Judge Gordon Sullivan wants to become a laborer in the Australian outback now.
Where dreams begin—and sometimes end.
World War II was a wearying event for all involved, but while Americans could return home in something like triumph to sort out our own affairs (like civil rights), those left in Europe had to pick up the pieces of their war-torn countries and rebuild. To some, the task was either too much, or impossible due to the economic situation of their countries. The post-WWII era consequently saw a bump in emigration to many places. One of those places was America, but Australia was another. Bordertown is a ten-part miniseries made about Baringa, a destination for many of those seeking a new life of prosperous labor in the wilds of Australia. Mixing a solid cast of actors (including up-and-comers Cate Blanchett and Hugo Weaving) and strong visuals, Bordertown presents a compelling slice of mid-century dramatic life.
Facts of the Case
Baringa is a true Bordertown, where a cast of international characters come to start a new life. Each of the show's ten episodes focuses on a character or two and their predicaments adjusting to a new life working in a company town.
Miniseries are generally, by their very nature, fairly epic undertakings. If viewers are going to invest five-plus hours in a story, they often demand that it cover some essential bit of history or cover important persons. Their epic nature often means that they can't (or won't) take the time to carefully draw individuals characters, preferring instead to weave numerous individuals into the pattern of history. Bordertown is interesting for trying to take the miniseries in a slightly different direction. It's got the epic setting down—the "taming" of the Australian Outback in the wake of WWII—and even the huge cast of characters. However, rather than trying to shove all of the characters into each episode, Bordertown generally gives us one self-contained plot per episode that focuses on a handful of Baringa's townspeople (though there are a few recurring plots). This gives viewers a chance to get to know these diverse people while still getting a strong sense of what's going on at that moment in history. Bordertown also departs from a number of miniseries by changing up its tone depending on the story, including the tragedy of dealing with the mentally ill to the goofiness of the local English professor.
None of these ambitions would work were it not for the fact that Bordertown has a cast of excellent actors to match its diverse group of characters. The most well-known names on the list (at least to us Yanks) are Cate Blanchett and Hugo Weaving, and it's great to see this pair in a different setting. Cate Blanchett is known of playing aloof, royal types (Galadriel, Elizabeth I), but here she's an albino Italian girl. Hugo Weaving is also known for playing serious, though fantastic, roles (Agent Smith, Elrond), and it's wonderful to see him show off the comic timing that's popped up elsewhere in his work (like The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert). However, even the lesser-known actors, like Joe Petruzzi (who plays the Italian Joe) do a wonderful job portraying their characters.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Bordertown is so good, in fact, I wish it had a stronger DVD release. This version appears to be a reprinting of the 2002 DVD edition from the same company. That release was advertised with a shot of Cate Blanchett (who only appears in a few episodes and is not really a major character), and apparently criticism was taken to heart, because now Blanchett appears beside Hugo Weaving (who has a slightly larger, though by no means central role). Still, it's a little disingenuous to advertise this set on the strength of these two actors, no matter how fine they are. Bordertown is much more of an ensemble piece, and advertising it with Weaving and Blanchett makes as much sense as putting them together on the covers of The Lord of the Rings movies. In sum, those thinking they're going to get a miniseries about characters played by Weaving and Blanchet (as the cover suggests) will be sorely disappointed.
The set is also a little sloppy on technical merits. The 1.33:1 transfer is okay for a mid-Nineties TV show, but noise is a bit of a problem, and mean detail is lower than I'd like. The show's dusty environments are generally well reproduced, with appropriate colors. There's also enough room on each disc to ensure compression artifacts aren't a problem. It's a decent presentation of the materials, but a bit disappointing. The stereo audio is similar; much of it is clean and clear, but considering this is an American release of an Australian feature, attention must be paid to ensuring that accents are always decipherable. That was not the case with this track. Subtitles are also missing, which would have mitigated the problem if remixing wasn't an option. The lone extras are cast biographies/filmographies on the first disc. Considering how foreign most of the history behind Bordertown is likely to be to Americans, a featurette on the area and its history would have been a nice addition.
Bordertown is an interesting miniseries that tackles a generally overlooked moment in Australian history. With high production values and a cast of excellent actors, the show will likely be compelling to fans of dramatic miniseries or the actors. However, for those drawn in by the promise of Hugo Weaving or Cate Blanchett, know that their screen time is fairly minimal against the nine hours of this miniseries.
While the show is free to go, this set will be held until a bit more care is put into the technical specs and advertising.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: BFS Video
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