Lowdown: A boy becomes a man in Victoria’s high country.
The Man from Snowy River is one of those central pillars of Aussie culture that is routinely referenced yet up to the last weekend we haven’t seen it. It was time to remedy that.
The story follows a teenage boy who lives the hard life of mountain ranching together with his father. One day, while lumberjacking with his dear papa, they suddenly find themselves under attack by a horde of renegade brumbies. When the attack is over and the dust settles, the teenager finds his father dead. Worse, he’s cast out of his mountain home by his fellow mountain people, since the mountains are for “men” only and he’s just a boy.
Seeking shelter and food, he goes to a friendly one legged gold miner (Kirk Douglas) and eventually lands a ranching job with another guy (also portrayed by Kirk Douglas). He doesn’t really get along with the people he’s working with and he doesn’t really get along with the second Kirk Douglas, but he does get along with Douglas’ daughter. The plot thickens as the film develops, becoming one of those films that drip of fatalism and where everything’s connected: “the horse that killed the mother of the daughter is the same horse that killed the father whose son saves the daughter and secures the horses” type thing. When the dust settles, our boy is no longer a boy – he’s a man, with a worthy woman by his side, and a lovely home up the mountains. Hooray.
There is not much positive for me to say about Snowy. The film is badly directed and edited, featuring shots that have this “good old feeling” normally associated very with old films that just couldn’t technically muster it. Only that Snowy is not that old: it was released in 1982, a good six years after Star Wars. There are also some gross acts of bad acting, which – when you combine it all to create a mixture – make watching Snowy a rather entertaining experience because you just find yourself laughing at the foolishness on the screen. However, unlike, say, Transporter 2, this laughter was certainly not intended by the director.
The movie’s illnesses actually start with the script. In what has to pass as a rather weird omission, the script never allows the film to tell us much or anything about the environment the film is taking place in. All the characters speak of “the mountains” with much reverence, but no one really tells you what mountains they’re talking about and what the nature of these mountains is. For all you know, they could be talking about the Alps or the Himalayas; you need knowledge from the outside world to realize they’re talking about Victoria’s high country. And the Snowy River itself? As far as I could tell, the phrase is only used once towards the end of the film, and again with no explanations as to what river it is that they’re talking about. The brumbies, that play such a pivotal role in the film, are yet another unexplained term: brumbies are the Aussie name for “wild” horses, that is – horses that were abandoned and became wild. You can sort of figure out the brumbies from context as you watch the film, but why should you?
The script doesn’t do much favor to women, either. They’re more like decorations, something that’s there at the end of the day to help the tired men coming back from work. Douglas’ daughter, for example, is portrayed as a rebellious self minded woman who knows what she wants; but what she wants is to basically be by the side of the man of her choice, as opposed to (god forbid) actually doing the things that man can do.
Watching Man from Snowy River, you can sort of see why there is a lot of room for Australian society to evolve if Snowy River is its cultural representative. The film is still being used to promote the political agendas of contemporary mountain cattlemen in the face of the law that demands they take their cattle off national park land. While there is definitely room to debate whether people are to be removed from the land they make their living from, the artificial glorification of the mountain men and their ye olde “values” is quite detached from reality. Today’s debate is not about values; it’s about resources and it comes down to money, the only true value to motivate most people.
Worst scenes: Any of the film’s numerous montages qualifies. The South Park gang makes a mockery of Rocky and the montages that are a central part of each of the series’ films, but the dude from Snowy has himself more silly montages in one film than Rocky has had in all six.
Overall: For a bad film, Snowy River is still enjoyable to watch – but mostly because it’s so silly. 2 out of 5 stars.