'Australia' battles the hype

Columns

At times, distributors go a bit overboard about their films, and can be the film's worst enemies. They create an aura surrounding a movie that can never be lived up to. Baz Luhrmann’s Australia has faced such a hurdle, and it was doubtful that it was ever going to overcome it.

The local hype surrounding the release of Australia at the end of last year reminded me a lot of the lead-up to the release of Pearl Harbor in the U.S. several years ago. They were both promoted as some sort of super-event film that would suck up billions of patrons’ dollars and gain great reviews as well. Few if any pictures can live up to that, and a film can often be viewed as a disaster because it did not reach the levels predicted.

Before its release, there were predictions that Australia would break Titanic's Australian record of A$57.6 million. Then the stories began: "The running time is too long.” "A new ending has been shot after filming was completed." "It’s not going to be ready in time”

Upon its release, Australia did suffer from a number of local reviews that displayed a good deal of disappointment. These reviews may well have been the best thing that happened for the film. Audiences, expecting the worst, have come out of the theatre with a good deal of praise, and word of mouth has been pretty good over the past weeks.

After five weeks, Australia has grossed A$27 million and become the fourth highest-grossing Australian film of all time, behind “Crocodile” Dundee ($47 million), Babe ($36.8 million) and Happy Feet ($31.8 million).

The Nicole Kidman starrer should surpass Happy Feet to reach number three in local box office and may well approach Babe's total. For any other film, this would be seen as a huge success. For Australia, it is viewed as a disappointment, and the main reason is the hype that surrounded the film right from the start. Perhaps Russell Crowe had an inkling of this when he dropped out of the movie, prior to filming, to be replaced by Hugh Jackman.

2008 Box Office in Review
Twenty-nine Australian films were released to cinemas last year with a total box office of around A$36 million. Australia's take was 77% of that total. Second with A$2.2 million was The Black Balloon, followed by Children of the Silk Road with A$1.2 million. No other local film reached the A$1million mark.

Overall, the nation’s box office surged in 2008, with a 6% jump over 2007. The Motion Picture Distributors Association of Australia (MPDAA) has released official figures giving the year’s box office at US$672 million (A$946 million). The top grosser was The Dark Knight, which is now number four on the all-time list for Australia.

Top Australian Films of 2008
Film, distributor, gross in US$million (A$million)
The Dark Knight, Warner Bros., $34m (A$47.8m)
Mamma Mia! Universal, $22.5m (A$31.7m)
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, Paramount, $20.8m (A$29.3m)
Quantum of Solace, Sony, $20.55m (A$28.9m)*
Sex and the City, Roadshow, $19m (A$26.9m)
Australia, Fox, $ 19m (A$26.9m)*
Kung Fu Panda, Paramount $18.4m (A$25.8m)
I Am Legend, Roadshow, $16.5m (A$23.2m)
Hancock, Sony, $14.6m (A$20.6m)
Iron Man, Paramount, $14.2m (A$20m)
*Quantum of Solace and Australia are still in release

E-mail your Australia/New Zealand news items to David Pearce at insidemovies@hotmail.com.