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Category:    Home > Reviews > Drama > Mystery > Murder > Ritual > Existentialism > Walkabout (1971/Criterion Collection Blu-ray)

Walkabout (1971/Criterion Collection Blu-ray)


Picture: B     Sound: C+     Extras: B     Film: B+



In the 1960s, Nicolas Roeg established himself as one of the top cinematographers in all of filmmaking with work on Dr. Crippen, Doctor Zhivago, Truffaut’s Fahrenheit 451 and Petulia.  After lensing Performance in 1970, which he co-directed, he decided to go out on his own and Walkabout (1971) became a huge international critical and commercial success, the first of a trilogy of challenging films that made him one of the best directors of the 1970s.  Its camera work (which he also did) was as stunning as his best previous work, he could definitely direct and his editing approach combined the best sensibilities of Russian, French, British, Italian and U.S. independent production.


The film has limited dialogue and immediately juxtaposes nature versus the city, open spaces versus crowded ones, fast pacing versus serenity and does all this in challenging and even haunting ways.  Based on the novel by James Vance Marshall and adapted as a screenplay by Edward Bond (who did the English dialogue for Antonioni’s 1966 hit Blowup, reviewed elsewhere on this site), the story begins with a man leaving a building in the city who eventually picks up his two children and takes them out for a picnic.


However, he (John Meillon) cannot take the pressure of his life anymore, pulls a gun and starts opening fire on the two of them!  The younger son (play by Luc Roeg, the director’s real life son) thinks this is all just playing around, but his older sister (Jenny Agutter) immediately realizes what is wrong and grabs him just in time.  The father self-destructs and they are stranded in the middle of nowhere.  Trying to just survive and maybe get picked up in the Australian Outback, they run into a young aborigine (David Gulpilil) who is passage into manhood from childhood known as a “walkabout” and it is the young lady he becomes attracted to.


What follows is one of cinema’s all-time great existential journeys and announced Roeg as a master filmmaker in his own right.  It also made international stars out of Agutter and Gulpilil, as well as becoming part of a continuance of a New Wave in world filmmaking.  Most key in this case is that art cinema, world cinema, what became known as third-world cinema and Hollywood cinema at the time briefly (this was released by 20th Century Fox as a major release as they had done with Altman’s M*A*S*H) meet head-on here in one of the only times they ever did or ever will.


Instead of becoming a mere cult classic, Walkabout became an all-time classic, a classic of British cinema, opened up Australia cinematically in ways it had not been opened up before and in its time was a serious groundbreaker.  Despite fragmented media, lesser imitators and the choppy editing we get today that pretends to mean something and means zero, the film endures remarkably well as an advanced narrative and exercise in pure cinema that influenced the likes of Michael Cimino (The Deer Hunter) and is still ahead of its time.  The Blu-ray finally delivers this experience in a way not possible outside of film before.  Now a whole new generation of serious film fans and filmmakers can discover why it endures.



The 1080p 1.78 X 1 digital High Definition image has Roeg himself, as noted above, serving as his own Director of Photography and there are some great shots in this excellent transfer, but some shots do not possess the crystal clarity the film is know for worldwide due to the age of some of the elements, but color is usually excellent and accurate.  The booklet included explains a new 35mm preservation Interpositive from the original camera negative was used to make a new HD master via a Spirit Datacine telecine machine at 2K, though the machine was capable of 4K.  That is likely the problem, as a film this visually rich needed at least 4K, so any limits come from that choice.  With that said, Roeg himself approved the color timing and additional work was done to remove other flaws.  As compared to all previous editions, including Criterion’s very early letterboxed-only DVD, this is far superior to any video release of the film before and can only be outdone by the best film prints available.  I liked the similarly supervised and restored Criterion Blu-ray of The Man Who Fell To Earth (see the link below) even more, but I like this very much just the same.


The PCM 1.0 Mono will show up on home theater systems as a center-channel-only track and it sounds good for its age and not bad here, but it also shows its age and any hope of a stereo version seems to have been vetoed by the director.  However, this is as good as the film is likely to sound and it also features a fine music score by John Barry at the peak of his powers and success.  The booklet included states the sound comes from original 35mm optical soundtrack print and transferred at 24-bit digital sound while cleaned for pops and clicks.  Except for purists who might think the sound is may still be a little more compressed than expected, it is warm and clear enough to challenge and surpass any past release of the film.


Extras include a booklet with tech information, illustrations, and a fine essay on the film and Roeg by Paul Ryan, while the Blu-ray has a fine feature-length audio commentary track by Roeg and Agutter, video interviews with Agutter and Luc Roeg, the original theatrical trailer and hour-long 2002 documentary Gulpilil – One Red Blood about the actor, his life and his career since the film.



For more Roeg on Blu-ray, try this link for the great Criterion Blu-ray of The Man Who Fell To Earth:





-   Nicholas Sheffo


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