Nicolas Roeg's WALKABOUT DVD Review

Nicolas Roeg's 1971 film Walkabout is an atmospheric tale of self-discovery that welds lush sound and visuals to a cryptic narrative. A new Criterion DVD and Blu-Ray release represents the third time the company has released Walkabout in the past 13 years. Those who own an older version will certainly want to upgrade because the new restored transfer is splendid. 

In the film, a very chatty boy (Lucien Roeg, billed here as Lucien John) and his older sister (Jenny Agutter) are left to die in the Australian outback by their father. After the English siblings wander deep into the wilds with little food and water, they meet an aborigine (David Gulpill), who is undergoing a walkabout: a ritualistic journey wherein aboriginal males wander alone to fend for themselves. The pair tag along on the boy's journey, which takes them to places both strange and familiar. Even though the circumstances brings them together, the differences between them ensure their new friendship is only temporary.

Walkabout, which was adapted by Edward Bond from a novel by James Vance Marshall, is built around the long journey of the protagonists. The speedy setup sketches out the characters in a most oblique fashion. Walkabout quickly jumps to its core task of presenting youth from disparate cultures on a dream-like life-changing trip through beautifully photographed natural landscapes. A few dominant themes serve as a guide, but the viewer is left to assemble the clues. The film's languid, hallucinatory feel is aided by a score that mixes ethereal orchestral music by John Barry with the electronic sounds of Karlheinz Stockhausen. 

As previously mentioned, this is the third time Criterion has released Walkabout: a laserdisc came out in 1997 and a DVD came out in 1998. The latest DVD and Blu-Ray releases are sourced from a new high-def restoration of a 35mm interpositive. The aspect ratio remains the same (1:78.1) as does the 100 minute running time. The image is, to say the least, beautiful. The MPEG-2 bitrate is fairly high, peaking at around 9mbps. Compression is unnoticeable with no artifacts. The monaural audio has been remastered. The Blu-Ray audio is uncompressed while the DVD has a Dolby Digital audio track that is compressed at 384 kbps. 

The DVD release is split into two discs with the extras mainly isolated on a single disc. The extras are largely similar to the 1998 DVD. The audio commentary by the director and Jenny Agutter is the same one that appeared on the first DVD release. Video interviews with Agutter and Lucien Roeg have been added as has a 2002 documentary about David Gulpill. The color booklet replaces Roger Ebert's essay with a piece by Paul Ryan. Inclusion of a ragged, fuzzy U.S. theatrical trailer really makes one appreciate how far film restoration has come in the past 30 years.

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