You’ve seen the film, now see the set

June 19th, 2008 - 10:13 am ICT by IANS  

A file-photo of Nicole Kidman
By Sid Astbury
Sydney, June 19 (DPA) A film called “Australia” that stars Hollywood heartthrobs Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman could be the countervailing force that draws in foreign visitors kept at bay by four-figure airfares and the Aussie dollar’s blistering exchange rate against other currencies. It’s happened before.

Twenty years ago “Crocodile Dundee”, starring quintessential Outback bloke Paul Hogan, gave the industry a leg up with its cheery images of living the great outdoor lifestyle in the wide brown land.

Tourism Minister Martin Ferguson is quick to anticipate the jingle of tourist receipts attendant on the box office success of a film that bumptious local director Baz Luhrmann has already compared with all-time classic “Gone With the Wind”.

“This movie will potentially be seen by tens of millions of people and it will bring life to little-known aspects of Australia’s extraordinary natural environment, history and indigenous culture,” Ferguson said.

Set in the Outback of the 1930s, Kidman plays a pale-faced English aristocrat who sails to Australia and her country-sized cattle ranch. After lots of adventures, our heroine shacks up with the hunky drover played by Jackman.

The 10-year timeline takes in the privations of the Great Depression and the terror of the World War II bombing of Darwin by Japanese warplanes.

“Australia”, Luhrmann’s first film since “Moulin Rouge” in 2001, has its premiere in November. It’s the most ambitious and most expensive film ever made in Australia and needs to do well internationally to recoup the $100 million it cost to get in the can.

As 1986’s low-budget “Crocodile Dundee” testified, money spent does not always equate to money earned. It had a novice director, simple comedy routines and no big-name actors. “Australia”, as even its title suggests, is at the other end of the spectrum of aspiration.

“To say that it’s a complex and large-scale undertaking is an understatement,” Luhrmann said.

Footage is from Bowen in Queensland on the east coast to the rugged Kimberley on the west coast. Semi-tropical Darwin on the north coast also features.

Ferguson is intent on piggy-backing Australia with a multi-million tourism advertising campaign. He wants to repeat the numbers boost that “Crocodile Dundee” provided.

Then, Hogan featured in tourism television commercials for free, promising visitors to put a “shrimp on the barbie” ready for their arrival. There was a marvelous meshing of interests, with tourism promoters extolling the film and Hogan talking up the destination.

Reprising that marketing magic is not going to be easy. But Australia has tourism types believing they are bound to have a winner.

“I don’t think films should be made as tourism ads - that’s not their function - but it’s kind of cool when they are,” said Chris Brown, head of industry lobby group Tourism and Transport Forum.

Australia has been described as a two-and-a-half-hour tourism commercial. Will it put bums on cinema seats? Kidman has had flops and this is Luhrmann’s first try at a blockbuster.

The wonder of the big screen is that humble offerings like “Crocodile Dundee”, “Babe” and “The Full Monty” can out-gross mammoth productions like 2005’s “Bee Season” and 2006’s “Basic Instinct 2″.

Ferguson would be well advised to leave it to serendipity rather than ramp up expectations. But he’s not about to.

“This movie has the capacity to redefine the way Australians and the rest of the world see Australia as a destination, and it’s up to all of us to capture that potential for the tourism industry,” he said.

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