INXS: Never Tear Us Apart
I'm going to begin this review by quoting myself, specifically the start of my review for this site from 2003 of the DVD INXS: Live Baby Live:
You could argue that for a band to be great, it needs two or more elements that lift it above the rest, and it’s the chemistry between those two outstanding elements that does its work on us. Merely good bands (and that’s no mean thing) can make do on one such element. Consider INXS. A decent pub band from Down Under, playing a mixture of rock and funk with elements of soul thrown into the pot, they’re certainly very competent musicians and songwriters, but I’d suggest they lack that vital spark. But they had one constituent part that gave them that spark, namely a word-class frontman in Michael Hutchence.
Hutchence was a good singer, with a very Jagger-influenced delivery, but what he certainly had was charisma. That’s a quality hard to define, but you know it when you see it, and Hutchence had it by the shedload. With this ace in their pack, and two or three undeniably catchy hit singles, INXS made it very big in the late 80s.
Fourteen years later, I'd stand by that. (For an alternative opinion, here's a review of INXS: I'm Only Looking by Eamonn McCusker, from 2004.) With hindsight, I should have mentioned the band's main songwriters, Andrew Farriss and Hutchence, for the most part music and lyrics respectively.
INXS: Never Tear Us Apart is a two-part TV miniseries, first broadcast on Australia's Seven Network on 9 and 16 February 2014. While certainly very well-made and acted, it has the feel of an authorised version, perhaps inevitably so given the cooperation of the five surviving bandmembers and guitarist Tim Farriss's presence as one of the executive producers. The series follows the classic pattern: first half the rise, second the fall. It begins with INXS's Wembley Stadium gig on 13 July 1991. An event with just one headlining band sold out a venue with a capacity of some 72,000 people. Given that the Stadium was more often used musically for large-scale concerts such as Live Aid and the two Mandela Days, that shows how big INXS really were at their peak. As is mentioned at one point, the only other Australian band to rival them in worldwide popularity was AC/DC. Many rock stars are courted for big screen roles, but presence on stage doesn't always equal presence on screen, and Hutchence had an indifferent acting career, his best film being 1986's Dogs in Space, the DVD of which I reviewed for The Digital Fix four years ago today.
The miniseries then tells its story more or less in chronological order, going back to Sydney in 1979, when Hutchence (Luke Arnold) was nineteen. They were then a pub-rock band called The Farriss Brothers, mostly playing covers. As well as Hutchence on lead vocals, there were Andrew Farris (Andy Ryan) on keyboards, guitar and harmonica, Jon Farriss (Ido Drent) on drums, Tim Farriss (Nick Masters) on lead guitar and their schoolmates Garry Gary Beers (Hugh Sheridan) on bass and Kirk Pengilly (Alex Williams) on rhythm guitar and saxophone. Chris Murphy (Damon Herriman) gets them a record deal and a US tour, supporting Adam Ant and by all accounts blowing him off the stage every night.
The story is interspersed with scenes of the other five bandmembers talking to an offscreen interviewer. There are also flashbacks to 1975, with fifteen-year-old Michael (Toby Wallace) being bullied at school and meeting the Farrisses, taking over on vocals as they practise in their father's garage. Part One takes us on the rise to the top, with all the rock-and-roll excess that came with it. Hutchence clearly had considerable charisma and an attraction for women as a shy schoolboy: one 1975 flashback sees him implicitly seduced by the family nanny. Often late for rehearsals, recording sessions and gigs due to getting his end away, he has a string of celebrity girlfriends: Kylie Minogue (Samantha Jade), Helena Christensen (Mallory Jansen) and finally Paula Yates (Georgina Haig), who leaves her husband Bob Geldof for him and has a child with him. However, it's suggested that his original girlfriend Michele Bennett (Jane Harber) was the real love of his life. She's one of the last people he speaks to before his suicide.
Inevitably, things become darker after the halfway point. A punch in the face from a stranger robs Michael of his senses of smell and taste and put him on a cycle of mood swings contributing to depression. The divorce of Yates and Geldof becomes messy and acrimonious, the last straw being a custody battle which would have allowed Yates to bring her three daughters by Geldof with her and Michael's daughter Tiger Lily to Australia for Christmas.
Written by Dave Warner and Justin Monjo for the first episode, Monjo solo for the second, and ably directed by Daina Reed, the miniseries is light on its feet for the nearly three hours it's on. Although he's second-billed behind Damon Herriman, Luke Arnold is centre-stage and gives a very good account of himself as Hutchence, and the supporting cast are solid. Never Tear Us Apart was the most-watched show in its timeslot on first broadcast, with 2.24 million and 2.08 million viewers for the two parts. It caused INXS's albums and the singles “Never Tear Us Apart” and “Need You Tonight” to re-enter the Australian charts. There was talk of a sale to British television, but that oddly enough appears not to have happened. At the following year's AACTA Awards, Never Tear Us Apart was nominated for Best Telefeature, Miniseries or Short-Run Series, for Reed's direction and for the lead and supporting performances of Luke Arnold and Andy Ryan.
Beyond's Region B Blu-ray release is split over two BD25 discs, one part per disc. This does seem strange as you could fit both parts (86:01 and 84:53 respectively) quite easily onto a single disc, especially as there are no extras.
The miniseries was digitally shot on the Arri Alexa, and the Blu-rays are in the correct ratio of 1.78:1, as you would expect for a television production of the widescreen era. There's nothing to complain about: colours are strong and I don't doubt this looks exactly the same as it would if you had been watching a HD broadcast.
Given that this is a product of the HD era, it is strange that there is no 5.1 soundtrack. Instead you have the options of DTS-HD MA 2.0, Dolby Surround (2.0) and an audio-descriptive track also in Dolby Surround. What is stranger is that the soundtrack in the first episode plays in mono throughout – maybe intentional, though that may not be likely, but in part two the surrounds come to life. There's no LFE channel, but my subwoofer did pick up some redirected bass. Other than this oddity, there are no issues with the sound, and dialogue, sound effects and music are well-balanced. English subtitles for the hard-of-hearing are available, mainly in white with some characters colour-coded.
As mentioned above, there are no extras, none at all.