The Criterion Collection presents a new high-definition transfer for Nicolas Roeg’s Walkabout in the aspect ratio of 1.78:1 on this dual-layer disc. The transfer is presented in 1080p/24hz.
Despite any problems the image presents here it’s still a significant improvement over Criterion’s original DVD release, and also looks quite a bit better than the new 2-disc DVD edition being released along with the Blu-ray. The original DVD had many problems with the transfer, specifically noise and other artifacts such as blocking which at times was viciously obvious. The Blu-ray is far cleaner, presenting a smoother, more film-like image in comparison. The image is far sharper when the source allows it, presenting adequate detail noticeable most of all in the various landscapes where they looked either blocky or blurry in the original DVD. Grain is visible and looks natural and can get heavy at moments. And while there’s no noise or visible artifacts of that sort, edge-enhancement is unfortunately noticeable here and there when darker objects are against the sky, and may be the most disappointing aspect of this transfer.
Though not perfect I was actually pleased with the colours in the original DVD, which were sadly the strongest element to that release. The Blu-ray still manages to improve significantly over it in this area with better colour saturation, the landscapes taking on more red and the skies presenting more striking blues. Skin tones look natural and blacks are quite deep and fairly inky.
The source materials still present some minor flaws including a few scratches and bits of debris, but it’s minor and is again much better than the original DVD release, which was flooded with scratches and blotches.
Though it has a few issues I’m still quite pleased with it, its flaws in the transfer still fairly easy to look over, Criterion again pulling off a rather lovely, fairly film-like transfer. It’s still a real treat after spending years with Criterion’s rather questionable original release. 7/10
All Blu-ray screen captures come from the source disc and have been shrunk from 1920x1080 to 900x506 and slightly compressed to conserve space. While they are not exact representations they should offer a general idea of overall video quality.
The original DVD contained only an audio commentary and a couple of trailers, making for a fairly “meh” release. Criterion improves on that one by adding a few new supplements that focus on the cast members.
The audio commentary presented here is the same one that was recorded for the original laserdisc release and then used again for the DVD, presenting director Nicolas Roeg and actress Jenny Agutter recorded separately. While it can be a touch dry at times and Roeg can ramble on it’s still a rather engaging track, with the two reminiscing over the shoot fondly. There are plenty of comments about the imagery in the film and the many themes layered on with many comparisons, specifically by Agutter, to the original source novel. Australian politics are touched on to give some context, along with aboriginal culture, and the two fondly recall working with David Gulpilil. Anecdotes are also shared by the two, most amusing of which is Roeg’s recollection of Gulpilil going to Cannes and a fear by a certain individual that the young aborigine was a “savage.” Some questions people have had about the film for years are touched briefly upon, including a hint as to why the children’s father does what he ends up doing (though it shouldn’t be a real surprise) and another key incident that happens closer to the end (and I’m trying to avoid spoilers so forgive my vagueness.) In all it’s an excellent track and I’m glad Criterion carried it over.
This edition also adds on a couple of interviews. First is a 21-minute interview with Roeg’s son Luc Roeg who played the boy in the film, with the credit Lucien John (Roeg explains somewhat in the commentary track why the boy’s name was changed.) It’s a rather personal interview as Luc recalls the shooting of the film, which he has an obvious admiration for, as he does with all of his father’s work. He begins with how he got the role, which was originally supposed to go to his older brother, and then the actual shoot, where he created continuity problems when his two front teeth fell out, calling for him to wear false teeth. He talks about Agutter and the difficult time she may have been having since her family was far away and his family was right there on set. And he of course talks about Gulpilil and his experience with him. He also talks a bit about the themes in the film, the editing, and the imagery with some strong insight. You get a sense the film was huge experience in his life and it’s something he’s obviously very proud of. This feature is presented in 1080p.
Another interview features Jenny Agutter and was recorded for what I assume was a French DVD release in 2008. With a runtime of over 20-minutes Agutter expands on her comments found in the audio commentary getting into more detail about her casting and her move to acting and the long wait for filming to actually begin, and touching more on her nude scenes in the film. She talks more about Gulpilil and a friend he had with him constantly throughout the shoot, and also what she picked up about aboriginal culture. Some things are repeated from the track but there’s enough new or expanded material here to make it worth viewing. This feature is presented in 1080i.
And the most intriguing supplement on here is the 2002 documentary Gulpilil—One Red Blood, a 56-minute documentary on the actor made in 2002. It’s a great piece filled with some great footage as it catches up with Gulpilil, documenting his day-to-day life, and reflecting back on his career through footage from his films (and Criterion managed to keep the footage here, where they usually have to edit it out for rights reasons, even managing to keep in footage from Crocodile Dundee and Rabbit Proof Fence) and interviews with those that know him. Throughout the supplements you hear mention of Gulpilil’s dancing, which is apparently what attracted him to casting agents to begin with, and here you get plenty of footage of his dancing. There’s some fantastic archival pieces, including an amusing opening from an episode of This is Your Life for Gulpilil, and they’ve also managed to dig up some great footage and photos of him in the States, and it goes through some of his key films over the years with some interesting though not surprising information on how aboriginals were portrayed and played in movies before films like Walkabout. I think what most will find fascinating, though, is the examination on how he deals with handling both the Western world and his home (which he respectively refers to as the “White Fellas’ World” and “Black Fellas’ World”.) The money he makes he shares with everyone else, and by the sounds of it he’s actually made quite a bit over the years, and people share their stories and observations on how he manages both worlds, including a story from his agent involving an overseas job and then the whole hassle of going back to his home, which is in the middle of nowhere and calls for swimming across a crocodile infested river, to retrieve his passport. He obviously doesn’t care too much for Western traditions, preferring his home. He’s annoyed that he has to pay bills, such as acting dues, because of his link to the “White Fellas’ World”, so you may catch yourself asking why does he even bother, but the answer becomes clear: He loves acting, has an intense passion for it and would probably die inside if he couldn’t do it, best shown in his disappointment over a dry spell that occurred after Crocodile Dundee. He loves his traditions and doesn’t want to lose that, but he also loves what he does and he makes the sacrifices he has to to pursue it. It’s an intriguing documentary, and the man oozes charisma, so it’s easy to get hooked to it. Easily the best feature on here and I’m happy Criterion dug it up.
The disc then closes with the long Fox theatrical trailer for the film, half of which is made up of critic blurbs. Not carried over from the original DVD is the short theatrical trailer, which was a quick 40-second spot. Not a huge loss, though I’m not sure why Criterion didn’t carry it over.
The booklet, which is thick but only because it’s loaded with photos, contains an excellent essay by Paul Ryan on the film and Roeg’s career but is unfortunately missing Roger Ebert’s essay that appeared in the insert for the original DVD release. I liked Ebert’s essay, and I don’t believe it can be found anywhere else, not coming from his review or “Great Movies” essay, so I’m a little bewildered why Criterion chose to exclude it this time around.
At any rate, the supplements present a huge improvement over the previous DVD edition, though since it was actually cheaper and still contained a commentary it was still a fairly good value in that way. And while the interviews were a nice addition, I think the real star is the documentary on David Gulpilil. A nice collection of supplements overall. 9/10