The Man from Snowy River
1982, directed by George Miller
"The story of a boy. Suddenly alone in the world. The men who challenge him. And the girl who helps him become a man."
-Tagline on movie.
Principal cast and credits
Cast: Tom Burlinson Jim Craig
Terence Donovan Henry Craig
Kirk Douglas Harrison & Spur
David Bradshaw Banjo Paterson
Sigrid Thornton Jessica Harrison
Jack Thompson Clancy
Tony Bonner Kane
June Jago Mrs Bailey
Chris Haywood Curly
Kristopher Steele Moss
Gus Mercurio Frew
Lorraine Bailey Rosemary Hume
Director: George Turnbull Miller
Writing Credits: Fred Cullen
Andrew Barton "Banjo" Paterson (poem)
Cinematographer: Keith Wagstaff
Editor: Adrian Carr
Executive Producer: Simon Wincer
Producer: Geoff Burrowes
Original Score: Bruce Rowland
Production Design: Leslie Binns
Costume Design: Robin Hall
Production Company: Cambridge Production, Inc.
Michael Edgley International
Distributors: 20th Century Fox Film Corporation (USA)
Hoyts Cinemas (Aus)
Other Film Information
Running Time: 102 minutes
Certification: Australia(MPAA): PG / USA: PG / Finland: K-8 / Germany: 6 / Sweden: 11
Box Office: Australia $(A)17,228,160
USA $(US) 20,659,423
Release Dates: Australia – 1982
US – December 1982
Sweden – 25th March 1983
Finland – 23rd December 1983
West Germany – 4th May 1984
Film Location: Merrijig, Victoria, Australia
Awards: Won AFI Award (1982) – Best Original Music Score (Bruce Rowland)
Nominated AFI Award (1982)– Best Achievement in Cinematography (Keith Wagstaff) - Best Achievements in Sound (Robert J Litt, Terry Rodman, Gary Wilkins.)
Nominated Golden Globe Award (USA,1983)- Best Foreign Film
Won Montreal World Film Festival – Most Popular Film (George Miller).
Bibliographical Details – Interviews with Film Makers
I found it impossible to locate interviews with either Miller or Wincer. Further I couldn't locate any interviews with any members of the cast. I think this is largely due to the lack of Internet presence in the 1980's. Now, interviews would be taken and transcripts put onto Internet sites. Even searches on journals and databases did not reveal any interviews with the film-makers, although it did uncover several reviews.
Bibliographical Details – Reviews
Grading the Movies – Also includes ratings on violence, drug and alcohol, language and sex content.
Christian Spotlight on the Movies
ifilm – The Internet Movie Guide
The Man From Snowy River
Australian Film Commission
Robby's Snowy River Pages
The Internet Movie Database
As with most people, I expect, I began with the Internet. I used three different search engines to go through as much material that came up for my key words. Inevitably I sifted through some very unhelpful information and (mostly American) sites which didn't have anything more than a video cover of The Man From Snowy River. As the Internet didn't really take off until the 1990's I found that it was much harder to locate information than it would have been for a film produced post-Internet existence. I found electronic databases within the university very similar in that most articles listed were for the 1990's and not the early 1980's when the film came out. I found that physically going to the journals and going through back issues of Cinema Papers and Filmnews from 1982 was more helpful. Further there appears to be a shortage of books concerning Australian film - any aspect - in the library.
The Man from Snowy River was released in 1982, directed by Scottish George Miller – not to be confused with Australian George Miller of Mad Max. The film was released following the "quality" film era of the 1970s in which films like Picnic at Hanging Rock (Weir, 1975) were hailed the saviour of the Australian film industry following a bout of distasteful films like Alvin Purple (Burstall, 1973) and The Adventures of Barry McKenzie (Beresford, 1972). The introduction of the tax concession in the 1980's encouraged private investment in Australian films and commercialism became an important issue. Critics were less than generous when reviewing The Man.
The Man from Snowy River is a fairytale story about boy's journey into manhood. Jim Craig's father dies in the beginning at the hands of wild brumbies while cutting timber in the mountains where they live. Jim is told he must earn the right to stay living in the mountains and so he goes to the city to find work. Here he is employed by Harrison (Douglas) and falls in love with Jessica, Harrison's daughter. The famous "colt from old regret" escapes when brumbies run near the property, jumping elaborately over the fence. When Harrison finds out that Jessica and Jim had been training the colt in secret he is outraged and organises a ride to repossess the colt, offering a reward to whichever man recovers the colt.
At this point Jessica runs away to the mountains and finds herself on the edge of a cliff. Jim rescues her but finds that Harrison will still not forgive him for 'losing' the colt. Jim is the only man in the district forbidden to ride with the other men to get the colt, but Clancy, friend of Jim's late father and mountain legend to all, sways the decision and Jim rides after all. Jim recovers the colt earning the $1,000 reward, the right to the other wild horses captured in the process and Jessica: "I'll be back later for them ... and anything else that's mine."
The Man is a film that while perhaps not as "quality" as previous Australian films does feature strong themes including feminism, animal liberation and environment. It is interesting to look at the way these themes are in fact dealt with – very politically incorrect. Jessica 'liberates' herself from the control of her father only to need a man to rescue her from death. Harrison stresses to her that he doesn't want her performing horse duties, that he wants her to be a lady. At the conclusion Jessica is collected as a prized object by Jim – the winning man. In a sense then she does achieve her freedom to be able to live in the mountains and ride horses, however she is only able to do so because of Jim. Rather than being a film featuring a woman feeing herself from the control of males, it – worse – features a woman being passed around by males competing for dominance. Incidentally this is how wild stallions behave: they fight for the ownership of mares.
At a time when animal liberation and cruelty of animals was being taken very seriously The Man was ignoring the importance of these issues. The film is concerned with capturing wild animals and 'breaking' them in, although Jim trains the colt by "gentling it rather than imposing himself upon it"(Turner, 1983). Not only this but in the making of the film many horses had to be destroyed because of accidents, including the beautiful black stallion (Hare, 1982). In spite of this, probably due to the audience's unawareness, the film was a huge success.
As in many Australian films the landscape in The Man is a dominant feature. It turns away from the usual dry, barren landscape of the desert that is present in films like Walkabout and Picnic at Hanging Rock to the beautiful, rugged mountains of Victoria. While not in keeping with traditional representations of the land the purpose remains the same: an unfriendly landscape that average men cannot survive. O'Regan says that any "nonsense about an 'alien' threatening landscape has no purchase in this film," and that "the mountains…are used economically but not principally…They are a nice exciting place to be." (1985: site) However, Jim's dad dies at the hands of the mountains as Jessica almost does herself. In the reality of making The Man horses also died at the hands of those mountains. The mountains represent the domination of Australian land by Europeans and enforce the unnatural habitation by the white man. The Man may have been commercially driven but representations of Australian landscape will always reflect the history of the nation Australia.
The Man from Snowy River is visually stunning epic suitable for the entire family. While not appreciated for its script, desire for international recognition and inaccurate reflection of Australian culture, it is a very entertaining blockbuster film. The Australian audience can share a feeling of nationhood and patriotism by the viewing The Man, while the American audience can be thoroughly entertained. Film shouldn't always be serious takes on Australian life; films are not always for critics to judge. Films should be enjoyed.
The period of 1979 to 1981 – between the "quality" era and the "blockbuster" era - was a slow time for Australian film. Up until this point the AFC had acted as buffer for Australian films by setting the agenda for production and deciding which films they would and would not invest in (O'regan, 1989:119). However when the government introduced the 10BA-tax concession the number of films being made increased dramatically. The tax incentive provided a lowering of high income taxes in order to encourage private investment in the Australian film sector, the general rule being that you could qualify as long as the films were created using Australian people and resources. AFC funding dropped to a minor 16% in the 1980's compared with the 39% that would be in the 1990's (O'regan, 1996:67). The Man from Snowy River was produced at a time in Australian film history when private investment in Australian film was encouraged. For this reason much effort went into making The Man a film that would sell to both Australian audiences and international audiences.
Unfortunately many critics were not overly impressed with the lack of "quality" present in The Man. It has been described as "ideologically bad, technically bad, masculinist, poorly scripted and shamelessly commercial" (O'Regan, 1996:137). Contrary to what the critics had to say The Man was more than well received by its audience, grossing $17.2million in Australia and a further $20.6million in the United States. The Man has been frequently described as a "kangaroo" western due to its likeness of the American western. Actor Kirk Douglas was imported from the States making it even more authentic.
O'Regan has pointed out that the criticisms levelled at The Man about it's "commerciality" and "it's poor depiction of rural Australia tells us a lot about Australian film criticism but very little about the film and it's phenomenal success"(O'Regan, 1985:site). Later in his essay O'Regan goes on to discuss pleasure audiences gained by watching The Man and the widely discussed story of a policeman who drove seventy miles to take his girlfriend to his fourth attendance of The Man. The two had left early so as not to "'ruin' the experience by watching the supporting feature as well." Such stories of devoted fans of the film prove just how loved the film was by audiences despite the critic's claim of a poor quality film.
The production of The Man from Snowy River came as an answer towards the popular American western. The title "kangaroo western" does not give the film the credibility and authenticity that it so deserves. In some ways The Man is merely a rip-off off American cowboys prancing around on horses; but this film is contains more serious themes and depth of plot than most westerns I have seen. The Australian Bushman is not as 'cowboy' but a very real character of the period style that in fact did exist. Banjo Patterson is said to have based the Man from Snowy River on a real character, Jack Riley from Corryong although there has been debate that he based the character on many people he met (ACN: site).
The estimated budget for The Man was $A3.5 million and the end chase scene featured 90 horses and 40 riders (IMDB: site). The film was made in Merrijig, Victoria with the homestead scenes being filmed at one of the producers parents house.
George Trumbull Miller directed this blockbuster masterpiece and it would have to be said to be one of his better pieces of work. Miller had also directed Never Ending Story II: The Next Chapter (1990) In the Nick of Time (1991) as well as television series The Sullivans (1976) and Homicide (1964). He also had work as a producer of Heaven Before I Die (1997) and Young Ramsey (1977), a TV series. More recently Miller produced and directed the television movie Journey to the Centre of the Earth (1999). With a few exceptions Miller has not produced - before or since - very notable work. Miller was born in Scotland and trained in the Australian film industry and moved to Hollywood where he received limited credibility for his work on Never Ending Story II as well as some work for the Disney Channel (Hollywood.com: site). His reputation grew somewhat with the release of The Man but his 1994 release of Andre was unsuccessful.
Simon Wincer was executive producer of The Man having worked previously on the series Against the Wind (1974) and with Miller on The Sullivans as producer. His directorial debut was the thriller Snap Shot (1979) followed in 1980 by the tale of a Resputin-like power, Harlequin. Wincer's best known early film was Phar Lap (1984) a rather sentimental approach to the documentation of the life story of the famous racehorse. When beckoned by the allure of Hollywood USA Wincer turned to the production of the lighter comedy films. His first film there was D.A.R.Y.L. (1985) shortly followed by the equally not funny Harely Davidson and the Marlborough Man (1991). His most popular US made film was Free Willy (1993), the tale of a boy and his whale, a rather erk-ish family drama. In 1996 The Phantom was released based on the comic book stories. This film experienced reasonable success.
It was the implementation of the tax incentive scheme that bought the creators of film and television mini-series together. The mini-series was included for the film grants and as such Miller and Geoff Burrows, another producer, were able to move from his television series to the feature production of The Man from Snowy River.
Position of Australian Film and Value
Examination of the time of release of The Man explains the reasoning behind the mass appeal the film achieved. Following the international as well as domestic acclaim of Picnic at Hanging Rock, the Australian Film Commission (AFC) decided that in order to produce more "quality" films higher budgets would be necessary. It was worthwhile spending money on films and giving them a chance at international success rather than producing assured box office hits suited only to the domestic market (O'regan, 1:12). Goals of Australian film came to be thematically Australian, so audiences would be able to relate to films thus securing the domestic market while incorporating international subjects appealing to overseas tastes (O'regan 1996:67).
Consequently the release of The Man came about shortly followed by Crocodile Dundee (Faiman, 1986) another Australian appeal to US attention. Both films proved that Australians were capable of making popular films for domestic audiences as well as international audiences. The "quality" films were quite effective at providing critical approaches to Australian themes but it was found they didn't have the commercial success enjoyed by the later Man and Dundee. What the Australian film industry needed was a shove towards the understanding that films cost money to produce and it was no use making films that no one would pay to see.
A Medium Sized English Language Cinema
Competing in the English language cinema market is Britain, the United States, Canada and Australia. Australia is the youngest nation of these and has been largely based and built on US and British systems. The same applies to the film industry. For Australia to compete with these other cinemas a different but equally entertaining product must be made available. Initially Australia took the approach of "crass comedies" with Alvin Purple and The Adventures of Barry McKenzie in the early 1970's. This was followed by the "quality" film era of Picnic at Hanging Rock and My Brilliant Career (Armstrong, 1973). The Australian Film Commission could not afford to pay whole grants for films requiring high budgets. The introduction of the 10BA-tax incentive encouraged and allowed for private investment in the Australian film market.
The majority of American released films are classified as "mainstream" meaning that they are designed for mass appeal. Conversely, Australian films are usually released, as are New Zealand films, under the "festival film" category (O'Regan, 1996:79). It can be generally assumed that films released as "festival" do not generate particularly high levels of profit. One exception to this rule is The Man which generated higher sales in the US ($US20.7m) than in it's domestic market ($A17.2).
It is only in recent times of the 21st Century that international films are being created in Australia. This includes films like Moulin Rouge (Luhrman, 2001) and The Marix (Wachowski, 1998). A weak Australian dollar, good industry talent and top-of-the-range facilities provide for this. While these films are creating something of a new genre of "international" film, truly Australian films will continue to explore serious issues and themes, keeping with the traditional role of film making in Australia.
The Man From Snowy River
Hare, Denise, 1982. "Doing the Rounds", Filmnews, April 1982. Filmmaker Co-operative Ltd, Sydney Australia.
The Internet Movie Database
Tom O'Regan, 1996. Australian National Cinema. Routledge, London.
Tom O'Regan, "Australian Film in the 1970s: the ocker and the quality film," Oz Film: Australian Film in the Reading Room, 28th January 2002, http://wwwmcc.murdoch.edu.au/ReadingRoom/film/1970s.html
Tom O'Regan, "Beyond 'Australian Film'? Australian cinema in the 1990s," Oz Film: Australian Film in the Reading Room, 15th March 2002,
Tom O'Regan, from Tom O'Regan and Albert Moran eds., An Australian Film Reader. Sydney: Currency Press, 1985.
Turner, Graeme, 1983. "Our 'Dubious Legacy' Nationalism and Contemporary Australian Film," Overland. No. 19 May 1983
Adventures of Barry McKenzie, The, dir. Bruce Beresford 1972
Alvin Purple, dir. Tim Burstall 1973
Crocodile Dundee, dir. Peter Faiman 1986
Man from Snowy River, The, dir. George Miller 1982
Matrix, dir. Andy and Larry Wachowski 1998
Moulin Rouge, dir. Baz Luhrman 2001
Picnic at Hanging Rock, dir. Peter Weir 1975
Walkabout, dir. Nicolas Roeg 1971