A young sister and brother are abandoned in the harsh Australian outback and must learn to cope in the natural world, without their usual comforts, in this hypnotic masterpiece from Nicolas Roeg. Along the way, they meet an Aboriginal youth on his walkabout, a rite of passage in which adolescent boys are initiated into manhood by journeying into the wilderness alone. Walkabout is a thrilling adventure as well as a provocative rumination on time and civilization.
The Criterion Collection pays another visit to Nicolas Roeg’s Walkabout, presenting the film in 4K on a dual-layer, BD-66 disc in Dolby Vision (HDR10 compatible) with a 2160p/24hz ultra high-definition encode in the aspect ratio of 1.85:1. This new presentation is sourced from a new 4K restoration taken from a scan of the 35mm original camera negative. Criterion also includes a standard dual-layer Blu-ray disc presenting the film in 1080p high-definition. Outside of alternate disc art, it is the same disc found in the 2010 edition.
At first glance, the presentation looks decent, if not great. At the very least, it’s better than Criterion’s previous Blu-ray and its dated master. The 4K presentation is better at rendering the finer details and textures, which includes the grain. For the most part, anyway (more on that later). The film can still look slightly hazy in places, but this appears to be inherent to the photography, which I think is also the case with the few mild halos that have always been present and are again present here. The colors look about the same as Criterion’s previous presentations (not as intense as the original DVD, mind you). Though I know there is some controversy around them, I’ve never found them all that problematic, and I think they still look fine here. Black levels are okay, though they can still look muddy in some sequences, HDR and Dolby Vision not appearing to help. But, like those halos and the slight haze, I feel this is something else that is just a byproduct of the lighting and photography.
In the end, most of these minor issues can be attributed to the original photography, but there was still something else about it that just looked off while watching it. As good as detail levels can be, there are plenty of sequences and shots featuring open spaces where, as best as I can describe it, it’s as though things are being smoothed over. At that moment, I couldn’t quite place what was happening, but I initially wondered if it could have had something to do with the HDR grading.
The reality ends up being far sadder and simpler: it all comes down to the encode simply being terrible and the worst 4K one from Criterion (so far). Though I am still not one to take screen captures as gospel, I will heavily refer to the ones I’ve taken because they highlight the issues (and while they are JPEGs here, the original PNG files show the same problems).
Looking at them closely, one should see the frames broken down into sections, almost like a checkerboard, caused by the algorithm employed for encoding. Though questionable and nowhere near ideal, this in and of itself doesn’t necessarily hurt the presentation during playback, but it’s not doing it any favors. Each section is rendered at a different compression level, where one will featute little compression, expertly capturing every bit of grain and every detail possible, while another elsewhere may show mild compression, making the details a little blurry. Again, it’s neither ideal nor new, yet I’ll admit that it’s barely distinguishable in motion when the picture is at its best. Unfortunately, as it is being used, this method is opting to wipe out all details if there aren’t that many to begin with, and this is leading to those issues that were throwing the picture off during my initial viewing.
The third screen capture is a perfect place to start and show what's happening. The lower portion of the screen, which features a lot of detail in the landscape, looks reasonably strong. You can make out individual rocks, dirt, plant life, and film grain. It’s all rendered very well on the whole. As you move up into the hills in the background, those square sections become more evident, with some showing excellent detail and grain, others not so much, but nothing I would call terrible at a glance. Then, just above the hills, you can still make out film grain and other details. But suddenly, as you go up further, heavy macroblocking becomes evident, and there are entire areas utterly devoid of detail. All grain, all detail around the clouds, all gradations in the colors are gone, completely gone. It's such a jarring and extreme shift and makes absolutely no sense. The sixth capture also shows strengths (in the ground and the smoke) along with the same issues around macroblocking in the sky, all details being obliterated in places. The thirteenth capture shows a lovely mess in the top right corner, while the one prominently featuring David Gulpilil shows all sorts of fun little goodies around him, like grain compressed down to crosshatching patterns.
It's a mess and can be pronounced during playback. And what makes it all so disappointing is that the presentation has some strong areas. Where it’s not plagued by poor encoding, the image looks great with excellent detail and solid-looking grain levels, but the issues do become distracting. It's all so disheartening as this could have looked incredible.
The film's audio has also been restored, and a subtle improvement is evident through a quick comparison between the lossless PCM single-channel monaural presentation here and the one on the old Blu-ray. It sounds a little sharper, with a slighlty broader range present in the music and dialogue. There are also no signs of heavy damage or distortions. All around, it sounds good.
All material has been ported over since the standard Blu-ray included here is the same for the 2010 edition, starting with the audio commentary Criterion first recorded for their 1997 LaserDIsc edition and found on their original 1998 DVD. Presented alongside the film's 4K and 1080p presentations, it features director Nicolas Roeg and actress Jenny Agutter, both recorded separately.
It’s still an engaging track, if a little dry in places, with the two recounting the film's shooting. There are plenty of comments about the imagery in the movie and the many themes layered within, with several comparisons made, specifically by Agutter, to the source novel. Australian politics are touched on to add some context, alongside details about aboriginal culture and wonderful stories about working with David Gulpilil. Anecdotes are also shared by the two, the most ridiculous possibly being how a Cannes member reacted to Gulpilil attending. 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 critical incident that happens closer to the end (and I'm trying to avoid spoilers so forgive my vagueness.) Overall, it's an excellent track, and I'm glad Criterion carried it over.
All remaining video content is found on the standard Blu-ray. First is a 21-minute interview featuring Roeg's son, Luc Roeg, who played the boy in the film, though receiving a credit under the name “Lucien John” (Roeg does explain in the commentary track why the boy's name was changed.) It's a rather personal interview as Luc recalls the film's shooting, which he obviously admires, as he does with all of his father's work. He begins with how he got the role, which was initially 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 vital insight.
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 in the audio commentary, getting into more detail about her casting, her move to acting, and the long wait for filming to begin and touching more on her nude scenes. She talks more about Gulpilil, a friend he had with him constantly throughout the shoot, and 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.
The most intriguing supplement here is the 2002 documentary Gulpilil'One Red Blood, a 56-minute documentary on the late actor made in 2002. It's a great piece filled with great footage. At the same time, it catches up with Gulpilil, documenting his day-to-day life and reflecting on his career through footage from his films and interviews with those who know him. Throughout the supplements, you hear mention of Gulpilil's dancing, which apparently attracted him to casting agents, and here you get plenty of footage of his dancing. There are 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. It goes through some of his essential films and discusses how he has changed how Aborigines are portrayed. It should be no surprise to learn how they were portrayed before films like Walkabout. What most will find fascinating, though, is the examination of how he handles living between the Western world and his home (which he respectively refers to as the 'White Fellas' World' and 'Black Fellas' World'). He would share the money he made from his work with everyone else back home, and by the sounds of it, he had made quite a bit through the years. While he could obviously live in both, he ultimately didn’t care much about Western traditions, preferring his home. He was annoyed that he had to pay bills, including acting dues, for example, and things like that may make one wonder why he would have even bothered, 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. This becomes clear when the documentary covers his disappointment over a dry spell following Crocodile Dundee. He loves his traditions and doesn't want to lose them, but he also loves what he does and makes sacrifices to pursue it. It’s a terrific documentary and easily the best feature on here.
The disc then closes with Fox’s theatrical trailer for the film, half of which comprises critic blurbs. The short theatrical trailer is not carried over from the original DVD, which was a quick 40-second spot.
The booklet appears to be the same, containing an excellent essay by Paul Ryan covering the film and Roeg's career. The booklet is unfortunately still missing Roger Ebert's article that appeared in the insert for the original DVD release. I liked Ebert's piece, and I don't believe it can be found anywhere else, not coming from his review or 'Great Movies' essay. I'm still confused as to why Criterion excluded it in the first place.
Altogether, it is still a decent set of material and worth going through if one hasn’t done so.
It's an incredibly frustrating edition featuring a 4K presentation that shows much promise but ultimately drops the ball due to a terrible encode.