Walkabout – THE CRITERION COLLECTION #10 (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)
May 4, 2010 by Dennis Amith
Visually beautiful, thought-provoking and a definite eye-opener. Nicolas Roeg’s masterpiece “Walkabout” looks absolutely fantastic on Blu-ray! Highly recommended!
© 1970 by Max L. Raab-St. Litvinoff Films (PTY) Ltd. 2010 The Criterion Collection. All Rights Reserved.
TITLE: Walkabout – THE CRITERION COLLECTION #10
FILM RELEASE DATE: 1971
DURATION: 100 Minutes
BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition (1:77:1 Aspect Ratio), Color, Monaural, Subtitles: English SDH
COMPANY: Janus Films/THE CRITERION COLLECTION
RELEASE DATE: May 18, 2010
Directed by Nicolas Roeg
Based on a novel by James Vance Marshall
Written by Edward Bond
Executive Producer: Max L. Raab
Produced by Si Litvinoff
Associate Produced by Anthony J. Hope
Music by John Barry
Cinematography by Nicolas Roeg
Edited by Antony Gibbs, Alan Pattillo
Production Design by Brian Eatwell
Art Direction by Terry Gough
Jenny Agutter as Girl
Luc Roeg (Lucien John) as White Boy
David Gulpilil as Black Boy
John Meillon as Man
Robert McDarra as Man
Peter Carver as No Hoper
Hilary Bamberger as Woman
Barry Donnelly as Australian Scientist
Noeline Brown as German Scientist
Carlmo Manchini as Italian Scientist
A young sister and brother are abandoned in the harsh Australian outback and must learn to cope in the natural world, without their usual comforts, in this hypnotic masterpiece from Nicolas Roeg. Along the way, they meet a young aborigine on his “walkabout,” a rite of passage in which adolescent boys are initiated into manhood by journeying into the wilderness alone. Walkabout is a thrilling adventure as well as a provocative rumination on time and civilization.
In Australia, the term “Walkabout” refers to the rite of passage when a 16-year-old male Aborigine undergoes a journey to live in the wilderness for several months. To go on a spiritual journey and live among and live off nature.
In the 1959, author James Vance Marshall wrote his novel “Walkabout” which went on to receive a film adaptation in 1971 (with a similar concept but different plot) and was directed by Nicolas Roeg and a 14-page screenplay by Edward Bond. While the film didn’t do to well in the Australian box office, the film was hailed a masterpiece. But because of rights issues, the film would not be seen again until 1996 featuring a director’s cut courtesy of the Criterion Collection on LD, again in 1999 on DVD and now on Blu-ray via HD in 2010.
“Walkabout” revolves around a high school girl (played by Jenny Agutter) and her younger brother (played by Luc Roeg). One day, as the two along with their father, a geologist, go to the Australian outback for a picnic, while the little boy is playing with his toys behind some rocks and the girl is setting up the food for the picnic, the father begins shooting at them with a gun.
As the girl and boy try to hide from the father, the father takes a gasoline can and burns their vehicle, commits suicide and shoots himself. Trying to hide the site from her younger brother, the girl grabs a few items such as her radio, tablecloth and cans of fruit and the two leave the area and descend to the middle of nowhere.
Climbing mountains, rocky terrain and desert with lizards, scorpions and dangerous critters all around, the two keep walking in hopes to find shelter and water. Fortunately, the following day, famished and tired, the two are able to find a small lake with a tree with fruit. Happy to finally find some shelter, food and water, the two go to sleep and then the following day, when they wake up, all the water is gone, as well as all the fruit (eaten by the birds).
Feeling dejected and once again, without water and food, the girl tries to be positive and to encourage her young brother, the little boy stays playful and talkative. And one day they see an aborigine teenage boy hunting after food. The two immediately befriend the aboriginal boy but because of their language and cultural differences, they are unable to communicate. But somehow the little boy’s actions are enough for the aborigine boy to understand. Giving them food that he hunts, finding water and even creating fire, he knows how to survive among nature in the outback.
With nowhere to go, both the girl and young boy decide to follow the aborigine boy who is going through his walkabout and we see images of how he hunts and traps animals for food and finding shelter for the three of them. The three grow close and even the young boy starts to learn from the aborigine but through the visual beauty of the outback, we also see scenes away from these three young individuals and learn the differences in culture between those who are not aborigine and those who are.
As once scene shows a research team in the middle of the desert and another featuring a white couple who employs aboriginal children to paint their statues. We also see the juxtaposition of beauty and pureness when the camera focuses on the girl swimming in a lake, while we see the aborigine hunting and killing a kangaroo, lizards and other prey. We also see the comparison between the hunter who kills a bison with shotguns, while the aborigine who is one with nature, kills an animal of nature.
“Walkabout” is presented in 1080p (1:78:1 Aspect Ratio). According to Criterion, the new HD transfer for “Walkabout” was scanned in 2K on a 4K Spirit Datacine from a new 35mm preservation interpositive made from the original camera negative. The color timing was approved by director Nicolas Roeg. Thousands of instances of dirt, debris, scratches, splices, warps, jitter and flicker were manually removed using MTI’s DRS System and Piel Farm’s PFClean System, while Digital Vision’s DVNR system was used for small dirt, grain and noise reduction.
The main comparison is with Criterion’s 1999 DVD release of “Walkabout” which was a wonderful DVD when it was first released but looking at it now, especially comparing the picture quality is like night and day. The original film looked muddy, there was hardly any detail on the sand whereas the Blu-ray, you can see the grains of sand and the detail of the critters in outback and also the detail on the sunburn faces and bodies of the characters.
It’s important to note that this film is nearly 40-years-old and if there is one thing people shouldn’t expect video as if it was shot today but compared to the previous standard DVD release, “Walkabout” looks absolutely awesome.
AUDIO & SUBTITLES:
“Walkabout” is presented in LPCM monaural. According to Criterion, the monaural soundtrack was remastered at 24-bit from the 35mm optical soundtrack print. Clicks, thumps, hiss and hum were manually removed using Pro Tools HD, crackle was attenuated using audiocube’s integrated audio workstation. Audio is clear and understandable. I didn’t notice any audio dropoff or any audio problems during my viewing.
Subtitles are presented in English SDH.
“Walkabout – THE CRITERION COLLECTION #10” comes with the following special features:
- Audio Commentary – Audio commentary from 1996 by Nicolas Roeg and Jenny Agutter. From discussion of Roeg’s vision, working with Lucien John (Nicolas Roeg’s son), filming in the outback, the naked crew, immigration policy, adjusting to Sydney and more.
- Luc Roeg – (20:51) A 2010 interview in London with Luc Roeg (son of director Nicolas Roeg) who played the young boy in “Walkabout”. Luc talks about working on the film with his family and working with Jenny Agutter and David Gulpilil.
- Jenny Agutter – (20:00) A 2008 interview for Potemkine Films in France. Jenny talks about working with Nicolas Roeg and actor David Gulpilil.
- Gulpilil – One Red Blood – (56:10) A 2002 documentary by Darlene Johnson about the life of David Gulpilil and his life as an actor, working on films in the past & present and living in the aboriginal community.
- U.S. Trailer – (4:12) The original theatrical trailer.
- 28-Page Booklet – Included is a 28-page booklet featuring the essay “Landcapes of Memory” by Paul Ryan.
“Walkabout” is a wonderful film and is indeed a masterpiece for director Nicolas Roeg. Visually beautiful, thought provoking and definitely an eye-opener, one can’t help but sit and think about the film afterward. That even though the film deals with cultural barriers and difficulty in communication, this is not just limited to white individuals and an aborigine, it also goes further and how even how cultures are misinterpreted today, difference of cultures have led to problems due to lack of communication and also making it seem as if one culture is better than the other.
Despite the film having a teenage girl and an adorable and talkative young boy, this is no “Swiss Family Robinson”, this is no “LOST” nor is it a family film with a happy and jovial ending. In fact, film critic Roger Ebert, who lists “Walkabout” as one of his “Great Movies” said about the film “The film is deeply pessimistic. It suggests that we all develop specific skills and talents in response to our environment, but cannot easily function across a broader range.”
I agree with Ebert’s assessment of this film. This is not a happy film because I’m sure there is prejudice in Australians towards aborigine, as there is prejudice in South Africa and of course, racism and cultural divide in America, despite the reference of being a boiling pot of cultures. Roeg knew this in 1971 and as much as humanity has grown to appreciate cultures especially with the ability to become closer through technology, there is still a problem of cultural divide between cultures that have and cultures that are different.
It’s not as if Roeg is wanting to polemicize the treatment of aborigine but mostly displaying the revelatory ways of how one from the city would react to another that isn’t. But while the girl is unable to communicate, for some reason, the young boy is able to communicate with the aborigine. Why is that? Throughout the film, despite the girl not being able to communicate, she suggests to her young brother, “he’s never had toys before, let him play with them?” or in one scene asking her brother about sharing clothing with the aborigine. Granted, she is a teenager who has lived a privileged life, which we get a glimpse of at the beginning of the film.
But you can’t help but think of how is it that the boy is able to understand him? Even through the use of their hands, they communicate. The sister then depends on this 6-year-old to communicate with the aborigine, yet she is 16-year-old who can’t communicate at all. And again, why is that? Because she sees no need to? She doesn’t want to? And unfortunately, this lack of communication is what leads to tragedy.
For the viewer, there are many scenes in “Walkabout” that you probably will never ever see again in a film. For one, what makes “Walkabout” so effective is that actor David Gulpilil (who plays the aborigine teen) gave the filmmakers and the viewers access to the life of an aborigine. A look at his life in which he brought a high level of believability to his character. Very few aborigine have had the opportunity, as such given to David in which he can live as an aborigine but also live a life, wearing a suit and being part of modern society and become a major character in a major picture.
But Roeg does a wonderful job showing us the difference between the cultures. In one scene, we see the teenage girl fully nude but the aborigine doesn’t react sexually. Should she be afraid of him? While in another scene, we see a research team and everyone looking at the female researcher with naughty eyes, as they stare at her legs or try to take a peak at the opening of her shirt. The scene may look out of place in the film but it is another juxtaposition of how sexuality is seen differently through cultures.
But I find it interesting how Roeg brings these characters out and make them shine on film. As mentioned, David Gulpilil is an amazing star that emerges from this film. Nicolas Roeg has easily benefited from having David to portray the role and showing us the aborigine way that is unlike what most people are used to seeing. As the film gives us cuts of the teenage girl swimming, Roeg counters with the aborigine hunting its prey. But this is part of the enjoyment of the culture of each individual.
Where violence against animals would be criticized to no end in today’s cinema, Roeg shows it all. From the aborigine hunting a kangaroo, spearing it and eventually breaking its neck and cutting its arms off for food or finding a bird or some animal and killing it. We see how white hunters who hunt differently, not for the land and appreciation of the animals but because they can shoot the animals without passion. They kill, slitting the animal’s neck and letting the blood gush out of the animal. While the aborigine does no such thing. He respects his kill and kills it with respect as both are bound to the land but one kills for survival.
As barbaric as it may sound, these shots are necessary in showing us the differences between the cultures. This is the aborigine way of survival, they live in the land, they live off the land. That’s how it is. But I can’t imagine such a film even being filmed in today’s world, as I can imagine animal rights workers causing havoc on the filmmaker in any way possible.
Of course, one main concern and was trimmed from the original release is the full frontal nudity featuring Jenny Agutter swimming scenes. She’s 16-years-old but within the context of the movie, those scenes are integral to how the girl and the brother become part of the land. They eat what is hunted, they trek through the land and for awhile, with no civilization in sight, this is their life for the time-being. And once again, this is one thing that you will not see filmed in today’s world, especially with a young actress.
As for the Blu-ray release, as mentioned in describing the video between the standard DVD and the Blu-ray release, it’s like night and day as the original release seemed a bit muddy, blurry and not at all clear. So, when you watch this film and are able to see the detail of the rocks, the plants, the closeups of the sand and can see the grain instead of just a large brown image that tries to resemble sand, the Criterion Collection brings us a magnificent Blu-ray release that not only looks fantastic, I am convinced that this is the way we should be watching “Walkabout”.
The new special features feature the same 1996 audio commentary from the original DVD release but unlike the original release, now comes with interviews with Luc Roeg (2010), an interview with Jenny Agutter (2008) and a wonderful hour-long documentary on Dave Gulpilil and a much different essay with Paul Ryan this time around. And once again, “Walkabout” is one of those films that benefit from High Definition, if you thought the film looked good back in 1971, or on video in 1996 or 1999, you haven’t seen the 2010 remastered version on Blu-ray. The film looks magnificent compared to its video counterparts on LD and DVD.
Overall, Nicolas Roeg has managed to make the viewers feel as if civilization has been cutoff from the teenage girl and young boy. Beautiful cinematography and direction from Nicolas Roeg, especially through thought provoking intercuts in conjunction with a wonderful performance by David Gulpilil who truly shines and also credit to Jenny Agutter and young Luc Roeg. I have no doubt that by film’s end, it will surely be an eye opening experience for all who have watched it.
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