Last Wave, The (Sunburnt Screens) (Blu-ray) (1977)

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Released 2-Sep-2020

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Featurette-Riding the Wave: Jim McElroy on The Last Wave
Featurette-Lighting the Cave: Russell Boyd on The Last Wave
Interviews-Cast-Richard Chamberlain: In Conversation with Paul Harris
Additional Footage-Edit From "David Gulpilil: Walkabout to Hollywood"
Featurette-David Stratton on The Last Wave
Featurette-Trailers From Hell: The Last Wave with Brian Trenchard-Smith
Theatrical Trailer
Gallery
Reversible Cover
Rating Rated PG
Year Of Production 1977
Running Time 105:07
RSDL / Flipper Dual Layered Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By Peter Weir
Studio
Distributor

Umbrella Entertainment
Starring Richard Chamberlain
Olivia Hamnett
David Gulpilil
Fred Parslow
Vivean Gray
Nandjiwarra Amagula
Walter Amagula
Roy Bara
Cedrick Lalara
Morris Lalara
Case Standard Blu-ray
RPI $29.95 Music Charles Wain


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English DTS HD Master Audio 2.0 (1509Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.85:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 1080p
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English for the Hearing Impaired Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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Plot Synopsis

    Director Peter Weir's follow-up to the critically acclaimed Picnic at Hanging Rock, 1977's The Last Wave is a seminal motion picture from the Australian New Wave era of the '70s and '80s, during which Australian cinema saw a resurgence in worldwide popularity. Instead of a generic or simplistic apocalyptic drama, The Last Wave is steeped in Australia's Indigenous culture, with unique Dreamtime themes that are seldom represented in mainstream motion pictures. With a screenplay by Weir, Tony Morphett and Petru Popescu, this is a thematically intriguing and haunting mystery, buoyed by a top-notch cast and a consistently engaging, ethereal visual style.

    A mysterious wild weather event hits Australia, bringing heavy rain and hail to both rural towns and metropolitan areas, and the Indigenous population are the only people able to recognise the significance of the abnormal weather conditions. After an altercation between a group of Aboriginal men outside a pub in Sydney, one of them mysteriously winds up dead, though the cause of death is inconclusive. A coronial inquest rules the death as a homicide, and the Aboriginal men involved are summarily accused of murder. With a trial date scheduled, the men receive legal representation in the form of white solicitor David Burton (Richard Chamberlain), a devoted family man with a loving wife (Olivia Hamnett) and two daughters. With the freak rainstorms persisting and black rain starting to fall, David is plagued by strange visions that he cannot explain, and he senses an inexplicable connection to one of the accused men, Chris (David Gulpilil). Through learning about Aboriginal culture, David begins to believe that his visions are premonitions of a coming apocalypse.

    The central mystery driving The Last Wave is not a question of innocence; instead, the mystery is why the Aboriginal men committed the crime. The accused men remain tight-lipped throughout the judicial process, with Chris perpetually reluctant to tell David about the spiritual implications of either the death or the damaging rainstorms. David is a rational middle-class man with social skills and material wealth, yet he is suddenly confronted with a developing situation that is beyond his conventional understanding. Under Weir's careful direction, The Last Wave is not fast-paced or full of instant gratification; instead, it's all about the build-up and suspense, and is closer to a European arthouse film than a mainstream Hollywood thriller. Admittedly, however, Weir cannot quite stick the landing, as the climactic sequence in an underground Sydney tunnel system loses a bit of direction and seems slightly rushed. Nevertheless, this is a relatively minor misstep.

    The Last Wave is elevated by the sumptuous, measured cinematography courtesy of industry veteran Russell Boyd, who previously filmed Picnic at Hanging Rock for Weir. Boyd and Weir embrace the opportunity to show off some eye-catching Sydney locations, though Adelaide also stood in for Sydney from time to time (David's house, for instance, is an Adelaide location). Weir's visualisations of David's surrealistic dreams are stunning, with a strong theme about the power of nature - in one especially memorable scene, David sees a modern Sydney street submerged in water, complete with vehicles, people and shopfronts. The sense of atmosphere throughout The Last Wave is enthralling, with heavy rain and powerful winds, and the movie further benefits from a hypnotic synthesiser score by Charles Wain (this was one of only two feature films he scored). Luckily, the meagre $800,000 budget scarcely limits the scope of the story, and, aside from a few fleeting instances of obvious, low-quality archival footage (see the final scene, for example), the movie does not feel cheap.

    Another tremendous asset is the cast. Leading man Chamberlain emanates charisma and infuses the material with honest-to-goodness gravitas, while seasoned Indigenous actor Gulpilil (Storm Boy, Crocodile Dundee, Dark Age) is credible and disarming as an enigmatic tribal Aborigine. Admittedly, The Last Wave is not for all tastes due to its arthouse sensibilities as well as the deliberate ambiguousness of several plot points. Indeed, the ending leaves room open to interpretation, which might be maddening for viewers expecting a more mainstream thriller. However, for film buffs interested in genre-bending titles or Australian movies, this motion picture is worth your time. Beset with haunting imagery and powerful performances, The Last Wave is the type of surrealistic, atmospheric cinema that filmmakers often attempt but rarely get right.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    Up until now, Peter Weir's The Last Wave has only been available on Blu-ray in Germany. Therefore, Umbrella Entertainment debut this title on Blu-ray for the first time in Australia as the first instalment in their "Sunburnt Screens" sub-label, a brand new line focusing on landmark Australian cinema. A mediocre HD master of The Last Wave has existed for several years, but, thankfully, this Blu-ray features a fresh new transfer from a recent 4K restoration produced by Umbrella, the source of which was a second-generation internegative print (according to Umbrella's Simon Sherry). This brand new transfer presents the movie in pristine AVC-encoded 1080p high definition, framed at the movie's original aspect ratio of 1.85:1. Luckily, Umbrella make use of a dual-layered BD-50 for this release, mastering the movie with a superb average video bitrate of 32.98 Mbps. Luckily, too, the restoration is excellent for the most part: stable, sharp, textured, and covered in a fine layer of organic film grain. Compared to the dated German Blu-ray, this is a revelation which is like watching the film again for the first time. Long-time fans should be absolutely chuffed with Umbrella's efforts.

    Let's get one thing out of the way first: the optical shots (see the opening titles) and archival footage (see 102:44) do look relatively rough. There's an optical zoom-in at 64:02, followed by some archival footage that exhibits some seriously chunky film grain, but one supposes that this is about the best that such shots will ever look. Grain also noticeably spikes during certain shots, particularly in darker shots or during heavy rainfall, but this all appears organic to the source. Admittedly, the restoration is not quite perfect, as there is some noticeable telecine wobble (there's minor wobble during the opening titles, and also see 21:28) as well as flickering. There is also a smattering of print damage, with scratches and specks of dirt occasionally appearing throughout, but these artefacts are not severe or frequent enough to be of major concern. The main thing is that The Last Wave still looks like film, and there's no overzealous digital noise reduction to erase grain or turn the image into a smeary mess devoid of texture. The optical shots at the beginning of the movie do look oh-so-slightly grain reduced since these shots mostly likely featured some pretty heavy grain compared to the rest of the movie. However, whatever DNR might've been applied was done tactfully, as these shots don't look smeary. The textures on display throughout The Last Wave are extraordinary, with close-ups in particular bringing out all the fine detail that the source will give up - just see a sharp, detailed close-up at 67:41, which looks like a native 4K shot. Even in wider shots, detail is frequently satisfying.

    One aspect that immediately sticks out about the transfer is the colour - rather than appearing faded or drab, the colours throughout The Last Wave are nicely saturated without looking overcooked. Skin tones are neutral (they do push towards yellow at times, but this appears to be due to the lighting of certain scenes), and the transfer retains the ethereal blue/grey look that cinematographer Russell Boyd worked to achieve. Naturally, it is difficult to say with absolute certainty whether or not the colour palette is completely accurate, but there's no obvious revisionism going on - especially since Boyd mentions the blue tint of several scenes in his interview. Some shots look slightly faded (see 38:00), which is ostensibly due to the degradation of the film over the last 43 years, but this is not a frequent concern. Additionally, black levels are healthy throughout the presentation, and darkness never overwhelms the image or results in unsightly crush. Moreover, contrast is healthy, resulting in consistently strong image depth. Due to the limited colour space of 1080p, the image doesn't always look sharp or detailed in darker scenes, while harsh light sources and windows normally look blown out and lacking in highlight detail, but that's to be expected - only a High Dynamic Range grade could fix this.

    Thanks to the consistently high bitrate, grain is always finely-resolved, aside from some of the aforementioned archival shots which exhibit blocky grain. The encoding is impressive from start to finish, as I was unable to detect even the slightest hint of macroblocking, ringing, aliasing, or any other encoding anomalies. It's smooth sailing across the board. Could The Last Wave look better with a 4K scan of the original camera negative? Maybe. Would it be nice if the master was further cleaned up and all film artefacts were removed? Sure. Would it look better on a 4K disc would HDR? Probably. But, honestly, that's neither here nor there, as it's still impressive that this underrated title got this much love and care in the first place. All in all, this is a terrific transfer from the good folks at Umbrella Entertainment.

    Thankfully, English subtitles (for the hearing impaired) are included.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    The only audio option on the disc is a lossless, 24-bit DTS-HD MA 2.0 Mono track. There is absolutely no surround activity due to the Mono encoding - the rear speakers remain silent throughout the movie and there is nothing in the way of separation/panning. There is also nothing in terms of low-frequency effects - the subwoofer is not engaged. However, The Last Wave was originally mixed in Mono, so this is in keeping with the original audio design. I can't be certain if this is the same track that's included on the German Blu-ray, but this is an extremely impressive mix regardless - it's clear and impactful, with terrific prioritisation, and there are no encoding anomalies or artefacts to speak of. Indeed, there's no hissing, popping or clicking, neither are there any sync issues or drop-outs. Dialogue is always comprehensible, even amid the more frenetic scenes of thunderstorms and rain. Likewise, Charles Wain's score is perfectly prioritised during the picture, coming through with terrific zest and impact. Some of the more bombastic sound effects are also effective, while the consistent droning of the heavy rain outside creates a superb sense of atmosphere. On the whole, I have no complaints about this track. I'm sure some audiophiles will be left yearning for a 5.1 or object-based remix, but I don't really care.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

    Criterion's DVD of The Last Wave only featured a 10-minute interview with Weir. As far as I can tell, no other extras have previously been created for this title. But for The Last Wave 's local Blu-ray debut, Umbrella have produced a collection of brand new supplements for fans to enjoy. As per Umbrella's usual MO, there is also reversible cover art sans ratings logos. Unfortunately, there's no input from Weir in the extras - an interview or audio commentary would've been ideal. (For those interested, Weir's interview from the Criterion DVD is on YouTube.) I also would've liked to hear from Gulpilil. Criterion is reportedly planning a Blu-ray release - it remains to be seen what new extras, if any, they will produce for their disc.

Riding the Wave: Producer Jim McElroy on The Last Wave (720p; 38:16)

    Here we have a brand new interview with producer Jim McElroy, which was produced by Umbrella Entertainment exclusively for this release. McElroy worked with Weir on several of his earlier movies, including The Cars That Ate Paris and Picnic at Hanging Rock. This lengthy interview covers McElroy's start in the film industry (he initially worked in television), working with Weir, getting involved with The Last Wave, the special effects, the casting, the budget, the music, the Indigenous issues covered in the film, the release, and more. There are some great anecdotes here, and film clips are peppered throughout, but there's scarcely any music and the interview itself is a little rough (a phone rings in the background, there's some sniffling from behind the camera, and McElroy goes out of focus on one occasion).

Lighting the Cave: Director of Photography Russell Boyd on The Last Wave (720p; 24:39)

    Another brand new interview produced exclusively for this disc, here we get cinematographer Russell Boyd's perspective on The Last Wave. He goes over his working relationship with Weir, his lighting techniques, working with the main actors, his fellow crew, and even the logistics of shooting in heavy rain. As with the previous interview, it's a little rough from a technical perspective - Boyd actually drops out of focus a few times. Also, some musical accompaniment throughout the interview would've been appreciated. Nevertheless, a great inclusion to the disc.

Richard Chamberlain: In Conversation with Paul Harris (720p; 22:11)

    This is another brand new interview piece produced by Umbrella Entertainment exclusively for this disc. This interview with actor Richard Chamberlain (who looks fantastic for 86 years old) was recorded in May 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic; therefore, it was conducted using video conferencing technology. Paul Harris talks to Chamberlain about getting involved in The Last Wave, filming in Australia, working with various cast and crew, and more. Despite the technical limitations of this interview, it's a treat to have Chamberlain's input on this disc.

Edit From "David Gulpilil: Walkabout to Hollywood" (1980) (720p; 7:05)

    This is a short extract from a documentary about David Gulpilil, who got his start featuring in Walkabout for director Nicolas Roeg. The full version of this documentary is scheduled for release in 2021 from Umbrella Entertainment. Surprisingly, this has actually been restored in high definition (it was shot on film rather than video), though it's only presented in 720p here.

David Stratton on The Last Wave (720p; 3:39)

    This is a brief clip of David Stratton from 2010 speaking about The Last Wave. He has a few production anecdotes to impart about the movie, including his own personal experience on the set.

Trailers From Hell: The Last Wave with Brian Trenchard-Smith (720p; 3:39)

    Australian filmmaker Brian Trenchard-Smith was involved in the marketing of The Last Wave, and he cut together the theatrical trailer. Here, Brian provides a commentary of the trailer, explaining his decision and revealing some production anecdotes. This piece was actually produced back in 2014 and is available to view online, but it's still a nice inclusion to the disc.

Theatrical Trailer (720p; 2:51)

    The trailer explored by Brian Trenchard-Smith in the previous featurette is included here. This looks to have been recently restored, as the quality is much better compared to the "Trailers From Hell" segment.

Gallery (720p; 3:10)

    The gallery contains artwork, pitch documents, press kit images, and more. You can advance manually using forward and back buttons on your remote, or watch the (silent) slideshow.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    The German Blu-ray release only contains a trailer and a photo gallery. At the time of writing, no other Blu-ray has been released anywhere else in the world, though Criterion is reportedly looking at releasing this title in the future. Buy local.

Summary

    The Last Wave is a seminal Australian film from director Peter Weir, and it's baffling that it's not as well-remembered or as esteemed as Picnic at Hanging Rock. This is a haunting, ethereal mystery-drama which holds up to repeat viewings.

    The remastered technical presentation is excellent for the most part, demonstrating that Umbrella has the capacity to breathe new life into Aussie classics in high definition. Throw in around 90 minutes of interview material and a few other extras, and this is a solid disc that comes highly recommended.

    This is a great debut for Umbrella's new "Sunburnt Screens" sub-label, and I'm looking forward to seeing what titles come next. Perhaps more early Peter Weir movies like The Plumber, The Cars That Ate Paris or The Year of Living Dangerously?

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Callum Knox (I studied biology)
Saturday, September 12, 2020
Review Equipment
DVDSony UBP-X700 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray Player, using HDMI output
DisplayLG OLED65E6T. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 2160p.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. This audio decoder/receiver has not been calibrated.
AmplificationSamsung Series 7 HT-J7750W
SpeakersSamsung Tall Boy speakers, 7.1 set-up

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