November 19, 2008 / 6:32 AM / in 9 years

Hollywood's "Wizard of Oz" lauded for stunning, sexy epic

SYDNEY (Reuters) - With stunning scenery, steamy love scenes, and an adorable Aboriginal child star, the outback epic “Australia” received largely positive reviews after its world premiere but failed to meet all the high expectations.

<p>Nicole Kidman walks in the rain under an umbrella held by director Baz Luhrmann on the red carpet at the world premiere of their new film "Australia" in Sydney, November 18, 2008. REUTERS/Tim Wimborne</p>

Starring homegrown Hollywood stars Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman, Australians were eagerly awaiting Tuesday’s world premiere in Sydney, hoping the ambitious, 165-minute movie will help revive a stagnant local film industry and boost tourism.

It is the first movie in seven years from one of Hollywood’s favorite Australian directors, Baz Luhrmann, who set out to make a 1940s-style romantic epic modeled on “Gone With The Wind” that will become part of Australian film history.

But with such high expectations for Australia’s most expensive film, with a reported price tag of US$130 million, “Australia” disappointed some local critics.

The Melbourne Age described it as an “overlong melodramatic saga” with irritating Australian cliches to appeal to tourists.

Veteran critic David Stratton in The Australian said it “is not the masterpiece we hoped” but added it was easy to take, praising the magnificent shooting and acting performances.

The Daily Telegraph, however, said Luhrman’s “hotly anticipated epic treats the Australian Outback as if it were a monumental theater. It doesn’t let him down.”

The movie, under News Corp’s 20th Century Fox, features Oscar-winning Kidman, 41, as haughty English aristocrat Lady Sarah Ashley who comes to Australia on the brink of World War Two where she owns a sprawling cattle property.

Under threat of a takeover, she joins forces with a “drover” or cowboy (Jackman) and an Aboriginal boy, played by newcomer 13-year-old Brandon Walters, to drive a herd of cattle across the outback to Darwin before the Japanese start bombing the city.

<p>Hugh Jackman and Nicole Kidman in a scene from "Australia". REUTERS/Handout</p>

Along the way the aristocrat and drover fall in love.

SERIOUS UNDERTONES

As well as showcasing Australia’s rugged landscape and history, Luhrmann weaves in the controversial issue of the “stolen generation” when Aboriginal children were taken from their families between the 1880s and 1960s and raised as whites.

Entertainment industry newspaper The Hollywood Reporter said Luhrmann had used his creative wizardry to make a film that was rousing, passionate and “a shamelessly melodramatic, often eccentric spectacle with true-blue blockbuster potential.”

“Despite some cringe-making Harlequin Romance moments ... ”Australia“ defies all but the most cynical not to get carried away by the force of its grandiose imagery and storytelling,” wrote Megan Lehmann.

Luhrmann, who only finished editing the film about 48 hours prior to its first screening, said he did not expect everyone to like “Australia” and acknowledged such a movie was a risk.

But after all, he added, he directed the musical “Moulin Rouge” in 2001, also starring Kidman, that received mixed reviews but went on to win eight Oscar nominations, taking home two, and was an international box-office success.

The film’s studio, 20th Century Fox, has launched an ambitious marketing strategy ahead of the movie’s release in the United States on November 26 in time for Thanksgiving weekend, one of the biggest box-office weekends of the year.

It also lines “Australia” up for next February’s Oscars.

Editing by Miral Fahmy

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