DVD Review HTF Review: Ned Kelly (2003)

Discussion in 'DVD' started by Jason Perez, Jul 19, 2004.

  1. Jason Perez

    Jason Perez Second Unit

    Jul 6, 2003
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    Ned Kelly (2003)

    Studio: Universal
    Year: 2003
    Rated: R
    Film Length: 110 Minutes
    Aspect Ratio: Anamorphic Widescreen (2.35:1)
    Captions: English
    Subtitles: French and Spanish
    Audio: English - Dolby Digital 5.1and DTS 5.1; Spanish – Dolby Digital 5.1

    Release Date:
    July 27th, 2004

    Since I reviewed the oh-so-dull 1970 version of Ned Kelly, which starred rocker Mick Jagger, I figured I would give this remake a go as well, to see if it was any better. Surprisingly, this latest telling of the infamous Aussie outlaw’s story is not much improved, despite the presence of rising stars Heath Ledger and Orlando Bloom and powerhouse actors like Geoffrey Rush and Naomi Watts. Moreover, the filmmakers had the previous version, which serves as an example of what not to do, but the languid pacing ultimately make this an average (at best) Western-themed bio-pic!

    As the film opens, viewers are introduced to Ned Kelly, the tough son of poor Irish immigrants to Australia, who is extremely protective of his widowed mother and his siblings. Shortly, we see the beginnings of Ned’s legendary run-ins with he law, when he is falsely accused of stealing horses as a teenager. After being convicted, and serving a three-year sentence behind bars, Ned is released, and upon returning to his family he gets a job as a farmhand to help him stay out of trouble.

    Try as he might though, there will be no return to normalcy for Ned, as a lying policeman victimizes his family by claiming that Ned and his mother tried to murder him. Unfortunately, this baseless accusation lands Mrs. Kelly in the slammer, and sends Ned off on a quest for revenge! During this time, it appears to have been fairly commonplace for the Protestant majority to oppress to Australians that emigrated from Ireland, and as you can plainly see, the Kelly clan received more than their fair share of mistreatment. After his mother’s arrest, however, Ned can take the persecution no more, and his gang, consisting of sibling Dan Kelly (Laurance Kinlan), Joe Byrne (Orlando Bloom), and Steve Hart (Phil Barantini), finally rises up against the authorities, robbing banks, murdering three police officers, and generally causing havoc.

    The British, angry at the murder of three policemen, and worried that popular support for the outlaws will grow, call in a special operations team to squash Ned’s gang, supervised by Francis Hare (Geoffrey Rush). And as the story forges ahead, and the factions inch towards battle, Ned Kelly engages in a passionate affair with a married woman named Julia Cook (Naomi Watts) before the final showdown on the railroad tracks, which brought the legendary escapades of one of the Land of Oz’s most notorious criminals to a halt.

    Since Ned Kelly is the story of a notorious outlaw, one could expect it to have some fairly exciting action sequences. Unfortunately, as was the case with the first Ned Kelly film, the action sequences are not bad, but the build-up and exposition not only takes far too long, and also lacks much in the way of depth. Indeed, the bulk of the emotional weight (what little there is) in this film is to be found in a few short scenes that transpire in-between gunfights in the last reel of the film. For the large amount of screen time that remains, it simply feels like the actors were going through the motions.

    Getting into greater detail about the performances in the film, I must say that Heath Ledger does a better than expected, if still unspectacular, job as Ned Kelly. Specifically, he is tasked with recreating a very complex and passionate personality, and does deliver a wide range of emotional states in a believable enough manner. Orlando Bloom is also solid in the role as Joe Byrne, although his character is not given that much to do. It almost makes me wonder if he was cast simply to draw in even more female viewers than Heath Ledger would have alone. Not surprisingly, Naomi Watts, who was phenomenal in 21 Grams, and whose star keeps rising, turns in what is probably the most dynamic and engaging performance in the film as the woman that enters into a forbidden tryst with the doomed Ned Kelly.

    Disappointingly, Geoffrey Rush, arguably the most accomplished actor in this cast, is badly underused. This is a shame, since his commanding presence gives the movie a big lift whenever he is onscreen. The rest of the supporting players do a fair job of telling this story, but like the Joe Byrne character, they are generally pretty thinly drawn, so it is hard to develop any sort of attachment to them.

    Perhaps the biggest problem with Ned Kelly is the direction, or lack thereof, of Gregor Jordan, who used narration far too much to outline Kelly’s exploits, and how he became a folk hero despite being a murderous criminal. The slow pace with which he tells this story also made it difficult to stay in tune with the feature.

    In addition, it seems Jordan was unable to get the very best from his actors, in that most everyone in this film seemed to be going through the motions. The performances are generally good, but they failed to reach me on an emotional level, and I think that they should have. Really, this is a shame, because the film is technically impressive - beautifully shot by cinematographer Oliver Stapleton, with an equally wonderful score by composer Klaus Badelt.

    In all honesty, even when the events in Ned Kelly finally come to a head during the infamous railroad crossing battle, I had been taken out of this move for so long that this visually appealing bio-pic could not draw me back in. Thus, in the final analysis, despite its obvious production values and star-studded cast, Ned Kelly has to be considered quite a disappointment. Oh well…maybe they will get it right the third time around!

    Gregor Jordan’s interpretation of the Ned Kelly tale is nicely transferred onto DVD, and framed in its original aspect ratio (2.35:1). To begin with, colors are nicely saturated, with the earthy, muted color palette bringing both the bleak Outback and the wooded areas creating a convincing visual environment. Black levels are also very solid, as the many nighttime scenes exhibit plenty of detail and the image has an above average sense of depth.

    Fine detail is also very good, often extending into the background of the shot, and the print looks pretty good, with only and odd speck or two popping up here or there. On the other hand, a bit of film grain is evident throughout, in particular during the beginning of the film. Edge enhancement is also visible in a few scenes, although it should not prove to be anything more than a minor distraction for most viewers.

    In the final analysis, there are a few very minor imperfections in the image, but all things considered, this is an appealing visual presentation of a beautifully photographed motion picture!

    Ned Kelly is offered by Universal in both Dolby Digital and DTS, and for the purposes of this review, I (as usual) chose the DTS track, although I did compare the two – more on that later. Basically, the majority of the audio information emanates from the front of the soundstage, as the film is heavy on dialogue. And speaking of dialogue, it is never a chore to figure out what is being said, as speech is crisp and clear, with no audible distractions, and is well balanced against the effects in the action scenes.

    As I mentioned, the surrounds are used fairly infrequently, but they do add some ambience to a few scenes, and also heighten the tension during the action sequences (at least to a degree) via location-specific effects. Similarly, the LFE channel is used sparingly, to help viewers “feel” the gallop of horses, and such, but it does give the subwoofer a few jolts during Ned Kelly’s action sequences.

    For fun, I compared the two audio tracks, and found a bit more of a difference between the Dolby Digital and DTS variations than I was anticipating. The most evident difference is in the weaker bass response from the Dolby Digital track, which makes the film’s gunfire sound much flatter in comparison to the DTS track. The Dolby Digital track also seemed (to my ears) to have slightly less depth and richness overall. Don’t get me wrong; the Dolby Digital track is still fine, if you lack the capability (or desire) to playback the DTS option, but I think it is slightly less engaging and powerful.

    To sum things up, both audio options offer respectable, if uninspired, reproductions of the soundtrack, but if you have the ability (this being the HTF I assume the majority of you will), I recommend going with the DTS track for a more lively aural experience!


    Ned Kelly In Popular Culture
    In this somewhat brief (13 minutes) featurette, director Gregor Jordan, Heath Ledger, and Ian Jones, the author of “Ned Kelly: A Short Life”, discuss how Ned Kelly became a cultural icon. Specifically, they talk about the different ways Ned’s story has been documented - poems, books, operas, and even ballets have been written about Kelly’s exploits. Apparently, the screenplay for this latest version of Ned Kelly was based upon one such work, namely the book “Our Sunshine” by Robert Drewe. And of course, the participants also cover the popularity of film versions of the story, which date back to 1906!

    Most interesting to me was the fact that imagery based on the Kelly legacy was part of the opening to the 2000 Olympic games in Sydney, Australia. Overall, I thought this was an interesting and well-done featurette, but at only 13 minutes, I think it is not long enough to give those unfamiliar with the Kelly story a real sense of why the man was so revered. It does tell us that he is popular, but the piece does not provide the background that those of us who do are not familiar with Australian history might need to fully appreciate Ned Kelly’s role in that country’s history.

    The Real Kelly Gang
    This extra features photographs of the actual Kelly Gang, one each for: Ned Kelly, Dan Kelly, Steve Hart, and Joe Byrne.

    Artist to Feature Comparison
    This bonus feature consists of six concept sketches compared against still photographs from the film. Among them are drawings for the Kelly hut, a costume design for Naomi Watts, and a costume sketch for the Kelly Gang.

    Poster Campaign
    There are four one-sheets for the film included, featuring headshots of Heath Ledger, Orlando Bloom, Naomi Watts, and Geoffrey Rush.

    Theatrical Trailer and Promotional Material
    The theatrical and teaser trailers for Ned Kelly are included.


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    Despite having a good story to work with, and a blueprint for how not to tell the story of Australian outlaw/folk hero Ned Kelly, Gregor Jordan still managed to foul this remake up anyway! Most disappointing to me were how un-involving this film is, which is largely a function of the snail’s pace at which the story is told – really, this film drags so much that you almost won’t care what happens by the end.

    In terms of its technical merits (not the extras), however, this disc is a winner! Oliver Stapleton’s beautiful cinematography looks very good, and the soundtrack is reproduced very nicely as well. The supplemental materials are disappointing though, as there are only a handful of photographs and sketches to accompany the interesting, but far too brief featurette on Ned Kelly’s impact on Australian culture.

    All things considered, I cannot give this version of Ned Kelly an outright recommendation, because the film just doesn’t warrant it, and the extras are very light. This is a shame because I think it is a missed opportunity to give people in other parts of the world who are unfamiliar with Ned’s story a little background for how and why the events in the film occurred.

    Stay tuned…
  2. ChrisBEA

    ChrisBEA Screenwriter

    Jul 19, 2003
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    Thought this was supposed to be Hellboy? [​IMG]
    Got another Ned Kelly instead....

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