Home Page | About Me | Home Entertainment | Home Entertainment Blog | Politics | Australian Libertarian Society Blog | Disclosures

Wake in Fright cover

Blu-ray Reviews: Wake in Fright

Originally published in Sound and Image, April 2010, v.23#05
Last updated 19 August 2010

Wake in Fright
1971 - Madman Entertainment Pty Ltd
Director: Ted Kotcheff
Starring: Donald Pleasence, Gary Bond, Chips Rafferty, Sylvia Kay, Jack Thompson, Peter Whittle, Al Thomas, John Meillon, John Armstrong, Slim DeGrey and Maggie Dence

Movie: 3.5 Picture: 3.5 Sound: 3 Extras: 3.5

Wake in Fright is an Australian movie, but the two main actors were English, as was its producer. Although based on an Australian novel, the screenplay was penned by a chap born in Jamaica. The director was a Canadian whose most famous work lay in the future (First Blood).

Cultural cringe anyone?

I gather that the movie is highly regarded because it is thought to be an uncompromisingly bleak portrayal of Australian culture, where apparently alienation ran rampant, and the only thing for a man of real culture or sensitivity to do was to anaesthetise himself with alcohol.

But amongst the succession of seedy two-up games, smoke-filled bars and a bloody kangaroo shoot engaged in by a bunch of drunks (concerning which the producers place an apologetic note before the credits) there are acts of kindness and great open-heartedness.

Note that the title may suggest a scary movie. It isn't that at all in the conventional sense. IMDB says 'Drama/Thriller'. I'd stick with 'Drama'.

Regardless of your view of the movie, it is important in Australian film history. Aside from anything else it was the last film appearance of Chips Rafferty and the first of Jack Thompson.

And it was a film thought to be virtually lost. The copies that were around were truly awful, completely worn out. You can get a sense of this from an excerpt on the disc from the recent Australian documentary 'Not Quite Hollywood' which includes a number of clips from the film. These look truly dreadful.

A 32 page booklet outlines the story of the recovery of the film. In 2004 the original negative and sound track and other materials were finally found in a Pittsburg warehouse, awaiting destruction.

After years of digital restoration, the movie was finally re-released to cinemas last year, and then to DVD and Blu-ray.

So what of the picture and sound quality? Variable in the case of the former, monophonically adequate in the case of the latter.

A six minute restoration featurette on the disc shows the before and after work, and it is clear that the negative was far, far too dark. But in the brightening, the movie appeared to my eye to have been overlayed by a yellow caste. Presumably this reflects the intentions of the director, and it certainly enhances the feeling of unremitting heat.

In the odd scene the brightening has also brought up the dark areas, rather than stretching the brightness gamut, making the picture seem as though the brightness control on the TV has been turned up. The focus is also variable, but this seems likely to be due to the source material.

Still, my guess is that you will never see the movie looking any better than this, and it has probably never been seen looking this good ... even at the cinema on first release. Although I might not be pleased with some of the content, other sections -- such as the opening 360 degree pan of the totally flat Australian outback -- are simply stunning.

The movie is presented at 1080p24 -- where in this case the '24' means an actual 24 frames per second, rather than the more common 23.976fps. It is said that this might lead to dropped frames by some older equipment, but that is something I've never noticed.

Oddly the array of interesting extras are all presented in 720p24 format. This is the first disc I've found with any 720p24 content. Note that 720p24 is typically not supported by display devices (there isn't even an Extended Display Identification Data code for this format). Your Blu-ray player will generally just upscale it to 1080p, usually at 60 frames per second.

Running time: 109 minutes
Picture: 1.85:1, 1080p24*, MPEG4 AVC @ 21.99Mbps
Sound: English, Commentary: Dolby Digital 2/0.0 @ 224kbps
Subtitles: Nil
Extras: 32 page booklet; All extras 720p24*, MPEG4 AVC, DD2.0 @ 224kbps: Interview with Director Ted Ted Kotcheff (23 mins); International Trailer (under title 'Outback' - 1 min); Segment of 1971 'Who Needs Art?' TV show on 'Wake in Fright' (6 mins); Chips Rafferty Obituary (4 mins); Restoration Comparison (2 mins); Segment from ABC TV's '7:30 Report' on the rediscovery and restoration of the film (7 mins); Excerpt on 'Wake In Fright' from 'Not Quite Hollywood' - 2008 (6 mins)
Restrictions: Rated M (Australian rating); Region Free

The following video bitrate graph was generated by BDInfo 0.5.3:

Wake in Fright video bitrate graph

© 2002-2010, Stephen Dawson