Main Menu Introduction
Main Menu Audio & Animation
Audio Commentary-Nicolas Roeg (Director) and Jenny Agutter (Actor)
Biographies-Crew-Roger Ebert Essay
Notes-Roger Ebert Essay
Trailer-The Bank; Mullet
|Year Of Production||1970|
|RSDL / Flipper||No/No||Cast & Crew|
|Region Coding||1,2,3,4,5,6||Directed By||Nicolas Roeg|
|Pan & Scan/Full Frame||None||
English Dolby Digital 2.0 mono (224Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
|Widescreen Aspect Ratio||1.66:1|
|Video Format||576i (PAL)|
|Original Aspect Ratio||1.85:1||Miscellaneous|
|Annoying Product Placement||No|
|Action In or After Credits||No|
Whilst strictly speaking not an Australian film, the subject matter is so utterly Australian that the film really is an Australian film for all intents and purposes. As such, this was the very first Australian film that I ever saw and it has long held a very special place in my cinematic heart. Walkabout is like no other film and during the course of its 100 minutes it takes you on a journey unlike any other. It is a visually stunning journey through the outback and it is the power of that visual journey that leaves such an indelible mark upon the memory. If you read some of the rather interesting essay by Roger Ebert, it becomes clear that this is a film held in high regard by many critics and a film therefore all the more missed due to the lack of its appearance for many years on home video. To be honest though, it needed DVD to come along and give the film the format that it needed in order to bring to life the magnificent visuals.
Naturally, one might wonder why a film with an almost non-existent story could be held in such high regard. But what appears on the face of it to be a film lacking in a story is in fact a film with a rich tapestry of a story that can be taken at many levels. The story begins in the hustle and bustle of Sydney (and just check out the imagery of Sydney in 1970!) where the Girl (Jenny Agutter) and the Boy (Lucien John - actually Nicolas Roeg's son) live with their father (the late John Meillon) in an apartment overlooking the harbour. Father ends up taking the Girl and the Boy for a drive out into the bush for a picnic, and promptly suicides - leaving the Girl and the Boy lost in some of the most inhospitable country on earth. Left to their own devices, the experience is made all the more difficult for the extremely sudden change from middle class suburbia to outback survival with very little in the way of suitable clothing, food or water. Struggling to survive the heat, they happen upon a small "oasis" in the desert where the small water hole restores them - at least until it dries up, whereupon they meet a young Aboriginal man (David Gulpilil - despite the incorrect film credit spelling) on his tribal rite of passage from boyhood to manhood - a walkabout. Taking the lost children in tow, together they head out of the desert in search of civilization, trying to overcome the huge cultural distances between themselves whilst also overcoming the physical distances of the outback. The film reaches an ambiguous conclusion that allows you to draw a number of conclusions about the nature of the film.
Better known as a cinematographer, used to working with the ilk of David Lean, this was Nicolas Roeg's debut as a feature film director. The fact that his foundation is in cinematography pervades everything about the film, and the result is a complete domination of the vastness and majesty of the outback. If anyone ever wants to know what the outback is like, then this is the film to show them. The biggest way in which the enormous vista of the Australian outback is used to emphasise the minuscule nature of three people in this landscape is in the very long distance shots that are often used in the film. Naturally enough in a film that is predominantly a visual experience, there is not much required in the way of acting here. Indeed, David Gulpilil in particular had to do little other than be himself, which he does in a wonderfully engaging way - right down to his sheer perplexion over his rejection at the hands of the Girl. It may not be acting per se, but it is still emotionally stronger than most of what professional actors have been able to produce over the ensuing thirty years. Jenny Agutter is probably better remembered for the nude scenes in the film, but provides a thoroughly charming performance as the middle class girl trying to come to terms with the reality of the harshness of the Australian outback and her awakening sexuality. It should be said that the nudity is very sensitively handled and never descends into anything tawdry, as perhaps it could so easily have done.
To my mind this remains one of the greatest Australian films and a visual treat that perhaps only now can be finally appreciated for all its glory. There are a number of Australian films that should be in every collection. Regrettably many of the most obvious candidates have yet to make it to Region 4 DVD (Picnic At Hanging Rock for instance), but Walkabout is certainly one of those DVDs that you should add to your collection.
If there is just one element of the transfer that has to be right for this film it is the video transfer and in particular the colour. If you don't get it right, you can forget everything else for the transfer will not work. Suffice it to say that Madman Entertainment have to a large extent done the film proud.
The transfer is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.66:1 and it is not 16x9 enhanced. All the available sources suggest that the original theatrical ratio of the film was 1.85:1. If this is correct, then it would on face value appear to be a disappointment that we have a 1.66:1 aspect ratio transfer. However, comparing this Region 4 version with The Criterion Collection Region 1 release, which is at a measured ratio of 1.75:1, there does no appear to be much in the way of missing information and I would suspect that the matte has been opened out for the Region 4 release. Accordingly, there is no loss of picture information.
The transfer is quite sharp, but with a distinctly soft look at times that is especially noticeable when you pause the picture, probably a reflection of the way the film was shot. I cannot help but feel though that the problem is not entirely unrelated to interlacing and that the whole could have been improved by the use of RSDL formatting, giving more space for authoring. Despite this slight softness, which is common with the Region 1 release and therefore more than likely inherent in the source material, detail is pretty good indeed. Thankfully there is little if any indication of grain in the transfer, somewhat unusually for a film of this age, and in broad terms this is as clear a transfer of the film as I have ever seen. Shadow detail could perhaps have been a little better at times, but that is perhaps more indicative of the way the film was shot rather than any authoring problems.
Of course, the big need of the film is a superb colour palette and to a very large extent this transfer provides it. Gorgeously saturated, this is as marvellous a collection of reds, browns, yellows, blues, greens and oranges as you are likely to see in film. Truly evocative of the outback, there is absolutely no complaint with the palette we have here - plus it has a nice vibrancy to it that really makes the whole transfer shine. The only indications of oversaturation are in the red weather balloons and even then this is hardly in the major problem area. Wonderful stuff as is so essential to this film.
The are no MPEG artefacts in the transfer, whilst the transfer is also noticeably less afflicted with film-to-video artefacts than the Region 1 release. There is still some shimmer around, such as at 3:25 in the buildings and at 80:32 in the bone pile, but overall the noticeable improvement is truly appreciated. There are film artefacts floating around in the transfer, some of which are a tad noticeable, but nothing more than I would expect in a film of this age and certainly miles better than the Region 1 release of the film.
Very regrettably there are no subtitle options on the DVD.
There are two soundtrack options on the DVD, being an English Dolby Digital 2.0 mono soundtrack and an English Audio Commentary in Dolby Digital 2.0. I checked both soundtracks in their entirety.
The dialogue comes up well in the transfer and is quite easy to understand. There did not appear to be any problems with audio sync in the transfer.
The original score comes from John Barry and a beauty it is too. Wonderfully evocative, incorporating Aboriginal-like motifs where appropriate, it makes no small contribution to the power of the film, complementing the visuals enormously.
Perhaps slightly disappointing that we have only the original mono soundtrack on offer here, it generally is a very decent effort. With just the odd hint of a little hiss in it here and there, there are no really gripes about the sound at all. Naturally enough, the subwoofer and surround channels are completely absent here.
|Surround Channel Use|
Considering that this is only a single layer DVD, Madman have certainly given us a reasonable extras package that is virtually identical to that The Criterion Collection have afforded the film.
After a decent main menu introduction, we get a nicely themed menu (some modest Aboriginal styling to it) with some decent audio and animation enhancement. I actually think it is quite effective and rather distinctive.
Audio Commentary - Nicolas Roeg (Director) and Jenny Agutter (Actor)
This is the audio commentary as recorded by The Criterion Collection in 1996 for their release of the film. Being twenty six years after the filming of the film, it has something of a return-to-the-film style about it. Not overly screen specific but with plenty of interesting behind the film stuff, this is not the most engaging commentary that you will ever hear but is certainly a commentary that rewards the effort to listen to it.
Theatrical Trailer - Short (0:30)
Presented in an aspect ratio that appears to be 1.85:1, it is not 16x9 enhanced and comes with a rather hissy Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack. Well and truly blessed with film artefacts, it is if nothing else an interesting attempt to promote a film that would have been a sod to promote.
Theatrical Trailer - Long (4:04)
Presented in an aspect ratio that appears to be 1.85:1, it is not 16x9 enhanced and comes with a rather hissy Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack. Again it is well and truly blessed with film artefacts, but remains an interesting effort at film promotion.
Biography - Crew
A profile of Nicolas Roeg, interesting in itself but a similar profile of Jenny Agutter would not have gone astray.
Notes - Roger Ebert Essay
For The Criterion Collection release, this formed a booklet insert. Here, it forms 11 pages of notes on the DVD itself. Personally I prefer the booklet presentation, but either way it is an interesting look at the film by one of the famed film critics in the world today.
Trailers - 2
As usual, going under the name of Madman Propaganda (spelt correctly this time), the two trailers are for Mullet (1:57, 2.35:1, not 16x9 enhanced, Dolby Digital 2.0 sound) and The Bank (1:58, 1.85:1, not 16x9 enhanced, Dolby Digital 2.0 sound). Acceptable technical standard even though both would hardly encourage me to check out the films.
Annoyingly these run straight after the film credits and even more annoyingly, that is where you stay (at least on my setup). Unless you intervene and push the menu button, you will be watching the DVD credits as long as it takes for someone to wake up to the fact that these suckers are going nowhere. Basically a poor conclusion to one of the best features Madman has given us to date.
NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.
Walkabout has been available for some time in Region 1 on a DVD from The Criterion Collection. Promoted as a new digital transfer created from a 35mm interpositive, there was always something "not quite right" to me about the transfer. Apart from being just a little grainy at times, as well as being somewhat shimmery, this new Madman Region 4 release emphasises the reason for my qualms about The Criterion Collection release: the Region 1 release has a slightly muted colour palette. The Region 4 release also seems to be a lot cleaner and since it seems to boast an almost identical extras package, is the preferable version in every way. There is a version available in Region 2 but that seems to be inferior in extras when compared to the Region 4.
Walkabout is one of the great Australian films and it is thoroughly deserving of its local DVD release. Generally speaking we have been given a very good DVD but I cannot help but feel that an RSDL formatted DVD would have gone some way towards giving the authors the sort of space to do a superlative job on the video transfer, which frankly could have been better. Still, I am glad that we now have the opportunity for a good quality version on DVD without having to go into hock to get the Region 1 The Criterion Collection release. I cannot recommend this DVD highly enough.
|DVD||Pioneer DV-515, using S-Video output|
|Display||Sony Trinitron Wega (80cm). Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.|
|Audio Decoder||Built in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.|
|Speakers||Energy Speakers: centre EXLC; left and right C-2; rears EXLR; and subwoofer ES-12XL|