Baz Luhrmann’s wartime-epic show on Hulu and Disney Plus could give his least popular film a new lease of life
If there’s one thing we know about legendary director Baz Luhrmann, it’s that anything he’s directing is going to be spectacular: think The Great Gatsby, Moulin Rouge, Elvis… you get the idea. We already knew that Luhrmann is revisiting – or as the publicity puts it, reimagining – his 2008 film Australia as a six-part series, but now we have the trailer (just below) to show us exactly what to expect. The show is called Faraway Downs, and will be available to stream on Hulu in the US, and Disney Plus worldwide, on November 26, 2023.
The show stars Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman as an English aristocrat and an Australian cattle drover respectively, but unlike the movie, the show will be told through the eyes of a third character, Nullah, played by Brandon Walters. Nullah is a bi-racial indigenous child caught in the government’s horrific Stolen Generations policies.
The Faraway Downs of the title is a million-acre cattle ranch in the Australian outback, owned by Kidman’s Lady Sarah Ashley. Lady Sarah travels to Australia to confront her husband and sell the ranch; when her husband dies, a ruthless cattle baron plots to take over the land. Cue horny-handed cattle drover The Drover, who joins forces with the aristocrat to protect the ranch.
Is Faraway Downs going to be any good?
It certainly looks promising. Luhrmann has taken the two million feet of film he says he shot for the original movie recut it into six chapters, adding tons of new footage beyond what was in the (already 165 minutes!) original movie, including a new ending. And that could be good or bad.
There’s lots of good. Critics praised the “epic feel”, the “amazing cinematic moments” and a distinct “they don’t make movies like this” vibe: Australia harks back to the large-scale romantic adventures of Hollywood’s golden age and it looks absolutely gorgeous.
But, and it’s a big but, a lot of critics had the same opinion as Simon Weaving of Screenwize: “It is a huge film in scale, scope, look and feel, and of course budget … It is also a huge disappointment.” Empire magazine’s Chris Hewitt put it well: “Often beautiful but wildly inconsistent, Australia is none more Baz Luhrmann, which perhaps says it all”.
As it stands, Australia has the lowest audience rating of any of Luhrmann’s movies on Rotten Tomatoes (though The Great Gatsby has a marginally lower critic rating there).
It’ll be fascinating to see if the new additions help address some of the weaknesses of the film, which many reviewers described as Luhrmann’s reach exceeding his grasp. With more time to breathe, and hopefully to dig into characters – including this all-new perspective we’ll get from Nullah, which we have to assume was Luhrmann’s original vision for the project – perhaps Luhrmann will be able to really grasp the story he was trying to tell.
And perhaps it’ll also take out some of the things that so riled Australian newspaper The Age’s Jim Schembri, who said that “one wonders if there are any tablecloth clichés about Australia that have been missed… about the only thing missing is a bloke named Bruce.” Here’s hoping that’s not one of Lurhmann’s additions.
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