December 19, 2008 / 2:25 AM / 9 years ago

"Australia" director defends movie against critics

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - Baz Luhrmann’s “Australia” may be doing some middling U.S. boxoffice, earning about $39 million since it opened Thanksgiving weekend, but the director is unrepentant as the movie nears its first month of release stateside.

<p>Australian actors Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman arrive for the British premiere of "Australia" at Leicester Square in central London in this file photo from December 10, 2008. REUTERS/Andrew Parsons</p>

In one of his first interviews since the movie opened, he spoke out against “Australia‘s” critics and those he feels call him the “black hole of cinema.” He also said he will move quickly on his next project, an adaptation of “The Great Gatsby,” which he described as a perfect parable for economic disaster.

“A lot of reviewers like ‘Australia.’ And we’re making people cry; I know because they write to us,” he told the Hollywood Reporter during an interview at the Four Seasons Hotel. “But there are those that don’t get it. A lot of the film scientists don’t get it. And it’s not just that that they don’t get it, but they hate it and they hate me, and they think I‘m the black hole of cinema. They say, ‘He shouldn’t have made it, and he should die.'”

Asked why he thought the reactions were so passionate, he replied: “I know what it’s about.”

The movie’s detractors, he said, were used to movies that were neatly defined.

”This is not (simply) a romantic comedy for 40-year-old women or action movies for 17-year-old boys, and that’s not OK with some people. It’s not OK for people to come eat at the same table of cinema. But you look at movies like ‘Gone With the Wind’ and Old Hollywood classics, and they don’t fit in any box.

“Corny Hollywood movies from the ‘40s freak out (the film scientists),” he added.

Luhrmann struck a tone that was as unyielding as many of the creative choices in his movies, but was also occasionally conciliatory. “I‘m not whining, because when you do what I do, you expect to be covered in mud. But there seems to be a lot of misinformation.”

Among those pieces of misinformation is box office, he said; Luhrmann noted that “Moulin Rouge” has been on a similar pace as his latest epic, and that sticking it out for the long haul was not an uncommon experience for him. “I‘m used to the waves crashing around me. And what I do is stick to a craggy rock as they keep coming. And if you stick to it long enough someone else will stick to it, too, and then someone else and then someone else.”

(Indeed, “Rouge” was at $36 million through three weeks of release and finished with $57 million, though some might say the reported $130 million production budget of “Australia” necessitated a higher return.)

The director confirmed that he officially acquired rights to “Gatsby,” the F. Scott Fitzgerald novel set during the roaring 20s. Luhrmann sees the pre-Depression story as a wake-up call as the economy crashes and another gilded age, as he sees it, comes to an end.

“If you wanted to show a mirror to people that says, ‘You’ve been drunk on money,’ they’re not going to want to see it. But if you reflected that mirror on another time they’d be willing to.”

He added, “People will need an explanation of where we are and where we’ve been, and ‘The Great Gatsby’ can provide that explanation.”

Luhrmann appeared as particularly interested in worsening economic times and attitudes -- noting a kind of glib wealth that came with “the Wall Street trader who has a house in the Hamptons as big as an airport” -- and he went on to say that the people needed to take the message of hope from “Australia.”

He said that he wants to move quickly on the “Gatsby” project because of that timeliness. “I‘m going to move faster than I have before. I’d be surprised if it’s another seven years,” he said, referring to the period between “Rouge” and “Australia.”

The project also might not be with Fox. The director said he’s “talking to everyone, and they’re all interested” -- and paused a full 10 seconds when asked if his experience with Fox was a satisfactory one, before offering a noncommittal answer.

Reuters/Hollywood Reporter

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