Sunday 27 November 2016

On Blu-ray - NZ's finest - Taika Waititi's HUNT FOR THE WILDERPEOPLE and Geoff Murphy's UTU (Redux edition)

As Hacksaw Ridge sinks slowly into a box office of maybe $7-8 million, it's clear now that we can name a winner of the award for the most popular film from this neck of the woods in 2016, to whit Taika Waititi's Hunt for the Wilderpeople, a supersmart little film from New Zealand which grossed over $10 million. It's probably also the best film from anywhere near here. Not that anybody official or in charge of anything from round here is recognising this in any way. Possibly embarrassment might be coming into it somewhere.

A look at the Blu-ray disc of Wilderpeople purchased in shaky Wellington a week or so ago leads to a number of conclusions that make you think a bit so here's what I thought right off the cuff. Let me tell you first however that having watched the film only a few months ago I thought I would watch it with the commentary track on. I have never managed this all the way through before whether it be commentary by the film-makers or by the esteemed critics who do this sort of thing for  a living. (No offence folks especially to all the Film Alert contributors and correspondents who do this sort of thing for no doubt wildly bountiful recompense, but usually something sets me off and I switch it back over.) Oops. Where did that come from.

But...the commentary track is an ill-considered and rather banal and self-congratulatory mess, clearly done on the hop without much preparation or any 'production' that might seem to get the talk headed towards things of far greater interest than occurs here. Disappointing on that level alone.

When I mean 'production' I mean things like cueing up a point and then allowing the film itself, including its dialogue, to kick back in where appropriate. As it is, you can't hear anything except the voices on the commentary track. So...I'm reminded of the uncouth lout who yelled out from the balcony of the State Theatre in Sydney during a long ago SFF when the actor Keith Carradine was rabbiting on under the influence of something that affected his normal clipped delivery. "Listen mate, while you're wanking away down there we could be watching a movie.' Or some such. ...

So.. I'm afraid when a dinner break arrived I gave it up. I'll watch the film again when the memory of it retreats  and I want to remember its virtues - its steely humanity, the great sense of humour especially among all the supporting cast of coppers and backwoodsmen with no respect for authority.

Onto Geoff Murphy's 1983 Utu. The film was always quite a controversial movie in its home territory. Its quality and appeal to a broader international audience was recognised from the start with selection for Cannes way back then. Given the tiny output of NZ film in the day, it was immediately treated as something special. The story goes, according to expert observers and according to the info in the 8 minute short included among the extras, that once the film was finished the producers took it over and fiddled with it. Various versions were in circulation. No details are provided so you would need a hefty memory to recall just exactly what has been changed. But I am assured that the attached "Redux" title is well-justified.

Utu Redux Poster and DVD cover
Way back in the early 80s, Murphy was the rising NZ star. His  Goodbye Pork Pie was a huge hit, a smart local comedy that has retained its status as a local treasure. He followed it with Utu and followed that with The Quiet Earth. Both were hits and attracted much international attention. What happened after that may well be explained better in Murphy's recently issued autobiography but from this distance it remains inscrutable. Three years after The Quiet Earth he wrote and directed Never Say Die,  an action movie starring Temuera Morrison which has sunk without trace. Then he went Stateside, beginning with a TV movie starring Tom Skeritt and Max Von Sydow and then getting jobs on genre movies some of which were big hits.

In Gaylene Preston's making of doco that comes as an extra on Utu Redux Murphy comes across as a charismatic but gentle figure on the set. He's in charge and he takes care of details with lots of ease. You get the impression the large crew of actors and technicians would go the extra yard for him. Preston focuses lots of close-ups of Murphy at work, so much so you actually wonder what if any chemistry existed between the two film-makers at least while the rigours of making Utu were being undergone! Oh well.

Finally, the Redux version with its remarkably restored images reminds you that the acting talent selected for the speaking parts was patchy in its technique. Clearly Murphy wanted to delineate the class differences between officers and men and between Maori and Pakeha but the actors called on to do the first especially don't get to convince you. Maybe hard work with a dialogue coach wasn't a production priority but it's the one thing that distracts from the rigorous authenticity that is otherwise achieved, most especially in the representation of quotidian life in the Maori settlements and in the methods by which the Maori flee from their would-be conquerors. That remains extremely impressive.

The NZ Blu-ray has apparently sold lots of copies. My copy, acquired from Wellington's wondrous mostly rental store Aro St Video, was one of a pile the store held in the expectation of serious sales.

A New Zealand website has this information. There are two Blu-ray offerings - 2-disc ($39.95nz) and a signed, very limited edition, 3-disc set ($39.95nz) with the same contents as the DVD sets but have a Blu-ray of the feature. All Utu Redux editions are Region Free with two audio options, DD 2.0 and DD 5.1 Surround, for both DVD and Blu-ray. Details and orders can be placed with Aro Video of Wellington 

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