Storm Boy Review

Ten-year-old Mike (Greg Rowe) lives on the South Australian coast with his father Tom (Peter Cummins). His only friend is Fingerbone Bill, an aborigine (David Gulpilil of Walkabout and The Last Wave, here billed under his last name only). One day he rescues three orphaned pelican chicks. Although he and his father set the adult birds free, one returns and becomes Mike's pet, named Mr Percival. All of a sudden there are intruders in Mike's world, from a local teacher who wants him to go to school, to hunters...

Storm Boy, shot entirely on location in South Australia, was a considerable hit at the local box office. It still makes pleasant though rather bland family viewing. The major drawback is a somewhat shapeless screenplay which causes the film to fall into a series of episodes. (This is the case with even some of the best Australian films of the period, such as Sunday Too Far Away and Newsfront, though Storm Boy is a step or two below their level.) Geoff Burton's camerawork is superb, and at the very least makes the film easy on the eye. But unfortunately the film reaches a climax with a storm at sea twenty minutes from the end, which causes the final reel to drag a little.

Along with Sunday Too Far Away, Storm Boy is the first of Reel Corporation's "Classic Australian Cinema" budget DVDs. Like its labelmate, it's very much a bare-bones disc. The transfer is full-frame, open matte (intended ratio would seem to be 1.75:1) and seems to come from a better-preserved source than the Sunday... print. It's much cleaner, with no scratches and only a very brief instance of dust spots. However, it has a soft, faded look that doesn't serve Burton's photography well. The opening shot features some horrible artefacting which makes some birds look as if they have four wings each. Shadow detail is poor – watch Gulpilil's face almost disappear in an early close-up – which is a particular problem during the night scenes.

The soundtrack is the original mono, much better recorded than that of Sunday.... You can always hear the dialogue, and there's quite some dynamic range, from virtual silence to loud gunshots and motorbikes, not to mention the music. There are fourteen chapter stops. (Incidentally, the packaging misspells the names of Cummins, Gulpilil and producer Matt Carroll.)

The only extra is the same trailer for Playing Beatie Bow that was on the Sunday DVD.

Anyone interested in the 70s Australian film revival should watch Storm Boy once. It has a place in Australian cinema history due to its commercial success alone. It's a pity that the DVD couldn't be better.

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