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  Storm Boy The Bird Is The Word
Year: 2019
Director: Shawn Seet
Stars: Geoffrey Rush, Jai Courtney, Trevor Jamieson, Finn Little, Erik Thompson, Bradley Trent Williams, Natasha Wanganeen, Morgan Davies, Michelle Nightingale, Paul Blackwell, Chantal Contouri, Brendan Rock, James Smith, David Gulpilil
Genre: DramaBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: Michael Kingley (Geoffrey Rush) has been dreaming again, of his experiences when he was a boy during the nineteen-fifties in the Southern Australian region of the Coorong, where he lived with his father Tom (Jai Courtney) in a small shack near the beach. Rejecting society, Tom made his living as a fisherman, bringing his catch back to the nearby village to sell and stock up on supplies. But now, all these years later, Michael is the head of a multinational corporation which has been trying to buy the region where he grew up, though he is more a figurehead than a businessman with power over what is to be done. Nevertheless, there have been protests about the land grab, and it troubles him...

Storm Boy was a 1963 novella by Colin Thiele which became an Australian national treasure, both in book form and as a 1976 film which adapted its story more or less straightforwardly, though with enough poetry in its imagery to speak to the country's character in general: it is still taught in schools there. But as with plenty of properties in the twenty-first century, there had to be a remake since going back to an older movie was supposedly unthinkable for the greater part of the new potential audience, and they had to update the material too, hence the feeling you were watching two different films playing both at once: the original and its sequel, perhaps, or two separate remakes.

Not that this was a bad thing necessarily, in this case for one very good reason; The Coorong where Thiele set his tale and the seventies incarnation was made was in grave peril from environmental pollution and climate change, meaning what was presented as a Garden of Eden here was in danger of being lost forever, pelicans and all. The native pelicans were what the area was famous for thanks to the book, as Michael befriends one when he saves three chicks which have been orphaned and raises them himself - that part of the source was retained, and once again a group of the birds were trained to act along with the human performers, they being apparently easier to train that many animals.

The pelicans, that was, not the humans. Nevertheless, there is only so much they can do, and CGI was predictably implemented for some shots, which did take you out of the film a little, unlike the version of decades before. They did share one issue, however, as pelicans tended not to have much personality to discern on a movie screen, so watching Mr Percival honk and flap on the beach had to be taken as read that this was endearing, for cute these creatures were not, not even in chick form. Still, that added a little quirk to what in the remake was pretty slick, all the better to convey that environmental message, where while in the first Michael was keen to get to civilisation, the newer Michael was keen to stay in the Garden where mankind went largely unnoticed. White mankind, that was.

The Fingerbone Bill (Trevor Jamieson) character was retained, since while in '76 the matters of indigenous people's land rights was being brought to the fore by the nation's filmmakers in a variety of ways, by '19 this was if anything even more in the public consciousness, an idea whose time had come (and arguably should have come centuries before, hence the guilt). Here he was given a spiritual quality to the extent that more than the already well aware seventies film, he was emblematic of his entire race rather than an individual in his own right, but as ever this project's heart was in the right place. That said, curiously the Rush businessman, who rediscovers his past link to the land, was depicted as more spiritually connected than Bill, to the point of getting all the "Ah, do you see?" dialogue which he shares with his granddaughter Madeline (Morgan Davies) in intermittent catch ups with the present. If this raised the vital subject of conservation, as it was plainly intended to, you could not really resent it, as unsubtle as it was. Music by Alan John.

[Storm Boy will be available on Digital Download from April 6th and on DVD later in the year.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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