MOVIE REVIEW: Respectful but unsubtle remake of Oz classic
Directed by Shawn Seet (Australia)
99 minutes (PG)
Starring Geoffrey Rush, Jai Courtney, Finn Little, Trevor Jamieson
Verdict: A respectful but unsubtle remake of an Oz classic
How's this for a blow to the spirit: what if Storm Boy grew up to be a capitalist? That's the twist in this new film version of Colin Thiele's 1964 boy-and-his-pelican tale, which has been a mainstay of school reading lists for two generations.
In this retelling, Mike Kingley (Geoffrey Rush) arrives in Adelaide from Europe to rubber-stamp a new mining deal in the Pilbara by the company that is now run by his son-in-law Malcolm (Erik Thomson). While there, he is sidetracked by traumatic memories, and begins telling his granddaughter Maddie (Morgana Davies) the story of his childhood in the wilds of the Coorong in the 1950s.
Young Mike (Finn Little) lives in a beachside humpy, cut off from the world and kept out of school by his grieving fisherman father, Hideaway Tom (Jai Courtney). Along with his friend, local Indigenous man Fingerbone Bill (Trevor Jamieson), Mike finds a nest of pelican chicks orphaned by hunters who come to the region to shoot seabirds.
Mike takes the bald, helpless chicks into his home and hand feeds them fish blended into mush. Dubbed Mr Proud, Mr Ponder and Mr Percival, the birds grow up to be dependent on Mike, who soon finds he has to teach them how to fly and catch fish for themselves.
Australian cinema classics are getting remade left, right and centre. In the last few years we've seen Wake in Fright, Picnic at Hanging Rock, Romper Stomper and The Devil's Playground all reimagined for TV, as well as new versions of Ozploitation movies such as Patrick and Long Weekend.
The original 1976 Storm Boy film, by French-born director Henri Safran, is a real gem: a humane, poetic slice of life that doesn't make any judgements about the people it's portraying. It made a killing at the local box office at the time, but you can see why a remake was deemed necessary: few of today's kids would have the attention span to watch it, trained as they are to expect fast cuts and simple explanations.
The question is, do today's kids really need the framing device of a maudlin Geoffrey Rush to tell them how to think about the story of a boy and his beloved pelican? Or do we, like infant seabirds, need to be spoon fed?
Nevertheless, the new Storm Boy is effective family entertainment that brings this great Australian story to a new generation with some good performances, strong visuals and an ending that is genuinely heartwarming.