DVD reviews

New DVDs to try this week, if a trip to the flicks is just too much like hard work

1/2
Australia

4/7
Dir Baz Luhrmann Aus, US

Hoity-toity Englishwoman Lady Sarah Ashley (Nicole Kidman) doesn’t believe for a moment that her husband is in Australia selling his cattle station; he’s off snogging Sheilas, she reckons, so even though it’s 1939 and she’s far too genteel to go bucketing around the world alone, she crosses the globe to bring him home – more out of irritation than any obvious romantic impulse.

She doesn’t find him – or not alive, anyway. But she does discover a vast land full of kangaroos, magical half-Aboriginal children and empire-building cattle barons. Oh, and there’s some bloke called The Drover (Hugh Jackman) who thinks she’s a nuisance but agrees to herd her cattle across the Northern Territory anyway, with a motley crew including a drunken accountant and Lady Sarah herself.

It’s a fine romp, epic in both ambition and visuals if not narrative – and if director Baz Luhrmann had stopped at the end of the love story’s trajectory, the audience would have left entirely happy. But he carries on, into war, the Japanese bombing of Darwin and other, less credible villainy, and it becomes clear that beneath his camp sensibility beats a conscientious heart, keen to bring the plight of the Stolen Generations – Aboriginals parted from their families – to a wider audience. It’s a laudable aim, but exploring the issue here is as ludicrous as expecting viewers of Gone With The Wind to worry about slavery. View this as Outback candy floss and you’ll have a grand time – it’s terribly entertaining, if too long. But Rabbit-Proof Fence it ain’t.
Nina Caplan
Dhs85 at Virgin Megastore

Bolt

5/7
Dir Byron Howard, Chris Williams US

Disney’s first 3D animation made under new head John Lasseter is likeable, dynamic and seductively characterised family entertainment. Directed by newcomers Byron Howard and Chris Williams, it’s a romantic tale of the sentimental education of the titular dog, which is graphically inspired by the larger American shepherd and modestly voiced by John Travolta. In Truman Show fashion, Bolt is the deluded super-hero star of a hit live-action children’s TV show, replete with a snazzy lightning logo emblazoned on his flank. As Bolt is separated by accident from ‘his person’, the equally innocent child-star Penny (Miley Cyrus), and joined by an alley-cat (a sassy, touching Susie Essman) and couch-potato Hamster (a cherishable star-turn by animator Mark Walton), he learns to be ‘a real dog’.

The pleasures of Bolt are how, without taking itself too seriously, it combines adventure with ideas and how the thoughtful, sympathetic script has fun with the reality/fantasy divide in a way that makes perfect sense to small kids, while still providing engagement and amusement for older siblings and adults in tow. Visually, it’s clever and stimulating: there are some excellent eye-level 3D effects, a nice pastiche of ‘bullet-time’ (part of a running theme throughout the film ‘discussing’ the relationship of live-action to CGI) and – elatingly – a pair of beautiful ‘helicopter’ shots. Borrowing a practice from Pixar, the main feature is prefaced by a short film, one of car-dealer’s son Lasseter’s own CGI spin-offs from Cars, the lovely, Japanese-accented Tokyo Mater, which charmingly combines petrol-head nostalgia with Speed Racer-esque kineticism.
Wally Hammond
Dhs85 at Virgin Megastore

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