Walkabout, Blu-ray (1971/2010)
Director: Nicolas Roeg
Starring: David Gulpilil, Jenny Agutter, Luc Roeg
Studio: Janus Films/Criterion Collection 10 [5/18/10]
Music: John Barry, Stockhausen
Video: 1.78:1 for 16:9 color 1080p HD
Audio: PCM mono
Extras: Commentary track by Nicolas Roeg and Jenny Agutter, Video interviews with both Agutter and actor Luc Roeg, “Gulpilil – One Red Blood” – 2002 one-hour documentary on life and career of David Gulpilil, Theatrical trailer, Illustrate printed booklet with essay by author Paul Ryan
Length: 100 minutes
Talk about cross-cultural impact – Walkabout is a terrific visual tone poem made by a British director and crew which opened up a new attitude toward Aboriginals in Australian films. They had previously been treated much like native Americans and blacks in Hollywood films. The story is both a beautiful, sometimes horrifying, but always brutally honest tale that also functions as an allegory about the challenges of civilization and the native world coming to terms with one another.
A 16-year-old girl and her young brother are abandoned in the Australian outback after their father tries to first kill them and then takes his own life. When they are about to die of thirst they are rescued by a young aborigine on his walkabout – a rite of passage for teenage boys who must sustain themselves in the wilderness alone. The two civilized children almost become primitives themselves but the aborigine is tragically unable to join civilization.
Nicolas Roeg was a skilled cinematographer before he made this, his first feature film. His shots of the nature and animals of the outback are extraordinary, and he even makes use of occasional still shots. The unearthliness of some of the surroundings is supported by some odd electronic sounds, including a portion of Karlheinz Stockhausen’s Hymnen (which certainly contrasts with John Barry’s Hollywoodish film score). There is also of course dijeridoo music.
The original U.S. release was edited down from its European length of 100 minutes – restored beautifully for this Blu-ray transfer. The colors and image composition are glorious, but the center-channel mono soundtrack made me long for even a pseudo-surround track on all the speakers. Walkabout qualifies as one of the greatest films ever made in my estimation. Even with the cut parts restored it is still probably suitable for viewers of all ages in spite of some frontal nudity and shots of animals being speared. With proper supervision it could spark all sorts of important discussion and thought. The hour-long documentary on dancer-actor David Gulpilil is absolutely fascinating and must be seen. It made me want to see again the film Rabbit-Proof Fence, in which he played an aboriginal tracker. The interviews with the other two lead actors are also most informative.
— John Sunier