Friday, May 10, 2019

STORM BOY (1976) (Umbrella Entertainment Blu-ray Review)

STORM BOY (1976) 

Label: Umbrella Entertainment
Region Code: Region-FREE
Rating: G

Duration: 88 Minutes
Audio: English DTS-HD MA 2.0 with Optional English Subtitles
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (1.85:1)
Director: Henri Safrani
Cast: David Gulpilil, Greg Rowe, Peter Cummins

Storm Boy (1976) is based on a popular children's novel by Australian writer Colin Thiele, telling the tale of a lonely young 10-year old boy named Mike (Greg Rowe, Blue Fin) who lives along the coast of South Australia's Coorong, near the mouth of the Murray River. He lives their with his father, the reclusive fisherman 'Hide Away' Tom (Peter Cummins), in a rundown shack on the sand dunes, it's a simple life but the unschooled boy seems to enjoy it. 

One day while wandering the wilds Mike witnesses a pair of bird shooters kill a pelican, before an Aboriginal loner named Fingerbone (David Gilpilil, Walkabout) chases them off, firing warning shots in their direction. Fingerbone befriends Mike and the pair search the area where they find the dead pelican the hunters shot. Nearby they also discover a trio of featherless pelican chicks, with Mike taking the three orphaned birds home. While his father disagrees with him bringing the chicks home he nonetheless allows him to keep and care for the birds. Mike dutifully nurses the birds to adulthood, along the way bonding with them, but at a certain point the grown birds become a burden to care for and his father demands that he release the birds back into the wild, now that they are able to care for themselves. 

In the days following Mike sinks into a depression, until one of the birds that he boy named 'Mr Percival' returns home, bringing the boy much joy. As the film plays out it becomes a bit of a melancholy boy and his bird film that is simple in it's storytelling, but manages to touche on a lot of coming of age themes that make it an endearing and timeless slice of Australian cinema.

At times I thought the film might go to darker places, that perhaps there would be racial tensions between the aboriginal and Mike's father, or tensions would arise from the boy spending time with an adult stranger, but it never does go that route. It does have some darker elements, such as Mike yearning for the mother he never knew, which causes a rough patch between the boy and his father. There's also a group of dune buggy riders who terrorize Mike when the tear through the dunes, and the death of a beloved bird.    

Young Greg Rowe turns in a wonderfully strong performance as Mike, his expressive eyes say a lot without saying much, he really is the soul of the film. His connection with the pelicans is rather uncanny, it's way more than just good editing that sells the bond between bird and boy. His father played by Peter Cummins (Sunday Too Far Away) plays well against him as the caring but gruff father, a man of even fewer words than his son, and then we have the always magic David Gulpilil who turns in an affecting performance as the aboriginal loner who befriends Mike, and who dubs him Storm Boy, becoming a bit of a second father figure.  

The film is well directed by Henri Safrani, and is gorgeously shot in South Australia, highlighting the coastal areas of the Coorong, photographed with a keen eye by cinematographer Geoff Burton (Dead Calm). The direction, visuals and strong performances all come together to sell the story of a boy and his beloved.     

Audio/Video: Storm Boy (1977) debuts on region-free Blu-ray from Umbrella Entertainment newly restored from the original interpositive and scanned in 4K. Presented in 1080p HD and framed in the original 1.85:1 widescreen, it's a solid looking image. It doesn't appear to have been shot with razor sharp focus so it doesn't have that crisp edge to it, but it looks flimic and natural without a lot of digital sharpening having been applied which I appreciate. Audio on the disc comes by way of an English DTS-HD MA 2.0 with optional English subtitles. 

All of the extras are of the vintage archival variety, the most significant being another film in it's entirely and in HD, Blue Fin (1978), also starring young Greg Rowe, and also an adaptation of another Colin Thiele novel, another story about a boy and his fisherman father. On top of that we get a 26-min documentary about author Colin Thiele, a 25-min vintage profile of actor Hardy Kruger, a 10-min promo piece featuring Hardy Kruger and Greg Rowe promoting the film, and trailers for Storm Boy and Blue Fin. 

The single-disc release comes housed in an oversized Blu-ray keepcase with a reversible sleeve of artwork featuring a new illustration by Umbrella designer Simon Sherry that really captures the feel of the original movie posters  the reverse side featuring the same artwork minus the unsightly ratings logo, the disc itself also featuring an excerpt of the same artwork.   

Special Features: 
- Storm Boy Theatrical Trailer (4 min) 
- VHS Trailer (1 min) 
- Story Makers: Colin Thiele - 1988 Documentary on the Author of Storm Boy (26 min) 
- Blue Fin (1978) (90 min) HD 
- Wild Reel: Hardy Kruger & Greg Rowe (10 min) 
- Hardy Kruger Profile  (25 min) 
- Blue Fin Theatrical Trailer (3 min) 

I usually come to Umbrella looking for outrageous ozploitation films, but every once in a while they'll surprise me with titles like the 70's Australian new waver Walkabout, or the kiddie friendly 80's adventure film Frog Dreaming, and this one feels more kindred to Walkabout, but it also has that Australian new wave melancholy that I like. A definite recommend for fans of 70's Australian cinema looking for something family friendly but also tinged with sadness.      

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