MCC231 Australian Cinema
Assignment 2 – Critical Review and Bibliography
By Carly Howard
PART ONE: FILM INFORMATION
Director: Shane Abbess
Story and Screenplay: Matt Hylton Todd
Producers: Anna Cridland
Executive Producers: James Michael Vernon
Associate Producer: Matt Hylton Todd
Director of Photography: Peter A. Holland
Post Production Producer: Matthew Graham
Production Design: Victor Lam
Special Make-Up Effects: Luke Polti
Fight Director: Kyle Rowling
Make-Up and Hair Designer: Dakota Matich
Sound Design: Sean O’Reilly
Editor: Adrian Rostirolla
Visual Effects Supervisor: Steven Anderson
Original Music Score
Composed by: Brian Cachia
Costume Designer: Lisa Walpole
Casting by: Faith Martin
Camera Operator: Rupert Ananda Brown
1st Assistant Camera: Rebecca Lean
Rodrigo Vidal Dawson
2nd Assistant Camera/
Camera Operator: Hugh Rutherford
Steadicam Operator: Andrew Johnson
Art Department Coordinator: Katherine Giovenali
Art Directors: Andy Bocxe
Special Effects Technicians: Matt Valent
Gabriel: Andy Whitfield
Sammael: Dwaine Stevenson
Jade: Samantha Nobel
Asmodeus: Michael Piccirilli
Raphael: Jack Campell
Lilith: Erika Heynatz
Uriel: Harry Pavlidis
Ahriman: Kevin Copeland
Ithuriel: Matt Hylton Todd
Balan: Brendan Clearkin
Moloch: Goran D. Kleut
Baliel: Valentino Del Toro
Maggie: Amy Mathews
Marcus: Paul Winchester
Max: Richard Huggett
Glee: Rebecca Raviclaud
James: Alan Flower
Candy: Naomi Yoshinaga
Candy’s Son: Lewis Chan
Sean: Christian Clarke
Clay: Johan Earl
Homeless Man: Robyn Royce Queree
Leather Girls: Katherine Giovenali
Patich: Az Jackson
Krianna: Amber Gokken
Xander: Aaron Scully
DJ: Sandy ‘Hotrod’ Finlay
Max’s Assistant: Dion Phillips
Little Homeless Girl: Carly Ison
Little Homeless Boys: Peter Klappas
Australia: 15th November 2007
DVD Release Dates
Germany: 19th February 2008
USA: 19th February 2008
Iceland: 20th February 2008
Greece: 25th February 2008
Hungary: 26th February 2008
Russia: 28th February 2008
Finland: 29th February 2008
Argentina: 18th March 2008
Australia: 21st March 2008
AUD 200’000 (Estimated)
With Shane Abbess
http://www.gabrielmovie.com (In the Gabriel Production Notes PDF File)
(29/11/07) http://www.variety.com (Gabriel Review)
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0857376/ (Also, see web pages from above in Reviews and Interviews)
PART 2: CRITICAL REVIEW
Plot, Synopsis and Commentary
Set in (the city of) Purgatory, Gabriel is the story of an Arc Angel called Gabriel who has been sent by the source (assumingly God,) to bring the light back to Purgatory by killing all seven of The Fallen (Fallen Angels). Gabriel has assumed human form, and as such must deal with his newfound human emotions, all the while battling to resist the lure of the darkness The Fallen have created in Purgatory. In his search for The Fallen, Gabriel finds some of his fellow Arc Angels, but they have fallen victim to the darkness, either having lost their wings or chosen to live in exile. This is, in short, the story of Gabriel. In the film’s opening sequence, there is a background image of outer-space, and the following text:
When a soul crosses to the afterlife, it journeys into one of two opposing realms:The film has presented the audience with enough background information to understand the rest of the film. Although, I am an Atheist, and I am already plagued with questions, like, how can there be ‘balance’ of power when there are two opposing sides, what’s a ‘cycle’ and why is Purgatory a city much like what we have on Earth??? Despite these and some other questions left unanswered by the time the film’s end credits start rolling, Gabriel is a brave film, of which I have never seen one like it before by an a Australian film-maker. For the purposes of this assignment, I will argue that Gabriel falls under the genre of Gothic, a genre which exemplifies other genre’s within it.
A divine source of harmony and well being
A consuming source of evil and malevolence
A mid world exists for the souls whose judgment has yet to be decided.
It is commonly referred to as Purgatory.
For centuries, 7 Arc Angels, protectors of the light, and 7 Fallen, soldiers of the dark, have silently fought for balance of power over these unclaimed souls.
Each side is restricted to sending only one warrior in every cycle.
Upon arrival, they must assume a human form.
At present, darkness rules, and has the strongest grip on the city that it has ever held.
Gabriel’s special effects are sufficient, but do not compare to that of its American counterparts. The film’s overall ‘feel’ is successful in conveying the dark theme of Purgatory, although, at times it is unclear whether the film is set in Purgatory or Earth. For example, in the scene where Gabriel has just saved Jade from Balan, he heals her and she is upset because she is no longer an angel, and she can never go back to ‘the light’. Gabriel tells her she can go back as a soul, to which she reply’s,
What does that mean?There are a number of inconsistencies such as the above, but in researching for this film, and reading the many reviews the film has, the general consensus is that people are proud of what the film achieved given its miniscule budget, but it’s for this reason the film has not been able to stand up next to similar American films made with mammoth budgets.
What? I wait my days out here?
I grow old, I fucking die?
I can’t even kill myself because it’s against the rules.
I could be here for another 50 years Gabe...
The critical uptake of Gabriel both at the time of release, and subsequently has been equally mixed between good and bad – much like the mix of characters in the film. For example, the review on Variety.com posted on the 29th of November 2007 by Russell Edwards states that,
…[Gabriel’s]Sluggish yarn progresses like a computer game running low on battery power, and lurches from setpiece [sic] to setpiece [sic] without achieving any narrative momentum. Some visual ideas -- such as a shootout illuminated only by strobed [sic] gun blasts -- are impressive, but most of the CGI has a secondhand look. Echoes of "The Matrix," "The Crow" and "Blade Runner" abound.Edwards reviews Gabriel quite negatively, while the review on www.quietearth.us by ‘agentorange’ posted on the 19th of February 2008 views the film slightly more positively, while still being critical of the films flaws (I have included the entire review, because I feel this review best describes the films pro’s and con’s):
Performances are labored, presumably in an attempt to reflect the characters' self-pitying ennui. Whitfield's handsome hero comes across as merely a naive and pretentious bore, while Stevenson, as the evil Sammael, is virtually unrecognizable, his face digitally adorned with Barney Google eyeballs. As with the other actors, Noble's mannequin-like perf [performance] is not helped by the script's tendency to favor platitudes and speeches over real dialogue.
Lensing [sic] is deliberately dark -- both to create mood and to hide the low budget -- but auds [audiences] content with the unpolished, partially rendered look of computer games will be satisfied. Other tech credits are both ambitious and admirable.
Taking place in Purgatory, where the forces of dark and light are in constant flux, the Arc Angel Gabriel is sent by the big G to bring light back to the realm’s inhabitants who have succumbed to, for lack of a better term, the darkside. If you’re thinking that this all sounds a lot like Nightwatch you’d be right as Timur Bekmambetov’s fantastic vampire flick is obviously another major influence on Abbess.While these are only two of the many reviews I have read about Gabriel, I feel that the two reviews adequately represent the overall online consensus for the film. While half of the reviews are mostly negative, the other half criticise the film in a constructive way. Personally, I feel the second review represents a more agreeable review – that the film has its flaws but is to be commended at the same time for what it achieved given the circumstances.
You know, whether it’s the chilling ambiguities of Peter Weir’s Picnic at Hanging Rock, the stark nihilism of the Road Warrior, or the harsh realism of the frontier depicted in The Proposition, I’ve become what you might call a “fanboy” of Australian genre film over the years. With its uncanny ability to juggle both academia and action, excitement and existentialism, Aussie films have, quite rightly, become some of the biggest in world cinema, and their directors inspirations to a ton of ambitious up and comers. So when I say that I harbored a lot of anticipation for first time director Shane Abbess’ gothic actioner, Gabriel, what I mean is that I watched the trailer like 250,000 bagillion times and followed news of the DVD release quite closely. I mean, besides the film’s stylish neo-gothic Crowesque production design, Gabriel just happens to also come packaged with one of the sweetest story setups ever.
Unfortunately unlike Nightwatch, Gabriel spends little time delving into the mythology of this ongoing battle between the ambassadors of light and dark and instead throws us in the middle of a dark world already at the tail end of the lost conflict. Now I'm not one to begrudge a writer the desire to dispense with all the tedious bric-a-brac that comes along with exposition, but with such a cool setup like this, it would have been fun to find out about the major players and perhaps some of the more pertinent battles of the past. But that's a minor quibble and the geek coming out in me.
'Cause really, the elements that work in the film so outweigh any problems one might have with, what could be describe as, a one beat plot that any complaint just kind of sounds lame. For a film made on such a tight budget (I sleuthed out a sum of just 150,000 Aussie dollars) the action sequences are extremely well designed, original and intense while, as previously stated, the look of the film is ridiculously stylish. So if you're into the rainy dystopia of Blade Runner or that whole Underworld thing I think you'll really dig on Gabriel.
The cast is also uniformly great if but a little grim and serious in their line delivery. Personally I prefer films that find a tone early on a stick with it so it didn't bother me, but without a laugh in the house some of you may find yourselves looking for any excuse to crack a smile. Bu then again this is purgatory... I also sense somewhat of a rising star in relative newcomer Andy Whitfield who stars in the film's titular role and I wouldn't be surprised if producers aren't very soon knocking on the brooding Australians door for other upcoming Hollywood actioners.
All in all, and considering the budget, Gabriel's style and action sequences exceeded my expectations but overall the film lost points due to a screenplay that felt somewhat skimpy on the details. For a film with a running time of almost 2 hours I felt like the world it was creating could have been a bit more realized. But like I said, Abbess' ability to juggle style and action with the film's more philosophical ambition, makes Gabriel an easy recommendation.
Circumstances of Production
On the DVD of Gabriel, in the special features menu, there is a behind-the-scenes featurette which includes footage of Shane Abbess, Matt Hylton Todd, Andy Whitfield and some of the other key crew and cast members. Shane describes his first discussion with the actor Dwaine Stevenson who played Sammael about doing a dark anti-hero movie back on Boxing Day 2004, because he really liked Dwaine’s work and wanted to do a film with him.
The co-writer and associate producer Matt Hylton Todd describes the initial stages of the story of Gabriel by stating that the angels were more of a back story, and how they were taking over human bodies, but that they (Matt and Shane) didn’t reveal this fact until the end of the story. Right from the start Shane was looking for abandoned locations where they could shoot at night and run away. Shane also describes how Gabriel was, for the first half of the films life, going to be just a weekend project. As soon as it was realised the film would centre on Gabriel, Shane realised that yes the budget would be low, so he would have to look at it in an inventive way, but it was also become more than a weekend project.
The producer, Anna Cridland, describes how Shane and Matt tried to play down how big the film was going to be, and said she felt passionate about the film and that “we haven’t really been given an opportunity to do a film like this in this country before and no one was going to help us but ourselves and no one was going to make it but us.” Shane then describes that when James M. Vernon became involved, he looked at the then script and said that “just because we were making a low-budget film, it was less of a reason, because we were not going to be able to cover the script up with big effects and heaps of style”, therefore they were going to need a solid script with solid characters. It was at this stage that Shane and Matt rewrote the entire script. Matt says “that rewrite, focussing on the back story of Gabriel is pretty much the film you see today.” Producer, Kristy Vernon said that by the 6th draft, she was fully onboard, and only realised how big the film would be when she read the scene where the soup kitchen blows up.
When discussing the ‘look’ of the film, Shane describes how because it is a genre film, “the look is half the mission” especially because the film has no stars, he was a first time director and the producer was a first time producer. Anna explains that the first production designer they had on board looked at the budget and “freaked out” and said that the upfront budget they were hoping to film on wouldn’t even cover the art department. Shane said that they needed someone as crazy as they were, and that was when they met Victor Lam. Victor explains that it was never a matter of ‘oh no, maybe we can’t do it,’ it was always ‘yes we can do it’ it was just a matter of how. Just as the first production designer had to leave, so did the first director of photography, but Shane describes this as fate because it brought him to Peter A. Holland. Peter describes how he wanted to serve the script well by creating a visual style that complemented it, and to do that he went back to “old-school” film-noir techniques, and translated those techniques into a colour environment by using very minimalist lighting.
For the longest time, Dwaine Stevenson, who plays Sammael, was actually cast as Gabriel, but it was Faith Martin, the casting agent who suggested that he play Sammael because he had such a dark presence. Andy Whitfield was one of three who was chosen to play the part of Gabriel, Shane said that he got the part because when his mother and girlfriend saw the tapes, they immediately loved Andy for the character. Initially Andy didn’t want the part as he had a young son and wanted to take a break from acting, but his agent convinced him to go to and he got the part.
As Gabriel was and still is Shane Abbess’ only feature film, I am unable to situate this film with any other feature films he may have done. Although, Shane has written, directed, produced and edited a number of short films including, Mr Todd and Breaking Point, and written, directed and edited short films such as, Better Daze, Morning Sunshine, Aiden’s Fable and UnderEight. These are just a handful of the many short film’s Shane has had a directorial role in. Shane has also directed a number of music videos and commercials.
The cinematographer, Peter A. Holland has worked on two other films other than Gabriel, and they are titled Chiuso (2005) and Teratoma (2003), unfortunately I wasn’t able to get my hands on a copy of either of these films, so I am unable to situate these films against his work on Gabriel.
The title character, played by Andy Whitfield is his debut feature film, and aside from a couple appearances on Australian television drama, All Saints, Andy hasn’t been in anything comparable to Gabriel.
Gabriel in relation to Australian Cinema as a Gothic film
In Gillard’s ‘Ten Types of Australian Film’, David Thomas describes a certain “presence” (2008, p101) in Australian films, one which “is the small, yet consistent flow of malevolence and disorder that is never far from the surface” (2008, p101). It is this malevolence and disorder in Gabriel that makes the film Gothic. In Jonathan Rayner's article titled ‘“Terror Australis”: Areas of Horror in the Australian Cinema’, which features in the book ‘Horror International’, edited by S. J Schneider and T. Williams, Rayner states that “the earliest and most distinctive brand of horror film to be recognized in Australian cinema of the 1970s was the gothic” (2005, p99). In both articles mentioned above, the authors write about the film The Cars That Ate Paris, and Rayner states that it is possibly one of the first examples of an Australian gothic film. Cars takes advantage of Australia’s rural landscape to portray the isolation felt by the main character, Arthur. In Gabriel, however, there are no distinctive Australian landscapes, and the entire film is situated in ‘the city’, although it is never clear which city or even whether it is in Australia. After some research, I discovered that Gabriel was filmed in New South Wales. Upon reflection, unlike Cars, Gabriel, it seems, has done everything it possibly could to ‘hide’ any Australianness about the film. The actor, Andy Whitfield, who plays the title character, is of Australian/ British heritage, so his accent is not entirely Australian. The actor who plays Sammael, Dwaine Stevenson, is however Australian, but tries to cover his accent with what is possibly meant to be an American accent, although I don’t feel this works to his characters advantage. So to place Gabriel in relation to other gothic Australian films, can only be done because of prior knowledge about the film being made, directed by and featuring Australians. But, unfortunately, and possibly to help the film be more exportable, all things Australian have been concealed or altered. Because of the film’s religious undertones, perhaps the director felt that there is no such thing as an Australian Arc Angel?
As mentioned above, a Gothic film can also feature tones of other genres. In Gabriel, the film can also be categorised by the elements of action, drama, and possibly even religion. Gabriel is an action movie much in the way Mad Max is an action movie, but Mad Max can also be classified in the Post-Apocalyptic genre and the Road Movie genre. The director of photography for Gabriel, Peter A. Holland, stated that he used “old-school” film noir techniques to achieve Gabriel’s dark look. Eric S. Christianson states in his article titled ‘Why Film Noir is Good for the Mind’ which features in ‘Cinéma Divinité: Religion, Theology and the Bible in film’ that film noir is achieved using a number of stylistic devices,
The protagonist is caught in an often life-threatening dilemma... Protagonists are almost always men... Noirs usually employ extreme contrasts between light and shadow (chiaroscuro), unusual camera angles, often in an urban landscape, typified by night and rain – lots of rain (2005, p153).
While it is too early to tell whether Gabriel has had a positive and long lasting impact on the Australian Gothic film genre, it is definitely safe to say that Gabriel has opened the door for Australian filmmakers to be confident to attempt the ‘Hollywood’ style of action movie, despite the constraints of a typically ‘Australian’ budget. While Gabriel is reminiscent of American movies such as The Crow, Constantine,and Blade Runner, it can also be compared to Australian classics like The Cars That Ate Paris and Mad Max because of several elements throughout the film. Only time will tell whether this Australian film has made a deep impact on the Australian film industry, but I feel that Gabriel is a step in the right direction for Australian gothic-action filmmaking.
Bordwell, David and Kristin Thompson. 2005 Film Art: An Introduction – Seventh Edition. McGraw-Hill: New York
Christianson, Eric S. And Peter Francis and William R. Telford (Eds.). 2005 Cinéma Divinité: Religion, Theology and the Bible in film. SCM Press: London
Gillard, Garry. 2008 Ten Types of Australian Film: Second Edition. Murdoch University: Murdoch University
McFarlane, Brian and Geoff Mayer. 1992 New Australian Cinema: Sources and Parallels in American and British Film. Cambridge University Press: Cambridge
Mitchell, Charles P. 2001 A Guide to Apocalyptic Cinema. Greenwood Press: Connecticut and London
Schneider, Steven Jay and Tony Williams (Eds.). 2005 Horror International. Wayne State University Press: Detroit
Gabriel (2007) Directed by Shane Abbess
http://www.variety.com (Gabriel Review)
See also: websites included under the sub-headings REVIEWS and INTERVIEWS