Directed by Nicolas Roeg
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 anamorphic
Running Time: 100 minutes
Audio: Dolby Digital 1.0 English
MSRP: $ 39.95
Release Date: May 18, 2010
Review Date: April 27, 2010
Nicolas Roeg’s Walkabout is part odyssey film, part tone poem, and part indictment of nature’s stubbornly and reluctantly giving way to the encroachment of civilization. It’s hypnotic in its mood and pacing, and with a haunting central story plus breathtaking views of the Australian outback with its multitude of wild and wonderful creatures, Walkabout remains one of the most unusual movies you’re ever likely to see.
A British brother (Lucien John) and sister (Jenny Agutter) find themselves lost in the outback of Australia when their father (John Meillon) drives them out there with the intention of killing himself and possibly them. They’re hopelessly lost but manage to stumble onto an oasis which keeps them temporarily alive. Things look bleak for them, however, until the arrival of an aboriginal youth (David Gulpilil) who’s on his ceremonial walkabout, a tribal ritual that sixteen year olds must undergo, living off the land with only some crude weapons and his will to survive. The teenaged boy and his two charges (ages fourteen and six) form a kind of eccentric family unit as they trudge across the merciless desert on the way toward civilization.
It’s a slight story to be sure (adapted from James Vance Marshall’s novel) with many questions about plot events left unanswered, but the narrative often isn’t as evocative as the sights and sounds of the desert. Roeg, who also did his own cinematography, shoots astonishing close-ups of the creatures of the outback, and they also often inhabit the frame with the protagonists so that the film truly does breathe the soul and atmosphere of the place. The two youngsters actually have no idea how close they are to civilization during the course of their travels. Roeg takes us into a group of weather scientists and another group of cheap knockoff novelties merchants, all within shouting distance of the wanderers if only they had looked in another direction. The director’s love of the area is palpable, enough so that he indulges in some unnecessary sequences that really slow down the film such as Jenny Agutter’s nude swim in a beautifully cool, clear pool and an extended sequence of hunters massacring various herds of animals for sport and thoughtlessly leaving the carcasses for prey. The latter sequence certainly aids in the director’s indictment of the encroachment of inhumane civilization on this almost Garden of Eden, and it is also one of the situations that leads one of the protagonists into a rather desperate act late in the movie. But Roeg can get a bit heavy-handed with this kind of cinematic finger-wagging in a movie that otherwise has such a fleetness and ease of flow.
Jenny Agutter was sixteen when she undertook this very exhausting part, coping with the unforgiving desert and a very active and demonstrative six year old playing her brother. She is magnificent gaining in strength as the picture progresses and actually becoming an adult before our eyes. In her last scene, as a married woman, it’s hard to believe it’s the same actress we have seen earlier as a teen. It’s marvelous work. Lucien John was actually director Nicholas Roeg’s son basically playing himself as he talks and cavorts through the Australian wilderness. David Gulpilil began a long career in films with this first role as the aborigine tribesman who speaks no English but manages to communicate with the pair (especially the boy) though body and sign language. John Meillon plays the troubled father tersely but well.
The film has been framed at 1.78:1 and is anamorphically enhanced for widescreen televisions. This new video transfer replaces the older Criterion release, one of their earliest DVDs (#10 in their series). The image is clean throughout, a monument to the efforts of the studio which become obvious when one looks at clips used in various interviews and the trailer which have not been cleaned. However, the image is, as it has always been, a mixture of sharpness and softness, of vibrant color and smeared, dated-looking hues. The new transfer does not artificially sharpen long shots that seem hazy and soft, but at least there is no edge enhancement to mar the image. The film has been divided into 17 chapters.
The Dolby Digital 1.0 audio track features the very eccentric soundtrack with John Barry music along with some tribal motifs and other cacophony which sometimes sounds a bit shrill and distorted. There is some slight hiss and some hum which can be heard in the quieter moments of the film, but the soundtrack still manages to entice with its unique blend of the beautiful and the bizarre.
The audio commentary is by director Nicolas Roeg and star Jenny Agutter. Each has been recorded separately with their comments combined to form this narration. It’s very effective. Each has anecdotes to relate about their experiences on the movie, and it’s all very much worth hearing.
The remainder of the bonus features are contained on the second disc in the two-disc set.
An interview with the grown up Luc Roeg finds the present day filmmaker remembering with fondness his months long experience making this movie with his father at the helm. The 2010 interview is presented in anamorphic widescreen and runs for 20 ¾ minutes.
Jenny Agutter speaks for 20 minutes in a 2008 interview in which she discusses her memories of making the movie, her embarrassment with the nudity, and how thankful she was for the film to have been postponed two years so that she was more grown up when she undertook the part. It’s presented in 4:3.
“Gulpilil – One Red Blood” is a 2002 documentary on co-star David Gulpilil. It focuses both on his long film career (with clips from several quite famous movies including Crocodile Dundee) and his personal life and experiences as an aborigine who has often left the ways of the bush to travel in high society in the world’s film capitals. This 56-minute feature is presented in anamorphic widescreen.
The film’s theatrical trailer runs for 4 ¼ minutes in anamorphic widescreen.
The enclosed 27-page booklet contains a complete cast and crew list, a large sampling of color film stills, and an interesting essay on the film’s making and impact by writer/actor Paul Ryan.
4/5 (not an average)
A unique and timeless film combining adventure, atmosphere, and oblique social commentary, Nicolas Roeg’s Walkabout remains an unusual cinematic experience. Criterion has provided a fine looking video presentation with some entertaining bonus features making this a definite recommended title.