Baz Luhrmann’s Australia was a celebrated film of the year 2008, and it secured plenty of Oscar nominations. This was a one-of-a-kind film that did work fifteen years ago, a historical drama that was set against the backdrop of the struggles of the indigenous culture of the country and their fight for recognition. This two-hour, forty-five-minute historical saga has now been released as a six episodes series on Hulu, with many additional subplots and scenes included. Nothing around it has changed except the format, and it was released on the streaming platform on November 26, 2023.
The story of Faraway Downs was like the one presented in the film, with many significant changes made to the re-release. Set in the late 1930s, Lady Sarah Ashley was in Australia seeking her rich husband, Lord Maitland Ashley, who seemed to be running a huge cattle ranch and was facing intense competition in the land down under. Amidst the business skirmishes, Lady Sarah Ashley was aware her husband was a ladies’ man, and she intended to bring him back to England after encouraging him to sell his ranch at a good price to one Mr. Carney, who seemed to have a monopoly over cattle procurement and sales in Australia. She is joined by her husband’s acquaintance, Mr. Drover, who assists her with everything about the ranch work, and they soon find themselves attracted to each other.
Amidst all the hullabaloo around her husband’s business, Lady Sarah comes across a half-Aboriginal and half-White kid named Nullah who seems to be struggling to find his identity as he has been abandoned by his father. The kid and Sarah form an unusual parent-child bond, and the woman seems to have found her calling as the guardian of this parentless child. Apart from the bogus purchase offer presented by Mr. Carney, this movie turned into a show that was all about Lady Sarah trying to find her foothold and slowly envisioning her future in this foreign land.
The story and direction by Baz Luhrmann and the screenplay by Ronald Harwood, Stuart Beattie, and Richard Flanagan have a right idea, but by re-releasing the movie as a show, the makers have added many new scenes and have essentially changed the whole story. Some narratives and subplots did not exist in the original film. The makers seem to have shot and cut many different scenarios from fifteen years ago, and this re-release was greenlit the in the hope of garnering attention from the current generation.
Even though the nature of the screenplay could be playful, the sad part of the original film and this show is the oversimplification of the struggles of indigenous culture and how they were marginalized in their land. In the age of cancel culture, there is a strong belief that this movie was re-released to try to rectify the mistake the makers made by emphasizing the love story rather than the brutality of the church and a strong and racist white community that looked down upon the locals whose culture was eventually decimated. When the story and screenplay are converted to a television show, the narrative becomes unnecessarily stretched, which makes this version slightly different from the original 2008 movie.
There was no need to pick up this show because, despite the loads of new footage in it, it does not serve any bigger purpose than pandering to the new audience in the hope of reviving the movie’s acceptance fifteen years later. But sadly, this time around, the screenplay is overburdened with subplots, and it is apparent that the viewing experience becomes strenuous after a point. It also becomes pointless because these changes do not seem significant or surprising. Many of the plot twists, including the climax, were predictable. The ending of this show is different from how the film ended in 2008. There is no clarity on why these changes were made, especially at significant junctures. A different narrative could bring a sense of novelty to people reexperiencing this story, but the screenplay is still long and overstretched.
The writing of the show is filled with the trope of the White Savior, which a re-release cannot erase. Even though the show has disclaimers everywhere concerning the indigenous culture, a re-release does not negate the fact that the makers of the show did not utilize this platform to talk about how aboriginal children, along with half-white children, were grossly mistreated by the church. There is not much screen time given to this subplot because in this age, people need to know the impact of the colonization of many cultures, such as the ones in Australia, who were traumatized and forced to give up their roots. Even though the disclaimer mentions “the stolen generation,” the role the church and the white colonizers played in it is hardly touched upon. To understand the impact of these so-called “superior cultures” on the local inhabitants, the audience should to watch 1923, a period drama from MGM. This show has one of the most brutal representations of the way local cultures were treated with zero dignity.
This Baz Luhrman work is highly inspired by Dances with the Wolves, directed by Kevin Costner. But Faraway Downs and the original movie Australia could hardly imitate the emotion and the depth with which Kevin Costner managed to tell the story of the Indians in the United States of America. In Baz Luhrman’s work, there was a lot of emphasis on good direction and cinematography. Mandy Walker’s camerawork was exquisite, but it needed to bring forward the struggles and make the audience feel for the travesty that Nullah and his community had to face. The love story also required an additional factor, which was essentially missing from the narrative as a whole. Keeping in mind that Faraway Downs and Australia were essentially about a love story between a lady of means and a ineligible man, the chemistry between the couple was nonexistent. The lack of chemistry between two actors is a failure that must be attributed to writing, direction, and eventually acting. Out of three, all three fell short, which eventually affected the performances.
The direction of the original and this show was decent for 2008 standards, but had bad CGI and production design, and the fact that many scenes were directed in front of a green screen is a big distraction. The show is largely based on the history of Australia, and the audience wonders if any portion of it was shot at specific locations. Since the director is Australian as well, certain authenticity when it comes to the premise was expected, but sadly, that did not age well on the re-release.
The music was still an off-putting aspect of Faraway Downs because the rousing soundtrack does not gel well with the serious subject at hand. Even on the re-release, there couldn’t be any tweaking in this department. Except for certain major plotlines, there was nothing major that changed, especially in the performances as well. Hugh Jackman stands out as Drover, who goes through a complicated arc as a person who genuinely wants to help Lady Sarah Ashley. Nicole Kidman, as the aristocratic woman, was characterized by more playful characteristics than a woman on a mission. This could be attributed to writing that did not take the female protagonist’s role seriously and stuck her with traditional gender roles despite making it seem her role was progressive. Baz Luhrmann’s Faraway Downs has nothing new to offer, even on the re-release. A spin-off, a prequel, or a sequel would have given this premise an edge. The re-release is of no significance.