Walkabout [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - Australia - Umbrella Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: James-Masaki Ryan (24th March 2019).
The Film

"Walkabout" (1971)

A teenage girl (played by Jenny Agutter and her six year old brother(played by Luc Roeg) are left stranded in the outback after their father (played by John Meillon) goes berserk, trying to kill the children, burning their car down, and then killing himself. With only a limited amount of food and drink brought with them, the two English children have no shelter, no extra clothes, and no survival skills in the barren and hot desert. It is when they are desperate for water that they finally see another human, an aboriginal teenage boy (played by David Gulpilil) on a walkabout. Though he cannot speak English and they cannot speak his native tongue, using gestures they are able to communicate, in which he helps them get water and hunt food. As the English kids have no particular direction to do, they decide to follow the aboriginal boy on his lone trek.

The story of "Walkabout" is extremely simple in nature on page with its sparse amount of dialogue scenes and characters without names. But with its simplicity also gives a lot of depth to what is unsaid and what is felt. The relationship between man and nature, western society's disconnect from tribal nature and community, sexual awakening, these are all minutely explored in the story yet never to the point of hitting the nail on the head. Instead the focus is on the children and how they see everything. There is never an explanation as to why the father loses it and tries to kill his own children. He is well suited and seemingly comes from a well off background by having his children in private school. Were there personal demons he was fighting? Wrongful business decisions? Whatever the facts, they are irrelevant. The story is not of the father but of the girl trying to take care of her brother after the horrific incident and her trust in a native boy where they can't speak the same language. They are city children and suddenly dumped into a world where everything they knew didn't exist. From water faucets, showers, television, forks and knives, anything they took for granted is suddenly gone. Unlike other survival movies where there is an oncoming terror, there is none of that in "Walkabout". The audiences are given a sense of wonder and awe, rather than trauma and tension, even with the opening sequence with the father. Scenes where the children are swimming and playing are examples of beautiful childhood innocence. The brilliant intercutting of the scenes with the aboriginal boy hunting for food with spears gives the sense of purity and being at one with nature. The nudity in the film is not at all sexual though it does spark some tension and interest for the aboriginal boy later on, and most likely for younger viewers. Actress Jenny Agutter obviously did not have a body double for the nude scenes and has stated in some interviewers that she was 16 at the time which isn't correct. She may have been 16 at the time of casting but as she was born at the end of 1972 and the film was copyrighted 1970 with a release in 1971, and she was 17 at the time of those scenes which was of legal age in Britain at the time. The the age restriction has been raised to 18, though the British Board of Film Classification did not deem the scenes to be indecent and has left the film uncut to this day.

Based on the novel of the same name by Donald G. Payne (under the pseudonym James Vance Marshall), the adaptation to screen was filmmaker Nicolas Roeg's second feature film as a director after "Performance" (1970) which was co-directed by Donald Cammell. There were quite a few differences from book to screen, such as the kids being stranded due to a plane crash in the original novel and that their journey was towards their uncle in Adeline. A few of the mid plot points and their separation from the aboriginal boy was also different. Instead of a journey back to civilization, the film makes it more ambiguous as to if they even had a home to return to. For visuals, as a longtime veteran in cinema as a technician and cinematographer, director Roeg's sense of scope and scale of capturing the desert is reminiscent of David Lean films in which he worked on, as well as being able to capture intimate settings as seen in Roeg's later works such as "Don't Look Now" (1973). The open vistas, the blue skies, the enchanting lagoons that the characters pass through are exceptional places and are captured wonderfully by the director who also acted as the DP. The English director working from a book by an English author with the two children being English, the British-Australian co-production certainly feels Australian due to the setting though it was not well received by Australian audiences at the time of its release. Similar to "Wake in Fright" released a year prior, it was also a look at Australia through an outsider's point of view causing some disconnect from the local audiences.

"Walkabout" was first released at the Cannes Film Festival on May 16, 1971 followed by a regional theatrical rollout in various countries in the latter half of 1971 and into 1972. It did not fare well in Australia, but did much better critically overseas. Though it didn't win any awards, it's now widely considered a milestone in the beginning of a new movement in Australian cinema and one of Roeg's most widely seen and most acclaimed works.

Note this is a region ALL Blu-ray

Video

Umbrella Entertainment presents the film in the 1.78:1 aspect ratio, in 1080p AVC MPEG-4. The print starts with the Janus Films (US) logo followed by the 20th Century Fox logo, which shows that it is using the same source as the US Blu-ray by the Criterion Collection. Criterion used the 35mm preservation interpositive made from the OCN for the high definition transfer in 2010. The framing, the minor damage marks are identical to the nine year old US release, though colors are slightly on the darker side overall. Damage is very minimal, being mostly visible in composite shots, and film grain is left intact for a natural film looking experience.

The film is uncut with a runtime of 100:26.

Audio

English/Aboriginal DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono
The original mono track is given the lossless treatment. The great yet sparse music of John Barry is well kept and well balanced with the dialogue and effects for a pleasing experience. There are no issues of hisses or pops for a clean sounding track, though it can be a bit on the flat side due to the original materials. It is a mix of English with the aboriginal boy speaking his native tongue, and note there are some other languages such as French and Czech coming in from the portable radio.

There are no subtitles for the film. Note that the non-English dialogue was never meant to have subtitles, though it is a missed opportunity for not including English HoH for the English dialogue.

Extras

Audio commentary by Nicolas Roeg and Jenny Agutter
In this commentary recorded by the Criterion Collection laserdisc in 1996, the director and actress recall the shooting of the film. It's not a conversation piece, but the two interviewed separately and then pieced together. There are some good tidbits discussed though it's not as in depth as one might expect. Note that this commentary is not listed on the packaging, nor is it available in a menu. Since there are no menu screens on this disc, the only way to access it is through the audio button while the film is playing. It's almost as if it was an easter egg.
in English Dolby Digital 2.0 with no subtitles


Unfortunately this is the only extra. There are a few Blu-ray editions available worldwide, all with differing extras. Some with interviews and documentaries, some with just trailers. It's not included on this disc, but the trailer has been embedded below, courtesy of Umbrella Entertainment.

Packaging

The inlay is reversible, missing the Australian ratings logo on the opposite side. It also states "region B" but is in fact region ALL.

Overall

"Walkabout" is an undeniable classic of childhood innocence lost and found with minimalism and visual beauty. Umbrella Entertainment gives the film a great visual and audio presentation plus a good (hidden) commentary, but there could have been more in the extras department. The release still comes as recommended.

The Film: A Video: A Audio: A Extras: C Overall: B

 


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