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The Criterion Collection presents
Walkabout (1971)

"It can't be much further"
- Girl (Jenny Agutter)

Review By: Jeff Ulmer  
Published: November 23, 2001

Stars: Jenny Agutter, Luc Roeg, David Gulpilil
Other Stars: John Meillon, Robert McDarra, Peter Carver, John Illingsworth, Hilary Bamberger, Barry Donnelly, Noeline Brown, Carlo Manchini
Director: Nicolas Roeg

Manufacturer: Nimbus
MPAA Rating: PG for (Nudity, some disturbing scenes)
Run Time: 01h:40m:26s
Release Date: May 06, 1998
UPC: 037429123225
Genre: adventure

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A+ AB+A- C+

DVD Review

Nicolas Roeg began directing in 1970 on Mick Jagger's first star vehicle, Performance, but his career in the film industry dates back to the late 1940s. Working his way through the trade, as a dubber, camera operator, and finally director of photography, the 1960s found him shooting second unit for David Lean's Lawrence of Arabia (1962), and as cinematographer on a number of Roger Corman pictures, including The Masque of the Red Death (1964), the film adaptation of Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 (1966), Far From the Madding Crowd (1967), and Petulia (1968). Roeg's sense of visual lends an air of beauty and composition to his work that adds to its uniqueness. He set off for Australia's outback to shoot his solo directorial debut, 1971s' Walkabout. As one of the tagline reads, it is "Just about the most different film you'll ever see."

Boy: "We're lost, aren't we?"

After being brought to the outback by their father for a picnic, two city raised, middle class children wind up lost and alone with nothing but the clothes on their backs, a modest food supply, and a transistor radio. Completely disoriented with no way back to their familiar urban surroundings, the fourteen-year-old girl (Jenny Agutter) and her younger brother (Luc Roeg, the director's son) set out across the vast and rugged terrain of the outback, facing scorching heat and no idea where they are going to find water or any sign of civilization. Totally unequipped for survival in this wasteland, the pair must rely on their will to survive and luck to hold out. The discovery of an oasis marks a brief respite, but the following morning the water is gone. Their salvation comes in the form of a young aborigine boy (David Gulpilil), who is undergoing his rite of passage into adulthood, living off the land for months while on walkabout. Despite his arrival, the challenges of culture and language place barriers in their communication. As this trio makes its way through the awe inspiring Australian landscape, their spiritual and mental maturity are put to the test. It is a journey of discovery, of self and environment, of custom and culture, and of life and death.

Over 30 years after its initial release, Walkabout still holds up as a unique and visionary masterpiece. While on the surface the storyline is simplistic, the social, environmental and racial commentary, fill the work with meaning on many levels. Metaphors are abundant, though some are made on a more conscious level than others. This is the kind of film that begs to be watched in a group setting and discussed afterward. It is interesting to note that the film was rated R when first released, due to the extended nude scenes. The rating was later dropped to PG due to the context of the nudity, which is most appropriate in conveying the burgeoning sexuality of the main players, but is not exploited for its sensuality. In fact, the nudity rather reinforces the naturalness of their experience, and the contrast with the children's need to remain in adherence with their societal norms, despite the impracticality of their school uniforms in a hostile desert environment. The film does contain scenes of animals being hunted and killed which are real, and despite being disturbing, they are contrasted against civilized society's use of animals for sport and food, and also are used as another point of difference between western and aboriginal culture.

Girl: We don't want people thinking we're a couple of tramps.
Boy: What people?

The photography is breathtaking, both in subject and in composition. The sense of being lost is heightened with dramatic pull outs which emphasize the perspective of the characters against vast tracts of land. Stop, slow and reverse motion add surrealistic touches to visuals. The use of natural light and shadow also add to the atmosphere. Dialogue is minimal, and Aboriginal language is not translated. John Barry's score blends perfectly, capturing the emotion of each scene. Only the occasional overstatement of some of the less appetizing aspects of human existence take away from the majesty being presented.

There is little about the film which dates it, and its message is as strong today as ever. The imagery is tremendous, the story thought provoking, and the style exquisite. Like the observations of the life it represents, many themes are not fully exposed, leaving the viewer to come to their own conclusions about what is being portrayed. This adds a very cerebral quality to the movie, and is one of its key draws. I would be very surprised if its audience did not respond on an emotional level to Walkabout. This is a very special film, and a treasure in my collection.

Rating for Style: A+
Rating for Substance: A


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.77:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: As one of Criterion's early DVD releases, we don't get the benefit of an anamorphic transfer, however color fidelity is extremely good, and while there is some loss of resolution due to the nonanamorphic nature, detail is still well preserved. There are some compression issues in places, and a bit of aliasing. Black levels are solid, and contrast is good.

Image Transfer Grade: B+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: Mono audio is well presented with no major technical issues to speak of. Dialogue is clear and there are no signs of distortion. Frequency range is limited due to the source, but does not sound unbalanced. This is the best I have heard the film.

Audio Transfer Grade: A-


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
2 Original Trailer(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by director Nicolas Roeg, star Jenny Agutter
Packaging: Amaray
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: Criterion's DVD of Walkabout is a direct port from its laserdisc predecessor, which adds back five minutes of footage removed for the film's original U.S. theatrical release. Director Nicolas Roeg and star Jenny Agutter provide scene specific commentary during the duration of the film. This is an extremely engaging track, discussing all aspects of the film and the philosphies and technicalities behind making it. It is clear to hear Roeg's investment in the film on all levels, and Jenny Agutter's thoughts on what it meant to her, and on working with her aboriginal co-star are very interesting. The commentary is edited together, and viewers will note one flub in this process over the discussion of footwear, where continuity is lost as a result.

Two theatrical trailers are also included.

The menus feature a motion montage of images from the film, but does contain spoilers for those who haven't yet experienced it, so get on with the viewing quickly.

An essay on the film by Roger Ebert is included in the single fold leaflet.

Extras Grade: C+


Final Comments

Unavailable for years due to rights disputes, Walkabout is a unique and important film, which also has an unequivocable beauty to it. Magnificent photography, powerful imagery, and a distinctly contrasting story unfolds in the natural surroundings of the Australian outback. The casting is perfect, the effect haunting. The uncut director's version and Criterion's inclusion of the commentary adds a different perspective to this monumental work. This is a film to be cherished, and comes highly recommended.


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