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Hugh Jackman and Nicole Kidman fight to keep a cattle ranch in the Northwest Territories afloat in the early days of WWII.

When this came out, it got a HUGE amount of hype. Mostly, what people (like Maid-of-Awesome) said to me was, it’s an hour too long.

So Mr. Otter and I kind of didn’t bother to go see it. Then I got it from Netflix, and it sat on our shelf for a couple of months.

And last night we said, we should watch this…let’s start it early in case it’s three hours of suckage, then at least we can go on to something better. And we were glad we had done that.

Because firstly, it’s not a huge sweeping epic about AUSTRALIA, as the title seems to imply. It’s about one ranch, in the Northern Territories, whose closest town is Darwin (this becomes important later, so look on a map). And it only covers four years, from 1939 to 1943. I had gotten the impression that it was a far-past historical epic, an 1800s convict story sort of thing, so was rather nonplussed to find out that it was actually taking place within living memory (well, what would have been my parents’ living memory, but that’s still living memory to me…)

And Maid-of-Awesome was absolutely right. The first hour and forty-five minutes are about a cattle drive where Jackman and Kidman are trying to get the herd to the wharf at Darwin to sell to the army (WWII has started by this point) and the Bad Guy who owns pretty much every other cow on the continent is trying to stop them. There is also a subplot about an aboriginal boy who the authorities are trying to catch to force him to go to a mission school so he will learn the ‘white people’ stuff and forget his roots.

So that was fine. Kidman and Jackman were both good, individually and together, and there was a LOVELY scene where Jackman has his shirt off and pours water over himself to wash (oh, I’m drooling again) and the cattle drive was exciting and cheerworthy.

And seriously, the writers were idiots not to end it there. But no, they had to add AN HOUR onto this movie. And this hour was MADE OF ANTICLIMAX. Several times Mr. Otter and I were yelling at the screen, BAD WRITING! THAT’S JUST BAD WRITING! All kinds of other plot got added on (mostly about the Japanese bombing of Darwin) and cobbled together. This last hour was so bad that we were stopping the dvd player about every ten minutes- bathrooms, something to drink, let the cats in, gleefully settle a bet*. We were so thankful when this ended, we didn’t even care that everyone got back together safely. We just wanted it to be over.

But obviously there were just too many plot points- they wanted the cattle drive story, AND the Darwin bombing, AND to make their point about the treatment of the Aboriginal peoples of Australia…and it was just too many different things going on at once, badly stitched together.

So rent this, don’t buy it. Enjoy the first two hours, they’re fun. And if you find yourself drifting away during the dance scene…just turn it off, you won’t be missing much but some special effects.

*They were evacuating people from Darwin. To Perth, I said. No, said Mr. Otter, they’d take them to Brisbane. No way, I said, Darwin is much closer to Perth than Brisbane. Brisbane! Perth! Brisbane! Perth! and as is our wont, we put money where our mouths were. Five bucks. I pulled out my Australian Rails map…and found out that I had been thinking that Darwin was where Derby actually is, and that Darwin is really in the center top of the map, with Perth on one coast and Brisbane on the other. To the eye, the distance was VERY close.

So I did what any good librarian would do- I checked the distances on the internet.

Darwin to Perth: 1649 miles
Darwin to Brisbane: 1772 miles

And truthfully, with such huge distances involved, they probably evacuated to Alice Springs or even Katherine…but a bet is a bet, chez Otter! I have to say, Mr. Otter paid up like a gentleman.

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