Monday, 1 September 2008


Last night we were treated to the world premiere of Scorched, a new Australian bushfire disaster movie.

It was disappointing, to be honest. But this isn't completely surprising. Apart from a brief flirtation with low-budget exploitation films in the seventies, Australian filmmakers don't have a great history when it comes to genre films.

In a sense, we've been victims of our own (limited) success.

Muriel's Wedding sent everyone scrambling to produce the next low-budget family comedy, and Lantana prompted a huge volume of overwrought family drama.

While these were great films and it's all very well to try to produce more stuff like that, you can't make a living from it.

You need a regular round of crowd-pleasers to fill the coffers, which can then in turn support the quality productions.

So where are the action movies? Where are the buddy comedies? Where are the horror films? Where are the gangster/heist/caper movies?

We have hordes of great screenwriters, directors, and actors ready and willing to ditch their artistic integrity and pump out some lowest-common-denominator dross for a quick buck. So what's the problem?

Well, it's actually quite simple. In fact, Scorched typifies precisely what the problem is, and it's this:

Australians just don't get how to make genre films.

Example: Scorched is a disaster movie about a ring of bushfires threatening Sydney. As such I, the viewer, go in expecting three basic elements:

(1) A shot of an enormous fire-front looming over the city, silhouetting the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge;

(2) A group of wild-eyed characters realising the ground is shaking, just before being almost trampled by a herd of kangaroos fleeing the flames, preferably down George Street; and

(3) A crazed religious character from Queensland, screeching that the fires are God's wrath against the city of sin, and then attempting to stop the flames with prayer before meeting a fiery death.

These are the basic, basic elements of this sort of film. And they just weren't there.

What we got instead was a film with far too much introspection and far too many attempts to be clever.

And that's the problem. This sort of movie isn't about chin-stroking reflection.

It's about visceral reaction. It's a popcorn movie. It's a gee-whiz special effects thrill ride.

This is disaster porn, for goodness sake.

Now do it properly.
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