“Look! You go down to the low country, and earn the right to live up here — just like your father did.”
The last 20 years have seen a real surge in the impact of Australian films internationally. The results have certainly been seen at the North American box office. Of particular note is the fact that the Australian success has not come in the form of a single genre either; action, drama, comedy, war, you name it and there’s a high profile Australian release out there that’s become well-known to all. Even a quintessentially American genre like the western has not been immune. In 1982, The Man from Snowy River was released to a fair degree of critical acclaim, but more importantly, moviegoers found it to be a likable and highly entertaining piece of filmmaking that made no effort to hide its Australian roots, despite the present of American star Kirk Douglas in one of the principal roles. Fox has now released the film on DVD as part of its Family Feature series.
Young Jim Craig lives in the Snowy River high country of Australia with his father Henry. When Henry is killed in an accident while the two try to build a corral to trap a herd of wild horses, Jim finds that he must travel down to the low country to prove himself before he will be accepted as worthy to live in Snowy River. He gets a job with a wealthy rancher named Harrison. Left behind when the rest of Harrison’s crew go off to round up some cattle, Jim strikes up a friendship with Harrison’s daughter Jessica. Jessica is an independent young woman more interested in horses and ranching than in being groomed as a “proper” young lady. Love soon begins to bloom between the two. Their relationship, complicated by Harrison’s unhappiness with it; the reappearance of Harrison’s twin brother Spur who has been hunting for gold for years; and the return of the same herd of wild horses responsible for Jim’s father’s death all combine as a test of Jim Craig’s determination and right to return to Snowy River.
Here is a highly enjoyable film with a solid story, characters you care about, and a satisfying resolution that fits the definition of family entertainment to a “T.” With those positives, it is the Australian landscape that is the star of this film, though. Filmed on location in the Snowy Mountains region of Victoria, the glorious vistas of the mountains and valleys are beautiful to behold, whether in bright sunshine or shrouded in mist. Add to that some spectacular photography of horses racing through the landscape, plus capturing the sheer exhilaration and skill of riding a horse at full tilt down a step mountain slope, and the film’s cinematographer, Keith Wagstaff in his debut film in that capacity, and director George Miller (not to be mixed up with another George Miller who directed the likes of Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome) are both to be commended.
The acting in the film is of a uniformly high standard. The two young people, Jim Craig and Jessica Harrison, are likeably played by Tom Burlinson and Sigrid Thornton respectively. (They would reprise their roles in the 1988 sequel, Return to Snowy River.) Both photograph well on a horse and Burlinson has just the right look to be both convincingly still a very young man and yet also experienced and tough enough to be more than able to hold his own with other men whether with fists or wits. Kirk Douglas provides the star clout the film needed for securing initial international bookings and he does his usual fine job. He plays both rancher Harrison and his twin brother Spur, although his characterization of the former is the more believable of the two. Lorraine Bayly, a familiar face on Australian television, is also memorable as Harrison’s forthright sister-in-law, Rosemary Hume.
The film’s pacing is well handled with plenty of action nicely spaced-out through the hour and three-quarters playing time. The fights and chases look realistic. The story framework within which they’re placed is not particularly novel, but then there’s only so many western-type plots. To its credit, it’s been scripted with a good ear for dialogue and contains a number of plot lines that maintain their interest and are all resolved properly by the end. This may not be an epic as some have characterized it, but it is a believable tale with some sweep to it.
My first reaction on noticing that this title had Family Feature highlighted across the top of the case was that it would contain a pan and scan transfer. Well, it does, but in addition to that useless version on one side of the disc, it contains a proper 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer on the other. And quite a good transfer it is. There is a suggestion of softness to the image from time to time, but generally, it’s a very natural-looking presentation. Colours are nicely rendered, blacks are deep for the most part, and shadow detail is good. There are a few speckles and scratches and a slight hint of edge enhancement, but the overall effect is one of doing justice to the magnificent scenery of Australia.
The sound also delivers. We get a Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround mix that provides quite an enveloping sound experience. The many sequences involving herds of horses racing at full speed are very dynamic with effective use of the surrounds. The thunderstorm sequence is also well presented in this regard. Dialogue is clear and distortion free. Mono tracks are available in English and French as well, as are subtitles in English and Spanish.
Supplements are limited to the original theatrical trailer plus trailers for three other Fox releases.
The Man from Snowy River is a film that’s very hard not to like. After all, what’s to complain about — good acting, outstanding cinematography, interesting story, plenty of action, brisk pacing? Fox delivers a fine DVD transfer although with its usual paucity of supplementary material. Recommended.
The Man from Snowy River is free to return to the high country. Case dismissed.