A remake of a cult Australian film from 1978, Jamie Blanks’ Long Weekend arrives on DVD with little fanfare. A shame, really, because Colin Eggleston’s original is a terrific oddity from the New Wave period of Australian cinema in the 70s.
Made at a time when Australian cinema didn’t really do genre (too American for their liking), Long Weekend embraced that very thing. Not that it doesn’t share similarities with other Australian films of its day – like Outback, a disturbing but riveting film that arguably kick-started the Wave in 1971, it examines the horror of the Australian wilderness.
Written by Everett De Roche, who would script other genre films like Road Games (Hitchcock on the Australian road) and Razorback (an outback-set Jaws, but with an oversized pig where the shark would be), Long Weekend was a ‘nature fights back’ thriller. It was one of the first, and also one of the most interesting. Without it, there’d be no The Happening. Although we shouldn’t hold that against it.
Where De Roche played around with ideas of protagonist and victim by painting his two leads as unsympathetic, hateful characters and nature as simply defending itself against their onslaught, Shyamalan had Mark Wahlberg trying to reason with a rubber plant. Something got lost along the way, obviously.
So why am I devoting so much space to the original? Well, Long Weekend 2008 (it’s been held back a bit) is a pretty close facsimile of Long Weekend 1978. Only not as good. It’s not a frame-by-frame remake like Gus Van Sant’s Psycho retread, but the script and tone have changed very little in the 30 years between them. Which isn’t all that bad – it’s still an interesting piece, and has much to recommend it, especially De Roche’s script, which is still a frequent delight. But it’s hollow and ultimately kind of redundant given how little new it adds.
The set up has married couple Peter (Jim Caviezel) and Carla (Claudia Karvan) spend a long weekend on an Australian beach. But this is no dream escape. eter and Carla hate each other, and De Roche efficiently reveals their fractured marriage through revealing dialogue. When Carla complains that they could have afforded a nice hotel with all the money spent on camping equipment, Peter replies, “You know all about hotel rooms.”
True to the original, their biggest crime is the casual violence they exhibit towards the environment. He runs over a kangaroo on the way and doesn’t stop, she smashes an eagle egg, he chops down a tree. “Why?” his wife asks. “Why not?” he replies.
The first half of the film sees them continue in this vein, gradually eroding any sympathy we may have for them, and asking us to root for Mother Nature as she suddenly beings to defend herself. Where it deviates from its predecessor is in having an American lead in Caviezel’s Peter next to Karvan’s Australian Carla.
It shifts the dynamics of the relationship, making the husband more loathsome than the wife, and also an outsider to the Australian wilderness. In doing so it changes the film’s message from being what it should be – nature will defend itself if needed – to one about an obnoxious American getting what’s coming to him from the Australian outback.
Jamie Blanks, a native Australian who’s dabbled with Hollywood in between his Australian output, isn’t the most innovative of directors. He made Urban Legends quite an enjoyable, if undemanding film, but couldn’t do anything to elevate Valentine from being a bit of a car wreck. The same is true here. He throws in some proficient steadicam shots, provides a suitably eery musical score, and lets the film play out slowly and deliberately. But it doesn’t take any risks at any point.
Long Weekend‘s best bits are all in the original and done a lot better. Eggleston’s film may not look as polished, but that’s part of its charm, and why it works so well in balancing the dark comedy and horror within the script. ou’re best off getting a copy of that before reaching for Blanks’ version.
There’s a nice selection on offer here. There’s no commentary from Blanks, instead we get a production diary. Essentially behind the scenes footage with Blanks narration over the top, it does just as good a job of unearthing his thoughts on the film.
There are interviews with De Roche, Karvan and, interestingly, Toby Eggleston, son of the director of the 1978 original. And he’s the more interesting of the three, giving some insights into how his father approached the original and his disappointment with the poor reception it received in Australia at the time of its release.
Elsewhere there’s a good 30 minute making-of which doesn’t go down the normal route of talking heads, but rather collects footage of cast and crew going about their work. It’s pretty good, too, showing roundtable crew discussions, prosthetics work, rehearsals, and the shooting. Plus, a nice bit of Caviezel doing some groovy dancing to Jackson Five.
There are a couple of featurettes, one focusing on animal experts and wranglers doing the hard work of persuading animals to act on cue, the other on the stunt teams responsible for the film’s final grisly scene.
And to round things off, there’s a mildly amusing deleted scene of Caviezel doing a Christopher Walken impression. It’s not in the same league as Kevin Spacey or Kevin Pollak, but it’ll do.
The Film:The Disc:
Long Weekend will be released on February 8 and can be pre-ordered from the Den Of Geek Store.