The Last Wave
Director Peter Weir's output can be divided into two distinct categories: Brilliant, moody extravagances with a touch of the fantastic like Picnic at Hanging Rock, Gallipoli, The Mosquito Coast, and The Year of Living Dangerously, and cliché-ridden trifles that become far better films just because Weir's directing them Witness, Dead Poets Society, Green Card, Fearless, and The Truman Show. His 1977 The Last Wave falls into the first, "brilliant, moody" group. Richard Chamberlain plays David Burton, an uptight Australian tax lawyer who feels compelled to defend a group of Aborigines in a murder trial partly because one of the accused has been turning up in his dreams. After keeping him at a distance, that very same Aborigine (David Gulpilil) eventually leads Burton into an alternate Dream Time of watery apocalyptic visions, giving director Weir a chance to flex his gift for weird imagery and mystical mumbo-jumbo. During the 1980s, The Last Wave was often paired at art-house theaters with The Wicker Man, and the films are, in many ways, very similar: Part mystery, part fantasy ... and part dissertation on the inferiority of "civilized" European culture as embodied by stuffy, white authority figures who receive a spiritual awakening at the hands of their non-Christian guides. Of the two, however, The Last Wave is a technically superior movie, even if Chamberlain's jaw-jutting, iconic portrayal serves to keep us a little bit too removed from the story. The script seems a little muddy at times, and the ending is a bit of a groaner, but Russell Boyd's cinematography is gorgeous making Australia appear almost alien in its stark beauty and Weir wields his usual talent for eerie tension along with his eye for monochrome landscapes. The Criterion Collection treats The Last Wave with the same tender, loving care it lavishes on all of their products: The new anamorphic transfer (1.77:1) is pristine, which may prove startling to those who had previously only seen well-worn reels of the film when it played in the above-mentioned art houses. Audio is in Dolby Digital 5.1, and English subtitles for the hearing impaired are on board. Features include an interview with Weir and the theatrical trailer. Keep-case.