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Wellspring presents
Strange Planet (1999)

Neil: Society has a lot to understand towards the meaning of human behavior. In the future, we'll be using scientific methods to find our perfect pattern, we won't be leaving our fates to chaos.
Ewan: What do you mean in the future, Neil? We have dating agencies now. It's where losers go.

- Felix Williamson, Tom Long

Review By: Joel Cunningham   
Published: June 18, 2003

Stars: Claudia Karvan, Naomi Watts, Alice Garner
Other Stars: Tom Long, Aaron Jeffery, Felix Williamson, Hugo Weaving
Director: Emma-Kate Croghan

Manufacturer: DVSS
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for drug use, sexuality, and language
Run Time: 01h:32m:52s
Release Date: June 10, 2003
UPC: 720917536828
Genre: comedy

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B- C-B-C- C-

DVD Review

Strange Planet follows the lives of two groups of 20-somethings in Australia over the course of a year of their lives. Like all disaffected Gen-Xers in movies, they bounce from relationship to relationship and one emotional crisis after another, all the while searching for love and meaning. As the year wears on, the separate circles bump into each other, until finally, in the end, they come together in an utterly contrived attempt at an emotional denouement.

A lot about Strange Planet is contrived and much of it is overly self-conscious. The characters, for instance, are a lot of fun, but they don't really feel natural, and they aren't given much to work with from month to month. With six leads, of course, it's a little difficult to keep track of each respective plot and all the peripheral characters. It's hard enough to tell the main characters apart, though they are identifiable by their one-dimensional traits. Judy (Claudia Karvan) is hell-bent on advancing her career, even if it means using men to do it. Sally (Alice Garner) is big into parties, sex, and experimentation. Alice (Naomi Watts) is more reserved, living vicariously through her buddies. As for the guys, Neil (Felix Williamson) is a geek desperate for a meaningful relationship, Ewan (Felix Williamson) is too clingy, and Joel (Aaron Jeffery) is emotionally shattered post-divorce.

Sometimes I can forgive narrative incoherence if a film works on a scene by scene basis, and in this regard, Strange Planet is hit-or-miss. Dialogue never feels genuine, always striving to be "witty" and revealing. It's a common trait for these kind of films post-Clerks, but this one can't quite pull it off. None of the setups are particularly original, and more often than not, the characters seem to be reacting to the plot rather than motivating it (not that there is much of a plot anyway). Part of the problem is the rather unwieldy cast. A few of the characters have interesting things to do (I enjoyed Judy's struggles at work), but many of the storylines are unfocused (Sally jumps in and out of character throughout). And since all are given equal screentime, large portions of the film fall flat.

Emma-Kate Croghan loves stylistic flourishes, and her somewhat disjointed, energetic direction breathes some life into the lumpy screenplay. Each month is depicted with an onscreen title and some impressive time-lapse footage of Sydney, and throughout she mixes slow and fast-motion, montage, humorous flashbacks, and camera tricks to approximate the theoretically exciting lifestyles of the main characters. Croghan (who also co-wrote), stages some effective scenes, but she seems to have done her best to fit in her directorial quirks whether or not they make sense emotionally.

Rating for Style: B-
Rating for Substance: C-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: This isn't a bad transfer, but it's a little off putting at times. Colors run the gamut from natural to oversaturated to muted, and though some of this is obviously director intent, deficiencies like smearing, softness and loss of detail are not. There are also some grain problems at times. That said, I didn't notice any compression artifacts of edge enhancement, and the source material appears in good condition.

Image Transfer Grade: B-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0English Stereoyes
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: Audio is offered in either the original Dolby stereo or a remixed 5.1 track, and neither is very impressive. The stereo track is schizophrenic, with very loud songs and very quiet dialogue, and the balance never sounds quite right. The same problem exists on the 5.1 remix track, but it isn't as severe. On the other hand, it's a very unnatural track, with lots of activity from all the channels, whether it makes sense of not. The result is some odd surround action, like when a character is turning the pages in a book and we hear the paper rustle in the rear channels. Add to these problems the heavy accents and lack of subtitles, and Strange Planet is a very frustrating film to listen to.

Audio Transfer Grade: C-


Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Scene Access with 24 cues and remote access
Cast and Crew Filmographies
1 Original Trailer(s)
8 Other Trailer(s) featuring Zus & Zo, Ran, Russian Ark, Les Destinées, Clockwatchers, Girls Can't Swim, Margarita Happy Hour, The Umbrellas of Cherbourg
1 Feature/Episode commentary by director Emma-Kate Croghan
Weblink/DVD-ROM Material
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: Aside from the trailer, brief filmographies for the leads, and a Wellspring trailer gallery with spots for Zus & Zo, Ran, Russian Ark, Les Destinées, Clockwatchers, Girls Can't Swim, Margarita Happy Hour, and The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, this disc includes a better-than-average commentary from director Emma-Kate Croghan. She talks a lot about the oddball screenplay and spends a bit of time discussing her technical choices. She's fun to listen to, and she offers some worthwhile remarks.

Extras Grade: C-


Final Comments

Strange Planet is an offbeat Australian comedy that doesn't really work, despite an engaging cast. Wellspring's DVD isn't too bad, despite the questionable audio quality, so give it a rent if you enjoy Aussie humor.


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