The following film review was written by John Puccio and originally published way back in another century when they started releasing these shiny new things called "DVDs" on the occasion of one of Criterion's earliest releases.
The Video, Audio, Extras and Film Value section are written by Christopher Long and address Criterion's re-release of "Walkabout" on SD and Blu-Ray a full 12 years after the original release.
THE FILM ACCORDING TO JOHN:
"Walkabout" is an odd, entrancing, sometimes mystical, and almost mesmerizing 1971 film from Nicholas Roeg, the director of "Performance," "Don´t Look Now," and "The Man Who Fell to Earth." It is the kind of film that can be viewed on multiple levels of meaning, giving it a breadth and scope that reward repeated viewing. Its plot is straightforward but exciting; its human relationships are forthright but rich in significance; its possible metaphors are endlessly interpretive; its music is haunting; and its visual beauty is stunning. In short, it is a very special film.
Set in Australia, the story tells of two children--a teenage girl played by Jenny Agutter and her younger brother played by Lucien John--city folks, who are abandoned by their father in the middle of the outback. In Australia the term "walkabout" is aboriginal, referring to an informal leave from work or family to wander the bush in search of nature or peace of mind or whatever. It is often carried out in early manhood as a kind of coming-of-age ritual. The children, adrift and on their own, encounter a young aborigine, played by David Gumpilil, on walkabout who helps them survive with surprising results.
The simple adventure lays open the potential for much imaginative speculation on the part of the viewer, who may wish to think about the symbolic import of the encounter or just enjoy the virtues of the setting. The film is not so facile as to suggest that the simplicity of Nature is inherently superior to the complexities of modern civilization, although that would be the easy conjecture. Roeg is quick to point out that Nature is every bit as harsh and savage as the world Man has created for himself. But the juxtaposition of innocence and beauty with knowledge and destruction is continually fascinating, with the added significance of sexual tensions everywhere.
THE FILM ACCORDING TO CHRIS:
I share John's enthusiasm for the film and, like many, I believe that "Walkabout" is Roeg's bet film along with "Don't Look Now." His idiosyncratic elliptical editing style is a bit like Marlon Brando's Method performances of the 50s and 60s – alternately awe-inspiring and irritating, and pure genius. The film's sci-fi soundtrack (both music and sound effects) is one of the most evocative ever put on film. I don't think I realized until now just how devastating the end of this film is, both for the despair of the narrative's conclusion and the Edenic flashback that follows. Is there even the faintest hope that we can communicate with each other? What a gut punch.
And, oh, Jenny Agutter.
The film is presented in its original 1.78:1 aspect ratio with a digitally restored anamorphic transfer "made from a newly minted 35 mm interpositive and approved by director Nicolas Roeg."
The restored transfer is strong but not up to the very best of Criterion's efforts. The Blu-Ray is a modest improvement on Criterion's SD re-release with the most noticeable differences in the usual areas. Detail on the leaves of trees and the cracked lines in the earth stand out much more sharply. Color is a bit sharper as well though still not eye-popping. All in all, a very strong 1080p transfer though not on par with Criterion's best.
The film is presented in linear PCM 1.0. As beautiful as the film's cinematography (by Roeg, who was trained first as a cinematographer before directing) is, it's the other-worldly soundtrack powered by John Barry's amazing score that vaults "Walkabout" to a higher level. The lossless soundtrack is a bit sharper than the Dolby Digital Mono of the SD release, but the difference isn't major. But it is more than adequate to capture the essence of Barry's magnificent work.
Optional English subtitles support the English dialogue.
There are only a few extras included with this re-release.
The film is accompanied with a commentary track by Nicolas Roeg and Jenny Agutter. This is the same commentary track provided lo those many years ago on the original release.
The disc includes new interviews, one with Jenny Agutter and one with Luc Roeg (21 min.) who played the little boy in the film (credited as Lucien John.) I always find it a little disturbing when someone prefers to his father by first name but that's just me, and Luc's reflections about "Nic's" work on "Walkabout" and others films are insightful. Agutter's interview (20 min.), conducted in 2008 for Potemkine Films in France, discusses what it was like to be 16 years old and acting in "Walkabout" with a focus on her memories of working with David Gulpili (who is credited in the film as David Gumpilil.)
The major extra is "Gulpilil- One Red Blood," a 2002 documentary directed by Darlene Johnson. The documentary covers David Gulpilil's extensive acting career – he has become a world cinema stand-in for Australian aboriginal culture – and the way he has still remained a part of his aboriginal community. It's an interesting documentary, but it is already available on Facets' 2005 release of "The Tracker" which also starred Gulpilil.
According to John's review, the original release of "Walkabout" included an essay by Roger Ebert. There is no Ebert essay in this one, but the insert booklet features an excellent article by writer/actor Paul Ryan.
Criterion's re-release of the film isn't as chock-full of extras as we might have hoped but it's a welcome update on one of their earliest efforts (Spine Number 10, just before "The Seventh Seal") The new transfer isn't Criterion-best but Criterion-average is still near the top of the heap. The Blu-Ray is an improvement on the SD, though not as marked as some of Criterion's finest BRs, and, as usual, is currently being offered for the same price as the SD.