Australian Cinema MCC231
Critical Review & Bibliography
Alastaire Wong 30562325
December Boys (2007)
Runtime : 105 min
Awards : 1 nomination
Company : Australian Film Finance Corporation (AFFC)
Language : English
Film Location : Adelaide, South Australia
Genre : Coming-of-Age Drama/ Romance
Classification : PG
Studio : Warner Independent Pictures
Michael Noonan (novel)
Marc Rosenberg (screenplay)
Daniel Radcliffe Maps
Lee Cormie Misty
Christian Byers Spark
James Fraser Spit
Jack Thompson Bandy
Teresa Palmer Lucy
Sullivan Stapleton Fearless
Victoria Hill Teresa
Max Cullen Narrator/ Adult Misty
Kris McQuage Mrs McAnsh (Skipper)
Ralph Cotterill Shellback
Frank Gallacher Father Scully
Paul Blackwell Watson
Judi Farr Reverend Mother
Carmel Johnson Sister Beatrice
Michael Noonan Book Author
David Connell Cinematographer
Jay Sanders Co-producer
Carlo Giacco Composer (music score)
Dany Cooper Editor
Hal Gaba Executive Producer
Jonathan Shteinman Executive Producer
Barbara Gibbs Line Producer
Leslie Binns Production Designer
Ronald Kinnoch Screen Story
Australia 20th September 2007
USA 14th September 2007
UK 14th September 2007
USD $4 Million
Total Gross Country Last Date Recorded
AUD $1,146,346 Australia 30th September 2007
USD $ 94,995 USA 30th September 2007
INTERVIEW WITH THE FILMMAKERS
· Interview with Rod Hardy
During Rod Hardy search for his cast, he said that he snagged Daniel Radcliffe unintentionally. He had actually offered another young British actor, Freddie Highmore, star of Tim Burton’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
“The way I found Daniel is – I’d seen a film called Finding Neverland, with Johnny Depp and young Freddie Highmore; I really liked Freddie. I thought ‘there’s an up and coming young actor who could bring a lot of heart to the film. His mother is a big agent in London, she read the screenplay and loved it. She became very interested in the project. Then, as months progressed, she said ‘How would you feel about having Daniel Radcliffe in your picture?’, and I was a bit surprised – he wasn’t my first choice, but only because I didn’t think we had a chance – but I agreed to let her pass the script onto Radcliffe’s parents. They then passed it onto him. Within 48 hours there was a response back saying ‘they all love it!’. So for a while there we had both Freddie Highmore and Daniel Radcliffe.”
Highmore’s grandmother became ill and unfortunately passed away so he couldn’t take on the role. Thankfully for Hardy, Radcliffe remained on the project. Hardy says Radcliffe took a sizeable pay cut to play the film’s oldest December Boy, for the fact that there was not a lot of money to start of with.
“We certainly didn’t have any money. He just loved the product – and he wanted to do something between Harry Potter’s 4 and 5. What he liked about the film was its ‘simplicity’. And he was fantastic! His parents came out with him – his father stayed most of the time, as his chaperone – as did a tutor, because he was in a very important year school-wise back home, but he was wonderful; he got on so well with the other boys.”
The first step, says Hardy, was tweaking the script. Originally, the main characters in it were all “8 or 9 years old” so he wanted to change it from “being a children’s story, to being more of a coming-of-age story. If anything, people in the United States compare it to Stand By Me – story about teenagers but from an adult’s perspective.”
Hardy knows December Boys is going to be a hard sell – because all audiences want to see these days are big-budget high-action drama. Rod Hardy, whose bread and butter is directing episodic American television, (such as Battlestar Galactica and Burn Notice), is also aware that films such as December Boys are not usually produced anymore. He feels that there is a place for it despite the predicament.
“…the movies that fix on “the lowest socio-economic level – and by the way, these people are part of our society, and we need to see everything, but there has to be a point to these movies too, and some hope, otherwise I can just walk down any back alley in Melbourne on any given day and see these people for free – and I might be criticised because of how simple my movie is. I’m not saying my movie has any kind of major point [to make] but it’s a search for family and a search for self and I think that’ll work for a number of people.”
· The Q&A, Harry Potter and the Grown-Up Drama.
DETAILS OF NEWSPAPER REVIEWS
Catsoulis, J. New York Times.
‘a coming-of-age tale so treacly it doesn’t just tug your heartstrings, it attempts to glue them to your ribs.’
Hall, Sandra. Sydney Morning Herald.
‘Nostalgia rules in a coming-of-age story that capitalises on idyllic locations and the innocence of gentler times.’
‘Radcliffe comes of age in Decemeber Boys’
Wiegand, D. San Francisco Chronicle.
‘…there are times when it’s so oversaturated with sweetness and light’
FILM’S ONLINE PRESCENCE
· Arendt, P. December Boys (2007). Movies. BBC.
· IMDb. 2007.
· Morriellia, C. December Boys. User Reviews. Yahoo Movies.
· Marcus, J. Child’s Play: December Boys. NewsQuake!. Netscape.
· Peters, J. December Boys. Movie Review.
· Stratton, D. December Boys. At The Movies. ABC.
· Schager, N. Review: December Boys. Cinematical.
The Internet played a big part in the information search for December Boys. Due to the fact that the film was recently made, the search for information from books and journal articles proved to be in vain. Much of the information were taken of popular and accessible movie websites such as Internet Movie Database. The search for interviews with the filmmakers proved to be difficult as I only managed to find one with the director, Rod Hardy. However, there were many interviews done on the main character, Daniel Radcliffe. Apart from that, the other information on December Boys that were found on the Internet through search engines were of abundance, and has undoubtedly ease the process of my search for information.
December Boys, which was based on the classic novel written by Michael Noonan, tells the story of four orphan boys who grew up in a Catholic convent in the Australian Outback in the 1960s. Maps (Daniel Radcliffe), Misty (Lee Cormie), Sparks (Christian Byers) and Spit (James Fraser), are the ‘December Boys’, because their birthdays fall during that month. They were then chosen to go on a vacation by the coast, where they will see the ocean for the first time in their lives, to stay with Bandy (Jack Thompson) and his wife (Kris McQuade). The boys have reached an age when the prospects of adoption are increasingly slim. It is when the convent decides to send the boys to the seaside for a summer vacation that they have something to look forward to. But, it is that summer that changes everything forever. In this coming-of-age drama, Maps finds himself drawn into the world of romance when he meets local girl, Lucy (Teresa Palmer). Tension builds through as the boys learn that the neighbouring couple are considering adopting one of the boys. They start to compete for the ultimate prize - a family. The magical bonds of their friendship eventually overcomes this rivalry, and it is through these turns of events that they learn the true meaning of love, friendship and family.
PERSONAL CRITIQUE/ COMMENTARY
The film opens with an explicit shot of a nun smoking, which was then blurred gradually. That scene alone was able to demonstrate that the setting was situated in a remote place, so isolated to the extent whereby conventional image and behaviour almost seemed to be disregarded. The scene carries on to a line-up of the orphan boys. A moving shot from left to right shows how the boys were ‘scrutinised’ by their soon-to-be parents. The scene portrays a little sense of cute humour in it as the there was a close-up of each of the boys’ facial expressions in their bid to win their soon to be parents’ attention. However, this scene is coupled with the depressing thought of a setting in a pet shop, where little puppies hope to get picked.
The audience are being introduced to the main characters fairly quickly and also the reason behind the film’s title ‘December Boys’. The personality of each character could be roughly sketched out within the first couple of scenes, more notably the one that shows the nun putting them to bed in their sleeping quarters. As soon as the nun walked away, Maps lit up a cigarette and shared it amongst Spark and Spit. Misty on the other hand, was seen praying with his rosary. The personalities of the boys were further amplified towards the middle of the film. Misty, who is quiet, neat, polite and determined to get adopted. The eldest of them all, Maps, who is at a critical point in his teenage years, where he deals with the harsh reality of romance. He is portrayed as an unsettled teenager whose strong character is built upon his disinterest of being adopted, rebelliousness and his protective nature over his younger mates. Spark and Spit shares similar characteristics, which includes undesirable behaviours at such a young age, such as smoking and fetish for pornography. They also love challenges and are very competitive among one another. All in all, the boys were able to accomplish a natural and believable performance that allowed the audience to grow into them.
There were many dark, mystical events and characters that were anchored throughout the film. The black horse, the gigantic fish, the nuns doing cartwheels and also the glimpse of Mother Mary in the water obviously had deeper meanings towards their metaphorical representation. I felt that it was too much to digest and did not think that it was necessary in this simple and good-natured film. These distasteful scenarios gave me the ‘What the hell?’ kind of a feeling.
Although this might be a small and unimportant point, I must admit that I was bothered by the fact that the theme song Who’ll Stop The Rain was actually the theme song, and Lucy had the cheek to sing it seductively to Maps. Not that it was not a good song, it is a fantastic song, but what actually bothered me was, if the film was based in the 1960s, and being quite a fan of Creedence Clearwater Revival (CCR), I was pretty sure that the song was only written in 1970. (I googled on it to make sure) I could not help but think, ‘How is that possible?’ This factor might just go on to show the little details that were being taken for granted in the film, which then makes the film unrealistic.
Another small and insignificant point to note was in the closing of the film, the ‘senior citizens’ of Spark, Spit and Misty seemed a little too old to be those boys back in the 1960s. Presumably the ‘many years later’ took placed in recent times, (based on the fact that the Mercedes that ‘senior citizen’ Misty drove in was of a newer model) if you do the math, they should turn out to be at most fifty-something years old, however they all looked like Anzac war-veterans. This echoes to my previous point about the film being unrealistic.
The amounts of online literature and reviews on the film were decent. The film received mostly decent reviews with quite a fair bit of criticisms. I managed to chance upon one review done by a user in Yahoo Movies (Australia) that spoke highly of the film. This review gave a 5 star rating as compared to the majority of the ratings, which lingers between 2-3 stars. Majority of the criticism were heading towards the same direction as they thought that the screenplay was ‘trying too hard’ to capture the emotions of the audience and that the film needed more substance in it to be memorable.
The acting and cinematography were generally regarded as some of the strengths of the film. A couple of reviews mentioned that Daniel Radcliffe was the ‘calling card’ of the film. It was considered that his prolific status enabled the independent film to be distinguished from the rest of the pack and subsequently giving the audience a reason to catch the film.
The cinematography of the film received the most admiration amongst all. Majority agreed that the setting and location chosen could not be any better as it blended well with the different moods of the film.
December Boys was filmed mostly in Adelaide and on Kangaroo Island, with interiors at the South Australian Film Corporation Studio. The script called for a Cove that is beautiful but remote where the film is set. Coves are not that easy to find but the one at Kangaroo Island which is off the coast of South Australia was perfect, sitting directly west so the sun sets between the headlands giving it a magical feeling. The imaginary Cove is a compilation of locations including The Remarkables, Admiral’s Arch and Secret Valley in additional to the Kangaroo Island. The Remarkable Rocks in the Flinders Chase National Park provided a setting for some scenes.
Melbourne based film veteran Rod Hardy, is a prolific television and film director who has established a thriving career in the United States. Although his forte is in episodic Television series, he has done numerous amount of film ever since his directing debut with Thirst in 1979. The films which he has directed includes, Route 52 (2002), High Noon (2000), Two for Texas (1998)Robinson Crusoe (1997), 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1997), An Unfinished Affair (1996), Buffalo Girls (1995), The Yearling (1994), Rio Diablo (1993), Sara Dane (1981). He has also got one award added to his belt in 1999, and this was the Bronze Wrangler award. The Bronze Wrangler is an award presented annually by the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum to honour top works in Western music, film, television and literary. This is not surprising as Rod Hardy worked on many Western genre films in his career. He also mentioned in an interview that his favourite genre is the Western and thus, the award complements his love of the Western genre.
Also another Melbourne based film veteran, Rod Hardy is coupled with cinematographer, David Connell. David Connell has over 25 years of cinematic work in films and television to date. He has achieved some remarkable accolades through his years as a cinematographer. In the 2006 Australian Cinematographers Society, he won the Award of Distinction for the feature film,Snowy Walker (2003). He also won the Award of Distinction (Telefeatures, TV drama & Miniseries), Moby Dick (1998) in 1999. In the 1987 CableACE Awards, he won the ACE Award for Direction of Photography and/or Lighting Direction for a Dramatic or Theatrical Special/Movie or Miniseries; Fortress (1986) (TV). Apart from that, he was nominated for the 1988 Australian Film Institute (AFI) for the AFI Award ‘Best Achievement in Cinematography’: Boulevard of Broken Dreams (1988).
The lead actor of December Boys needs no introduction. Daniel Radcliffe, or better known with his prolific cinematic name, Harry Potter, rose to international stardom from his Harry Potterfilms that was based on the best-selling Harry Potter book series. The awards and nominations that young Daniel Radcliffe has achieved are innumerable. December Boys would be the first major role that Daniel Radcliffe has taken after Harry Potter, which saw him transformed from a child to adult actor.
CURRENT UPTAKE/RELATION TO AUSTRALIAN CINEMA
Independent Australian films are often caught up in an unfavourable trend, which see them struggling to gain recognition on the international scene. This is probably due to the fact that most of these independent films often display strong accents, lingo and social/ contemporary problems that only Australians might have an insight to. Unfortunately, December Boys belongs to this trend. However, unlike many of the other independent films, the contemporary Australian culture that December Boys depicts is coupled with universal themes such as love, family, friendship and self-discovery. This feature provides an opening for the international audience to relate to.
The setting of the film was truly amazing. Coloured with gorgeous landscape of the ocean and cove, the cinematography would undoubtedly give the audience something to marvel. The emphasis on the scenery and cinematography would definitely be the strong point of the film. It allows the international and even probably the local audience to see a different but beautiful side of Australia, as compared to cliché portrayal of the Australian outback and barren landscape; which they probably have had enough of.