Out Of The Blue
R1 - America - Genius Products
Review written by and copyright: Noor Razzak (21st June 2008).
The Film

In 1999 director Robert Sarkies released his first feature film, “Scarfies” it would hardly set the international film community afire, but it did impact in New Zealand. The film is a dark comedy of sorts that deals with students, drugs and the return of a dangerous character who wants his drugs back. The film’s tone and style was distinctly ‘New Zealand’ and paid homage to the film’s location, Dunedin and the student culture that thrives there. Nine years later Sarkies returns with his second feature, and “Out of the Blue” couldn’t be a more different film. Dealing with real life events that shook a small South Island town and shocked a nation the day after the gruesome massacre.

In November 1990, an unemployed gun collector, David Gray went on a shooting spree that lasted most of the day, well into the night and ended the following day by his being shot down by police. Gray had taken the lives of 13 people; men, women and children. This act of insanity is considered a black spot in New Zealand history. In a country that’s considered a slice of paradise it’s inconceivable that such an event could occur. New Zealand does not have a prominent and ubiquitous gun culture (outside of farms anyway); the most you’ll ever see is a rifle (at best). In America or other countries where there is more of a gun culture blame would likely be assigned to either that or other various factors of a violent society like television, video games, aggressive music, etc. But how do you even begin to explain David Gray? A man that lived in arguably one of the most beautiful places on Earth, in a place where community and values are paramount and where there are literally ‘no worries’. But, he was just an eccentric, a loner, a man that felt isolated in his own mind and literally? These are just assumptions of course; we will never really know what went on his head. The fact of the matter is a tragedy unfolded on that day in November, and the people blame no one and nothing but the man himself. It’s a day that will not be forgotten by those that survived it and Sarkies as made a film that not only realistically portrays the events but attempts to provide an insight into the type of man that Gray was.

During the film’s production and well into its release in New Zealand the film faced some controversy. The people of Aramoana were opposed to the film being shot and as a result was shot near the settlement. It’s obvious that 18 years on people are still affected by what happened that day. One of the recurring stories that came from this was how David Gray was going to be portrayed? How will the people of the town be portrayed? Especially those that died, after viewing the film (twice) the answers to that are ‘with respect.’ It’s rare to encounter a film that deals with real situations and people done so authentically that it feels less like a film and more like a historical document. “Out of the Blue” achieves everything it sets out to do and doesn’t take the usual Hollywood road of beefing up scenes and stylistically convoluting the essence of the story and the frightening demeanor of David Gray. Who’s played brilliantly by Matthew Sunderland and even though Karl Urban is billed as the star, it’s Sunderland that steals the show.

The cast was very respectful in their portrayals even down to the darkness and psychosis of the shooter. Sunderland is very much the driving force of this picture, he doesn’t have much dialogue put his presence is undeniable. It’s through this performance a sense of dread and uneasiness is developed while watching the film. Meanwhile the film’s top billed star Urban also does an excellent job in the role of Police officer Nick Harvey, this is probably his finest performance to date and it’s at best a supporting role. It’s also the heaviest material the actor has tackled in his career.

The film works from a directorial and performance standpoint as well as technically so. The photography shows off the splendorous beauty of the location and established the juxtaposition between that beauty of the land and the ugliness of the event that took place on it. Additionally the film’s editorial pace is slow at parts but necessary to create that sense of uneasiness that something is going to snap in David Gray.

“Out of the Blue” portrays the events that are considered a dark spot in New Zealand history and does so with upmost respect. It’s a powerful and engrossing picture that comes highly recommended.

Video

Presented in a widescreen ratio of 1.78:1 this anamorphic transfer is splendid. The image is nice and sharp and retains detail well. The film's colors are bold and striking. The print was clean of dirt (although a few specks were spotted, but nothing major). I was impressed with the black levels which appear bold, the scenes with the burning house at night are especially impressive. There was minimal noise and grain was also minimal. Overall this is an impressive transfer for DVD. I look forward to one day seeing this film in high-definition.

Audio

A single English Dolby Digital 5.1 surround track is included. The film's sound mix is equally as good as the image. It's not an immensely aggressive track as the gun shots are not exaggerated and sound real. The soundtrack's depth can be attributed to the subtle ambient sounds of the location and the film's score. Dialogue is clear and distortion free and overall the soundtrack works well to immerse the viewer.
Optional subtitles are included in English for the hearing impaired and Spanish.

Extras

Genius Products has released this film with a few extras that includes an audio commentary, a series of 4 featurettes, a photo gallery, the film's theatrical trailer and a collection of bonus trailers. Below is a closer look at these supplements.

First up we've got a feature-length largely screen-specific audio commentary by the film's co-writer/director Robert Sarkies and author of the book "Aramoana: 22 Hours of Terror" Bill O'Brien. In this track the two talk about the book, the genesis of the project as well as casting the film, shooting on location (including having to respect the community and not shoot the film where the events actually took place, although establishing shots are of the actual town). Sarkies delves into the research conducted for the film, interviewing the survivors and getting to know their stories as well as comments on the themes of the film, the performances and reveals some production trivia mostly about the reality of the film's events. Author O'Brien provides a lot of the factual information in this track and occasionally chimes in. As much as I enjoyed the film I equally enjoyed listening to this track, there was a lot of useful and interesting information within it and it's worth checking out.

The first of the various featurettes is "The Making of Out of the Blue" which runs for 7 minutes 9 seconds, this is an EPK style clip created for the IFC channel and glosses over the film's production as the various key crew comment on the project, working with the director and respecting the material as well as finding the right cast for the film.

Next is "Out of the Blue: The Tragedy" featurette which runs for 6 minutes 15 seconds, this takes a look at the actual events and pieces it together after the fact wot ha series of archival news footage. Reporters that covered the tragedy recall that day.

"Honoring Aramoana" is the next featurette that runs for 6 minutes 26 seconds, here we see that the filmmaker's respected the people and events. Their credo was to be as realistic and to not sensationalize the events. Also looks at the involvement of the community during the scripting stage and the importance of using first hand knowledge among other things.

"Recollections from the Actors" is the final featurette which runs for 3 minutes 14 seconds, during the auditions for the film the actors were asked about their recollections of the event, here they share their memories of the news.

Also featured on the disc is a photo gallery reel that runs for 6 minutes 9 seconds and mostly features location photographs with a couple of production pictures.

There's also the film's original theatrical trailer which runs for 2 minutes 21 seconds.

Rounding out the extras are a series of bonus trailers for:

- "Chronicle of an Escape" which runs for 1 minute 15 seconds.
- "The Last Winter" which runs for 1 minute 48 seconds.
- "Finishing the Game: The Search for a New Bruce Lee" which runs for 2 minutes 28 seconds.

Overall

The Film: A Video: A Audio: A Extras: B+ Overall: A-

 


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