Van Diemen's Land (2009)

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Released 2-Dec-2009

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Main Menu Audio & Animation
Audio Commentary-with Jonathan auf der Heide, Oscar Redding & Ellery Ryan
Featurette-Making Of-A Journey Up The River: Making Van Diemen's Land
Featurette-Behind The Scenes-Battle of the Beards
Featurette-Behind The Scenes-Subtleties of the Slate
Featurette-Behind The Scenes-From Balibo to Van Diemen's Land
Theatrical Trailer-Van Diemen's Land
Teaser Trailer-Van Diemen's Land
DVD-ROM Extras-ATOM Study Guide
Trailer-Madman Propaganda
Rating Rated MA
Year Of Production 2009
Running Time 100:18 (Case: 104)
RSDL / Flipper Dual Layered Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Jonathan Auf Der Heide
Madman Entertainment
Starring Oscar Redding
Arthur Angel
Paul Ashcroft
Mark Leonard Winter
Torquil Neilson
Greg Stone
John Francis Howard
Case Amaray-Transparent
RPI $29.95 Music Jethro Woodward

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Unknown English Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
English Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.40:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 2.35:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English for the Hearing Impaired Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    "Let God have his heaven, I am blood"...Alexander Pearce.  

    Although he was executed nearly two hundred years ago, it is only recently that the gruesome legend of Irish convict, Alexander Pearce has been portrayed on film.

    In 1822, Alexander Pearce was a convict on Sarah Island in Macquarie Harbour, Tasmania (or Van Diemen's Land, as it was then known). The crime that warranted his transportation to Australia was the theft of six pairs of shoes - a minor crime by today's standards. A further series of misdemeanours resulted in him being sent to the remote penal settlement on Sarah Island. In time however, his infamy would extend to crimes beyond most peoples imagination.

    Eight days after escaping the penal settlement with seven other convicts, Pearce become an accessory to murders within their small group and he would later commit murders himself. The initial purpose of these killings was a survival tactic, as their food supplies dried up. However the killings and subsequent acts of cannibalism also served to remove division within the group. While many of the men had some degree of involvement and participation, it was Pearce who would ultimately bare the weight of these shocking events.

    In late 2008, a fictionalised, horror version of the story titled, Dying Breed was released in cinemas. Shortly after in early 2009, the more accurate television drama, The Last Confession of Alexander Pearce screened (to much acclaim) on the ABC.

    The third and most recent film version of these events is Van Diemen's Land - the debut feature of Tasmanian filmmaker, Jonathan auf der Heide. Van Diemen's Land is an expansion of Jonathan's 2008, award winning, student short film, Hell's Gates. Apart from both films conveying the story of Alexander Pearce, they also feature the same principal cast and crew members.

    While doing hard labour in the harsh country surrounding Macquarie Harbour, eight convicts overpower their overseer and flee into the dense wilderness. With only a small supply of food and no real prospect for hunting, it isn't too long before the men are starving.

    A few of the men decide that a life needs to be sacrificed to save the others. One of the convicts is brutally murdered and his body used to feed the others. However, this act also sets in motion a chain of deceit, suspicion and murder. As each of the men descends into individual madness, they all potentially become the next victim. In the end however, only one remains.

    Van Diemen's Land boasts a small and mostly unknown cast - this adds significantly to the authenticity of the film. Performances are all outstanding, especially Oscar Redding (who also co-wrote the screenplay) as Alexander Pearce, Arthur Angel, Paul Ashcroft and Mark Leonard Winter (looking a lot like Daniel Day Lewis).

    The film is impeccably shot by veteran Australian cinematographer, Ellery Ryan, who transforms the beautiful virgin environment into one of sheer trepidation. Much of the ironic beauty in this film is a result of Ellery's work in very difficult conditions and on a low budget. In particular, the serene opening shot of Macquarie Harbour is both, magnificent and intimidating.

    Van Diemen's Land is by no means an easy film to watch. In the audio commentary on this disc, Jonathan auf der Heide mentions the walk-outs of some cinema patrons during screenings of the film. Make no mistake, many scenes in this film are confronting, but I don't believe they are excessive or exploitive. These were incredibly desperate men in an absolutely dire situation. To tell this story properly, it was necessary to portray the events with frankness and honesty.

    Like me, those who have seen the incredible beauty of Macquarie Harbour and Sarah Island struggle to get a true sense of the sheer hell experienced by these convicts. Van Diemen's Land takes us on a dark journey - a journey which thankfully, we will never fully comprehend.

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Transfer Quality


    Van Diemen's Land is presented in an aspect ratio of 2.39:1, which is 16x9 enhanced. This is very close to the films correct aspect ratio of 2.35:1.

    Overall the transfer looks excellent. Sharpness and clarity is fine throughout. Shadows displayed exceptional detail and blacks were also free from any noise issues. There is hardly a ray of sunshine in the entire film, so shadow detail was a critical factor in this transfer.

    Keeping with the somber ambience of the film, the colour palette was very limited. In the commentary Ellery Ryan discusses how the colours were deliberately graded down to help with the realism of the film. The only real vibrant colour on display is the bold red of the soldier's uniforms and blood. The green and brown tones of the wilderness appear beautifully balanced on the disc.

    There were no MPEG artefacts on the transfer. Film-to-video artefacts weren't an issue and film artefacts were non-existent.

    Van Diemen's Land has English subtitles for the limited Gaelic language spoken in the film. These subtitles are small and white in colour - they are also burned into the print. There is also English for the hearing impaired subtitles available on the disc. They are accurate and easy to read in bold yellow.

    This is a DVD 9, dual layer disc. The layer change is very well placed at 48:46.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


   There are three audio tracks available on this DVD, English/Gaelic Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s), English/Gaelic Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s) and English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s).

    At times, I personally found some of the dialogue a little difficult to understand. This wasn't a fault with the transfer, rather a comprehension problem with the heavy accents of some characters. Thankfully though, the subtitles are available as a good back up measure.

    There were no obvious problems with audio sync.

    The original music score by Jethro Woodward is suitably sombre and haunting. The score is used more in the first half of the film and creates a perfect brooding atmosphere - a very impressive score.

    There is minimal direct sound placement; instead the surround channels are alive with music and ambient sound. Wind, rain and thunder surround the viewer and enhance the overall experience.

    Likewise, the subwoofer nicely enhances the bass elements of the score and effects.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use




    The main menu is animated, 16x9 enhanced and features a sample of music from the film.

Audio Commentary - Jonathan auf der Heide (Director & co-writer), Ellery Ryan (Cinematographer) and Oscar Redding (Actor & co-writer).

    A thoroughly entertaining and informative commentary, with all three men offering tremendous insight into the production. There are also many light-hearted and funny moments in their conversation. All three candidly discuss all aspects of the film and deliver many interesting anecdotes along the way. Jonathan is keen to point out all the references to Dante's Inferno in the film and singles out his small homage to The Dark Knight. Their candidness also extends to highlighting the few areas which they believe weren't entirely successful in the film. Highly recommended.

A Journey Up River: Making Van Diemen's Land

This is a short six chapter documentary about the making of Van Diemen's Land. This features cast and crew interviews, incorporated with plenty of production footage, including clips from the short film, Hell's Gates. Each chapter highlights a particular "behind-the-scenes" aspect of the production. Despite their short running time, these segments are quite informative. Each can be selected and played individually, or there is a "play all" function. The six segment titles are listed below.

  • Going from Short to Feature (5:45)
  • Telling the Story (2:57)
  • Co-writing the Script (2:02)
  • Creating the Look  (2:05)
  • Working with the Director (2:05)
  • Shooting on Location (4:55)

    Featurette- The Battle of the Beards (2:10)

        This is a fun piece discussing the quality of beards grown by each of the actors.

    Featurette - Subtleties of the Slate (2:32)

        This is Cam Matheson's (clapper loader) moment to shine. Here, Cam tells us the secrets behind the clapper board and demonstrates the skill required to use to it properly.

    Featurette - From Balibo to Van Diemen's Land (1:52)

        Actor, Mark Leonard Winter talks about the quick transition from filming in the tropics for Balibo, to the freezing temperatures experienced in The Ottway Ranges for Van Diemen's Land.

    Original Storyboards

        Storyboard pages from a couple of scenes.

    ATOM Study Guide (DVD Rom)

        This 11 page PDF is full of relevant information about the film and Alexander Pearce - well worth a look.

    Original Theatrical Trailer - Van Diemen's Land (1:46)

    Teaser Trailer - Van Diemen's Land (0:44)

    Madman Propaganda

  • Samson & Delilah (2:08)
  • Balibo (2:29)
  • Last Ride (1:55)
  • Lucky Country (2:11)

    R4 vs R1

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

        At the time of writing this review, there is no R1 edition of Van Diemen's Land available.


         Despite the restraints of a small budget and difficult conditions, Van Diemen's Land tells the story of Alexander Pearce with great conviction and eerie realism. Through all this brutality, emerges an ironic beauty, which is hard to resist. Madman has done the film a great justice with an outstanding DVD presentation - highly recommended.

        The video and audio transfers are excellent.

        There is a comprehensive selection of quality extras.


  • Ratings (out of 5)


    © Steve Crawford (Tip toe through my bio)
    Thursday, February 11, 2010
    Review Equipment
    DVDPanasonic DMP-BD35 Blu Ray Player, using HDMI output
    DisplayHitachi 106cm Plasma Display 42PD5000MA (1024x1024). Calibrated with THX Optimizer. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 1080i.
    Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with THX Optimizer.
    AmplificationPanasonic SA-HE70 80W Dolby Digital and DTS
    SpeakersFronts: Jensen SPX7 Rears: Jensen SPX4 Centre: Jensen SPX13 Subwoofer: Jensen SPX17

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