Watching Australia, I pictured a Golden Age-era movie mogul rattling off a series of demands for putting butts in seats. "We gotta give 'em action, romance, intrigue!" he barked out of one side of his mouth, the other side busy with a stogie.
Although Baz Luhrmann's lavish return to the big screen after a seven-year absence covers a large part of the Australian Outback, it's engorged with a sincere appreciation of classic Hollywood spectacle.
He unspools a love story that spans countries and classes - between Nicole Kidman's British aristocrat, who's widowed shortly after arriving to join her husband on his ranch, and Hugh Jackman's Aussie cattle driver - set against a land-grabbing Western saga, a WWII docudrama and a history lesson about Australia's institutional mistreatment of mixed Aboriginal children for most of the 20th century.
That's a whole lot of movie for one sitting, and it takes over two-and-a-half hours to reach its conclusion. It's also a gorgeous thing to behold, taking full advantage of the country's natural scenery and cultural exoticism. Jackman has never looked more strapping, and Kidman seems to lose some of that encroaching plasticity with a little dust on her cheeks.
Beyond the social consciousness of the subplot involving a half-caste waif, there's not much to Australia except red-meat entertainment. But Luhrmann gives us plenty to chew on, and it's masterfully prepared.