A new take on Colin Thiele’s Storm Boy sands down the original’s darker edges – and ends up rather flat.
Thiele’s 1966 book was famously filmed in 1976, but this flawed rethink is more related to the recent stage production and offers an uncomfortably awkward framing narrative that isn’t in the novel at all. Director Shawn Seet’s movie also features Geoffrey Rush, so it remains to be seen if the public will warm to the story – and the pelicans – or if the bad publicity surrounding him will leave it lost at sea.
Rush’s Michael Kingley is a world-weary (as only he can be) retired businessman, who travels to Adelaide to cast a vote concerning the controversial leasing of Pilbara lands to a mining company. After being driven through rainy streets populated with what looks like about 10 protestors, Michael starts having flashbacks and then relates the tale of his youth to his troubled granddaughter Maddy (Morgana Davies), and we finally establish that he is, in fact, the ‘Storm Boy’ of the title all grown up.
In what looks like the 1960s, we see the young Michael (Finn Little) living in a shack between Ninety Mile Beach and the Coorong with his Dad ‘Hideaway Tom’ (Jai Courtney). Another compromise: whereas Peter Cummins’ father in the original was darker and edgier, here Courtney plays him as a bit grumpy but nice, which feels wrong.
Little’s Michael befriends an Aboriginal man, ‘Fingerbone Bill’ (Trevor Jamieson, who played the role onstage), who’s also considerably sweeter than he was in the first film, where David Gulpilil was quite intimidating at first. Michael is dubbed ‘Storm Boy’ and attempts to save three pelican chicks when their parents are killed by poachers, and they grow up to be his beloved mates, which is a stretch, given that the birds look less than friendly and stare with expressionless eyes whenever Little hugs them. No wonder distracting special effects are used at times to try and help them look cuter and more majestic.
You have to wonder what Thiele (who died in 2006) would have thought about this softened overhaul, which mostly serves to make the original film feel like even more of what has been called an ‘iconic classic’ – even if the ridiculous buzzword ‘iconic’ is increasingly meaningless.
Storm Boy (PG) is in cinemas from January 17