SYDNEY (Reuters) - Red carpets were rolled out in Sydney and the dusty outback on Tuesday for the world premiere of the epic movie "Australia" which aims to showcase the rugged continent, its history and indigenous people to the world.
Director Baz Luhrmann's ambitious and grandly named film, the most expensive made in Australia, was released amid a blaze of publicity and a race to finish the movie on time.
Australian co-stars Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman have both carved out lucrative Hollywood careers but wanted to work with Luhrmann, a perfectionist who was so busy editing the film until the last moment that the cast did not see it before the premiere.
"I knew we would get there but it has been a long time," Jackman told Reuters as he walked the red carpet in Sydney, while screenings were held in three other Australian locations.
The two-hour 40-minute long movie, which is reported to have cost News Corp's 20th Century Fox about US$130 million, is a World War Two drama set in stunning Australian landscape.
An English aristocrat (Kidman) travels to Australia and joins forces with a "drover" or cowboy (Jackman) and an Aboriginal child to drive a herd of cattle across Australia, falling in love along the way.
Australia is pinning high hopes on the romantic adventure, which Luhrmann said he had filmed in the style of "Gone With The Wind" hoping to make his mark on Australian film history, but it remained to be seen if it would draw audiences globally.
"There will be some (bad reviews), and there will be some people who really embrace it," said Luhrmann, admitting spending such a large amount on an old-fashioned style movie was a risk.
Early reviews from Australian critics were mixed, with David Stratton in The Australian writing it was not the hoped-for masterpiece while Jim Schembri in The Sydney Morning Herald said it was good but not destined to be a classic -- and way too long.
Australian filmmakers hope the movie will revive interest in an industry that did well with quirky films like "Crocodile Dundee," "Muriel's Wedding" and "Babe" but has slipped in popularity after a few years of bleak, box-office failures.
The tourism industry has linked a A$50 million (US$32 million) international tourism campaign to the movie to try to make Australia a coveted destination in tough financial times.
Kidman, 41, who worked with Luhrmann on his last and third movie "Moulin Rouge" in 2001, said making "Australia" was a "once in a lifetime thing" for her.
"Rarely do you get a make a film that you have dreamed of doing since you were little, which will be part of Australian cinema," said Kidman. "This is a celebration for me and hopefully for this country."
The movie also focuses on "the stolen generation," when tens of thousands of Aboriginal children were taken away from their families between the 1880s and 1960s to be raised by whites.
Australia's new Labor government this year issued a long-sought formal apology to Aborigines for past injustices, heralding a new era in race relations in the nation.
Australia has 460,000 indigenous Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders, or 2 percent of a 21 million population, who are the nation's most disadvantaged group with high rates of unemployment, alcohol and drug abuse, and domestic violence.
Luhrmann said the release of the film in the same year as the national apology was coincidental, but in light of the apology, he felt he had to work the message into the story.
"Australia" opens in the United States and Australia on November 26 and in Britain on December 26.
Editing by Miral Fahmy