushwalking in the Flinders many times and agree that it is indeed a nice place to visit. It is a long, long way from WA, but I don’t really think that takes anything away at all.
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#20 of 20 streeter

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Posted April 16 2003 - 05:32 AM

My stupid local Blockbuster doesn't even carry this title. Morons.

I'll have to make a longer drive or put it in my online queue. Definitely look forward to seeing this.
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