2008's 'Australia' is a big beast to unpack. It's a movie that became more than what it presented; it was the film that was branded with our country's name and had a huge weight on its soldiers. I think its biggest fault was the massive tourism campaign with the taglines "See the movie, see the country" and "Let's go walkabout" that left a bad taste in audiences' mouths around the globe, turning Baz Luhrmann's sweeping epic into an entirely different beast. The film did underperform at the box office, while it grossed over US$210 million globally, it drastically underperformed in the United States, opening at number 5 at the box office. The focus at the time of release was to have a worldwide appeal, and it simply never reached that. Now 15 years later, Luhrmann is revisiting 'Australia' and turning into a "Luhrmann film told in six chapters" from the over 2 million feet of film shoot for the movie.
Following the same plot as the film, Lady Sarah Ashley (Nicole Kidman, 'The Northman', 'The Prom') arrives in Australia to force her husband to sell his cattle ranch, 'Faraway Downs'. Upon arrival she meets The Drover (Hugh Jackman, 'The Greatest Showman', 'Logan') who escorts her to the property. When they arrive, she discovers her husband has been murdered and an Aboriginal boy, Nullah (Brandon Walters), who has a white father and an Aboriginal mother, informs her of what is happening in the town. This causes her to stay from her plan and attempt to save the ranch.
The only episode shown at the SXSW Sydney screening was the first episode which covers the above events. In the film this is roughly the first 20 minutes of screentime, but here it's double that taking up to 40 minutes. Just from the one episode 'Faraway Downs', it's a much better package than the original 2008 film. The biggest change is that Nullah is now the narrator, which allows the campier Luhrmannisms to land much better. We are seeing Australia in 1939 through a child's eyes, and that serves this story immensely. It will be interesting to see how this translates into later episodes as we see events like the bombing on Mission Island play out. Tone was always a big issue in the film, and at least from what I got to see of the series it has a greater understanding of what the tone should be. The series also appears to better understand the weight of using the story of the Stolen Generations and Aboriginal history, and it doesn't just feel like background noise, with these elements brought to the forefront.
We are seeing Australia in 1939 through a child's eyes, and that serves this story immensely.
'Australia' in Luhrmann's lineup was always lacking in the music department, with the filmmaker typically known for his soundtracks, and the 2008 film just didn't have a memorable one. However the music in 'Faraway Downs' is truly one of its biggest successes. Luhrmann, as he does best, has found the top talent from around the country with Electric Fields and Budjerah providing some beautiful music for the series.
It's hard to talk about 'Australia' without all the marketing behind it, and at least for me that's why it has always been harder for me to connect with that film. 'Faraway Downs' removes any of that background noise and reinvents the film for the better. It's a stronger package and I can't wait to experience the rest of it through this new lens.