We have spoken with fervent admiration of the book and the film but nevertheless found some good things in the first part of this television re-make, updated to render the appalling bleakness of the story more palatable, and credible, to a new generation. The point of the original film was its grand mix of hedonism and nihilism, which needed no explanation and would actually have suffered for it. To a more prosaic audience, perhaps (one arguably a trifle less worldly?) more needs to be explained, or constructed. And such scaffolding over the underlying story dissipates its elemental power.
Part Two opens with the infamous kangaroo shoot, an Australian bush initiation ritual where lads get tanked and fire rifles, at anything that moves, from a ute driving over rough and tricky terrain.
Whilst the lass in charge here is impressive, and tough as teak, the shoot is fundamentally a male ritual, and whilst we at The Varnished Culture are equal opportunity critics, it doesn’t ring true.
Even more troubling is the idea to have the druggies commit murder under cover of ‘sport’ so as to set up our naïve pedagogue.
This also does not ring true, and whilst it is well done, the whole production starts to morph into a kind of Wolf Creek. (With a bit of Tom Jones thrown in, as virtually everyone in the ‘Yabba seems to want to bed John Grant.)
Worse, John Grant gets assistance. The whole point of the story is that he is utterly, crushingly, alone. Any misunderstanding of this is fatal to the integrity of the story. Whilst we can therefore accept that this production essentially tells us a different story, we were disappointed, not so much by the theft of a seminal Australian fable, but that more was not done with the stolen goods.
Again, there are good things here – sincere performances, pretty good direction and solid production values. We liked the side-story of local realtor Tim Hynes (Gary Sweet), who seriously, pathetically, believes he can sell Grant some land, and the sexual frustration of his unrequited wife, Ursula (Robyn Malcolm). This show is neither sloppy, nor sentimental, but a tad predictable. Overall, we could only mark this as a pass.
Meanwhile, us oldies can re-visit Tiboonda, circa 1971, and wonder, what would John Mellion make of it all?