Coming-of-age stories about the unconventional but uplifting friendship between children and animals have been a staple of cinema for years. Henry Safran’s 1976 film of Storm Boy was a heartfelt classic from the period of the re-emergence of the Australian film industry and it touched a generation of filmgoers. Adapted from Colin Thiele’s beloved 1964 novella, Storm Boy told the story of Michael, a young boy who lived along an isolated stretch of the South Australian coast with his emotionally scarred and widowed fisherman father Tom. One day he found three baby pelicans left orphaned after local hunters, opposed to the establishment of a bird sanctuary, had shot their mother. Michael took the three birds back to their rustic shack and with the help of a local Aboriginal and his father nursed the birds back to health and raised them. He formed a special bond with the bird he christened Mr Percival, who became his best, and only friend, of his lonely childhood. Storm Boy also incorporated some wonderful themes about grief, father-son relationships, and the environment.
This remake aims to introduce this timeless story to a whole new generation of film goers. But for some reason, the producers and screenwriter Justin Monjo (who hails from a background in television having worked on series such as Farscape, and who also wrote Jungle for Greg McLean) have seen fit to include a clumsy framing device that centres around Michael as an old man (played now by Oscar winner Geoffrey Rush).
Michael Kingley became a multi-millionaire business man who ran a large pastoral corporation, a concept that jars somewhat with his youthful self. He has since retired and left the running of the company to his son-in-law Malcolm (Erik Thomson). On the eve of a crucial board vote to approve the sale of a tract of family farmland to allow the expansion of mining interests, Michael wrestles with his conscience. He keeps seeing visions of pelicans. He reaches out to his 17-year-old granddaughter Madeline (Morgana Davies), a passionate advocate for the environment, and tells her of his childhood and the lessons he learned from his friendship with Mr Percival.
Cue lots of extended flashbacks to his childhood. Whereas the original story delivered its environmental messages with subtlety, this new version of Storm Boy delivers them with all the subtlety of a jackhammer. It is the story about the friendship between the young Michael (played by newcomer Finn Little) and the pelicans that gives the film its heart and soul. Audiences will be captivated by the cute antics of the birds.
This is only the second feature film for director Shawn Seet (Two Fists, One Heart) who hails from a background in television, having worked on series like Underbelly, The Code and Love Child. There are some nice performances here, with Jai Courtney (The Exception) particularly stoic and reserved as Michael’s reclusive father Tom. Newcomer Little has charm, sensitivity and an appealing presence as the young Michael, and his natural performance captures the joy and adventure of childhood. Trevor Jamieson (who played the same role in the recent stage version) brings an air of mystery to his role as Fingerbone Bill, the wise Aboriginal man who teaches Michael some valuable lessons. Rush is mannered and understated, but he looks a little uncomfortable here. And there’s a nice cameo from David Gulpilil which provides a link to the original film.
Storm Boy looks great though thank to the gorgeous cinematography from Bruce Young (Blue Murder: Killer Cop), which captures the pristine coastline of South Australia’s Coorong National Park region. Melinda Doring’s production design and Louise McCarthy’s costumes effortlessly evoke Australia of the late 50s.
This new version of Storm Boy is passable entertainment which delivers some strong moral lessons, but it is largely unnecessary and works best when it sticks to the original story.
Director: Shawn Seet
Cast: Finn Little, Jai Courtney, Erik Thomson, Morgana Davies, Geoffrey Rush
Release Date: 17 January 2019
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Greg King has had a life long love of films. He has been reviewing popular films for over 15 years. Since 1994, he has been the film reviewer for BEAT magazine. His reviews have also appeared in the Herald Sun newspaper, S-Press, Stage Whispers, and a number of other magazines, newspapers and web sites. Greg contributes to The Blurb on film