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Storm Boy (Blu-ray) (1976)
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Details At A Glance
Featurette-Story Makers: Colin Thiele
More…-Blue Fin (1978)
Featurette-Wild Reel: Hardy Kruger & Greg Rowe
Featurette-Hardy Kruger Profile
Theatrical Trailer-Blue Fin
Year Of Production
||Cast & Crew
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A seminal, award-winning Australian film which remains a classroom staple across the country, 1976's Storm Boy is an adaptation of Colin Thiele's beloved children's book of the same name, telling a sincere coming-of-age tale steeped in Australian culture. Scripted by Sonia Borg (Blue Fin, Dark Age) and Sidney Stebel, this was the first theatrical feature for Paris-born filmmaker Henri Safran, who cut his directorial teeth on TV shows and telemovies. This is a rare type of children's film with the potential to appeal to both kids and adults, as the simple story is free of pandering touches (cute side characters, obvious humour) that might turn off mature viewers. Storm Boy is an enchanting human drama, permeated with subtle themes relating to ecology, Indigenous relations, family, and the importance of education, and it still holds up for the most part in 2019.
Ten-year-old Mike Kingsley (Greg Rowe) lives with his dad Tom (Peter Cummins) in a derelict shed on the Younghusband Peninsula in Coorong, South Australia, isolated from civilisation. Tom is a fisherman, able to make a modest living selling his catch in the local town of Goolwa. Mike does not attend school, as his father denies him the opportunity for an education, much to the chagrin of Goolwa Primary School teacher Miss Walker (Judy Dick) as well as the local park ranger (Tony Allison). A free spirit, Mike spends his time exploring the coastline, where he encounters Aboriginal recluse Fingerbone Bill (David Gulpilil) who is estranged from his tribe. Mike quickly takes to Fingerbone, who dubs him "Storm Boy" because he runs with the speed of an Indigenous person. When a pair of shooters kill several pelicans, Mike chooses to care for three orphaned pelican babies, affectionately naming them Mr Percival, Mr Ponder, and Mr Proud. Although Tom resents interference from the outside world, Mike begins to grow curious about what he's missing, which threatens the pair's reclusive existence.
Whereas the material is rife for Disney-esque manipulation and overzealous melodrama, Storm Boy plays out in an authentic, matter-of-fact cinematic style free of overbearing schmaltz, a decision which separates it from Hollywood pictures of a similar vintage and genre. Produced for a reported budget of just $260,000, Storm Boy inevitably appears dated to a certain extent, particularly in terms of the technical contributions, though that is not to entirely impugn the lush cinematography, the evocative location work, or the competent production design. Guided by Safran's careful, sure-handed direction, the film feels agreeably organic and lived-in, while the piano-rich original score by Michael Carlos subtly accentuates the material's sweetness and emotion throughout. It's just that, in 2019, moviegoers accustomed to polished contemporary cinema might have trouble getting into this Aussie classic. Admittedly, Storm Boy is not always engaging, and budget limitations are occasionally evident, but this is a minor knock against an otherwise fine movie.
A small cast inhabits Storm Boy, but the actors all make positive impressions. In his film debut, Rowe fully commits to the titular role; he is thoroughly convincing, and - miraculously - never annoying. Veteran Aboriginal actor Gulpilil is likewise engaging, while Cummins is believable as Mike's stern father. Upon its release in 1976, Storm Boy demonstrated the viability of Australian cinema to the rest of the world; it was sold to over 100 international territories, which was a tremendous achievement at the time. Over forty years later, time has done little to diminish Storm Boy's power, charm and magic. The film was eventually remade in 2019.
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A culturally significant Australian film, Storm Boy was digitally restored in 2015 by the National Film & Sound Archive, who partnered with Frame, Set and Match for the restoration project. According to Umbrella, the movie was remastered from a 4K scan of the original interpositive, though it's unclear whether or not the restoration itself was actually completed at 4K resolution. Regardless, 1976's Storm Boy positively shines for its worldwide Blu-ray debut, courtesy of Umbrella Entertainment. Presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1, this 1080p, AVC-encoded transfer is placed on a dual-layered BD-50, mastered with an outstanding average video bitrate approaching 34 Mbps (which is a huge improvement compared to Umbrella's earlier Ozploitation releases). Compared to old VHS and DVD releases (the initial 2001 DVD was presented in fullscreen 1.33:1), Storm Boy is truly a revelation in high definition, with a mostly solid encode of the very solid remaster ensuring that this looks as great as any high-profile catalogue release from the likes of Arrow or Shout! Factory.
First things first, since this master was created using an interpositive rather than the original camera negative, the image is not as tight or as pristine as it could have been (especially in regards to the grain structure), while colours could stand to have a bit more vibrancy and balance at times. Additionally, the opening credits sequence of the movie understandably looks the roughest, with heavy colour grain and mediocre image tightness, but that's presumably more of a source-related issue since the movie begins with optical shots. There are noticeably quality drops during optical shots, whenever transitions are used or titles appear on-screen. Having said that, however, the transfer still looks quite respectable on the whole throughout the opticals, retaining decent textures and an organic appearance. Print damage is also apparent throughout the movie. The restoration process ostensibly cleaned up any major tears or significant damage, but the transfer retains a smattering of white specks, flecks, and a few hairs, in addition to some gate weave. (And see a vertical line on the left side of the screen at 32:05.) I also noticed what appears to be a missing frame at 9:09; between the shot of Mike running away and the close-up of Fingerbone is a mysterious black frame. It's not a huge deal of course, but it seems weird that this evaded the quality checking stages of the disc (and the remaster, if this is a source-related issue). Some shots or moments look soft to boot, though this is likely traceable to the original photography, or it's a limitation of the IP used, as opposed to representing a fault of the restoration team.
Thankfully, I was unable to detect any traces of egregious digital tampering, such as noise reduction or edge enhancement. The transfer happily retains a healthy grain structure, though colour noise is noticeable from time to time, which could either be source-related or a scanner issue. Frozen and/or blocky grain is also evident at times, particularly during the opticals, or even shots of the pelicans flying away at the 33-minute mark. It's certainly preferable that the grain is left in tact, however, as opposed to being scrubbed away to create a smeary, smooth, textureless image. A scan of the negative would yield improvements to clarity and image depth, but shortcomings aside, Storm Boy is seriously impressive on Blu-ray, all things considered. This is a stable, eminently watchable presentation, which brings out as much fine detail as the scan will allow. There's an impressive amount of fine detail on faces, clothing, the animals and the sets; you can make out virtually every feather on the pelicans, every hair on Tom's grizzled face, and all the intricacies of the ramshackle hut. When the image is sharp, it's extremely sharp, leaving little to be desired. The colour palette also looks faithful to the original source, with no noticeable revisionism. The ocean often looks lush and inviting, while greenery appears healthy. However, at times the colours look noticeably "cooked" - I can only assume the IP print had faded over time, and heavy saturation was required to bring out the colours at times.
Although this review does seem critical in a number of respects, do not be swayed - in truth, this is a fantastic transfer where it counts, and it's hard to imagine any long-time fans or videophiles being dissatisfied with either the restoration or Umbrella's impressive encode. Although grain looks blocky at times, I couldn't detect any further video anomalies such as aliasing, banding, or crush. For a movie that has long been relegated to VHS and DVD releases, it was truly a pleasure to revisit Storm Boy in high definition.
English subtitles (for the hearing impaired) are included on the disc. Although sync is not always spot-on, the track is easy to read and I was unable to detect any errors.
Video Ratings Summary
The sole audio option on this Blu-ray is a lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 stereo track, which is 16-bit. It's clear that the audio received the same level of care and attention during the remastering process, as the resulting mix is pristine, though not quite perfect. Probably due to the recording equipment of the era, the track does sound noticeably "tinny" - the dialogue, the sound effects, and the music. It's comprehensible, sure, but this won't be mistaken for a 2019 production as there are limitations to the audio's clarity. Nevertheless, this is a perfectly serviceable track which does justice to this dialogue-heavy drama.
The only time that dialogue comprehensibility struggles is during the storm sequence around the 70-minute mark. The 2.0 mixing doesn't help matters, as there's no separation, and the dialogue is occasionally lost amid the scene's often intense sound effects - prioritisation could stand to be better. Meanwhile, I noticed a few pops throughout the movie (see 43:25, for instance), though I didn't pick up any hissing, which is surely a miracle given the age of the source. There's nothing in the way of meaningful surround activity beyond perfunctory accentuation, and subwoofer activity/LFE is lacking. Sound effects like gunshots aren't as exactly deep, though the movie likely made use of stock sounds which don't exactly hold up to contemporary scrutiny.
All things considered, this is a fine rendering of the source, and again it trounces the DVD's lossy audio mix.
Audio Ratings Summary
|Surround Channel Use|
Special features for Storm Boy are disappointingly slight. And considering the NFSA website contains a variety of behind-the-scenes clips and photos that could have been included, this disc is all the more disappointing. Recent interviews with Greg Rowe and David Gulpilil would also be valuable inclusions, not to mention material about the restoration. It's worth pointing out that like most Umbrella titles, this has a reversible cover which gets rid of the ratings logo on the front.
Storm Boy: Theatrical Trailer (HD; 3:56) A rather lengthy four-minute theatrical trailer for Storm Boy, remastered in high definition by the NFSA and presented here in beautiful 1080p.
Storm Boy: VHS Trailer (1080i; 00:25) A short VHS trailer, taken from a rough VHS source but encoded in 1080i.
Story Makers: Colin Thiele (HD; 25:40) Taken from an SD source but encoded in 1080p, this is a 1988 documentary about the author of Storm Boy, Colin Thiele. He speaks about his stories and his writing, in addition to the fan mail he has received from children. There are also clips of school children asking Thiele questions about his books.
Blue Fin (1978) (720p; 90:21) As an added bonus, Umbrella have included an additional film on this Blu-ray: 1978's Blue Fin, which was adapted from Colin Thiele's novel of the same name, and stars Greg Rowe, Hardy Kruger and John Jarratt. This is something of an unofficial Storm Boy follow-up, given that several cast and crew reunited for this flick. Presumably taken from the same unremastered (standard definition) source used for Umbrella's DVD edition, the movie is encoded in 720p and carries an uncompressed Linear PCM 2.0 track, and English subtitles are available to boot. For those of you who like Blue Fin and never bought the DVD, this is the best way to experience it unless a HD master is even prepared.
Wild Reel: Hardy Kruger & Greg Rowe (720p; 9:33) A collection of interview clips with Kruger and Rowe, including several takes of each snippet, and moments between takes. This was visibly taken from a low quality source, but is encoded in 720p.
Hardy Kruger Profile (720p; 24:39) Another Blue Fin-related extra, this piece zeroes in on actor Hardy Kruger and delves into the production and story of Blue Fin. Although encoded in 720p, this is clearly taken from an SD VHS source.
Blue Fin: Theatrical Trailer (720p; 2:55) And finally, the theatrical trailer for Blue Fin. This trailer is in bad shape; it was clearly taken from a VHS source, and is littered with macroblocking to boot.
R4 vs R1
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non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually
also NTSC compatible.
This is the film's worldwide Blu-ray debut. A win for the Umbrella edition by default.
Over forty years later, Storm Boy remains an enduring Australian classic, replete with heart and touching drama. I still remember watching this on a dodgy VHS in primary school.
Umbrella brings this seminal film to Blu-ray for the first time in the world. The remastered video and audio presentations are really impressive, featuring the type of restoration you'd expect from a prestigious label like Arrow. Unfortunately, the disc comes up short in terms of special features - there isn't much of substance or value. Still, this is a recommended buy for fans.
© Callum Knox (I studied biology)
Monday, September 02, 2019
|DVD||Sony UBP-X700 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray Player, using HDMI output|
This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 2160p.
|Audio Decoder||Built in to amplifier/receiver.
This audio decoder/receiver has not been calibrated.
|Amplification||Samsung Series 7 HT-J7750W|
|Speakers||Samsung Tall Boy speakers, 7.1 set-up|
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