While there’s been no media announcement as yet of any upcoming domestic release of Baz Luhrmann’s Australia on DVD, Crikey can reveal it will be released here on April 1 — no joking!

Two leading online retail stores are now listing that date; and with its imminent release in the US (March 3) and UK (March 23), an April Fool’s Day prefaces some serious unfinished business for Luhrmann and the film’s backers. Fox has opted for a reverse marketing somersault considering it had its Sydney traffic-blocking world movie premiere last November ahead of the rest of the world. With so much riding on the director’s costly paean to God’s own, the DVD’s success if Fox will forgive us — has become paramount!

Although Sydney’s Daily Telegraph — whose owner News Corp. financed the Fox production — has estimated the film cost $197 million, a more widely accepted figure is $130 million (though that still makes it easily our most expensive local movie). Having now taken more than $36 million domestically and certain to pass all-time second-placed Babe at $36,683,239, it can’t supplant Crocodile Dundee at almost $48 million as originally touted. By any criteria that’s an exceptional effort, but because the film had such a massive push behind it here and in the crucial American market, the almost impossibly high pre-release expectations exacerbated the film’s lukewarm reception in the US.

Although some industry pundits suggested Australia would need to generate as much as $400 million in aggregated revenues just to break even, Rupert Murdoch while discussing his company’s half-year results earlier in February, dipped into his own crystal ball. “It has done extremely well on a world-wide basis — disappointingly in the United States. It was a very expensive film, but we will not move money on it — we will make a small profit on it.” Yet any profit or loss ultimately depends on the DVD’s success, and like the rest of us, Murdoch can only guess.

What’s not in doubt is the fiscal controversy surrounding Australia’s fortunes given the American box office takings struggling to top $US50 million — before last weekend, the US gross had almost halted at $US49,426,974 with the previous week’s figure just $US62,975. Fox had fingers crossed the film would top $US200 million originally. On that basis, Australia has been a dud there. But according to the Boxofficemojo website (which supports Murdoch’s assessment), its worldwide theatre gross currently stands at a much more respectable $US196 million.

For the wunderkind of Australian cinema, Luhrmann could be forgiven for thinking that much of the virulence directed at the film’s flop status whether artistic or commercial smacks of tall poppy syndrome.

Certainly not helping was how Australia ended up becoming a political football. Thanks to a Federal Government-financed $40 million overseas tourism TV advertising campaign directed by Luhrmann, with some unspecified production subsidy of the movie in return for use of film footage, the campaign was dependent on Australia’s global popularity. The Government and Australian Tourism Commission were pilloried for betting an expensive tourist strategy on what was essentially a Hollywood crapshoot. Which is why Murdoch is depending on the DVD to deliver that small profit — or at least lighten the shade of red ink!

No longer is it an aberration for a movie to make more money via DVD than cinema receipts. While simultaneously released on DVD and Blue-ray, the product information pertaining to its initial overseas release (and identical to the EzyDVD online store description) only offers a single, no-frills movie -only disc. Which begs several questions starting with the absence of the double disc special edition that’s standard practice for the bigger studio movies?

It’s well documented Luhrmann was originally planning a film reputed to be more than three hours long which would further underpin the epic scope of his cinematic ambition. So might Fox and Luhrmann yet unleash a deluxe DVD package with that longer director’s cut? Longer doesn’t necessarily mean better of course but considering a history of delays and undoubted studio pressures finally forcing Luhrmann to let go of the movie, this is one director’s extended version many would be keen to see and not just a marketing wheeze. Throw in the ability to also feature Luhrmann’s three different filmed endings and it’s a potential Pandora’s box of yet-to-be revealed treats.

Then again, maybe in line with an April Fool’s Day release, there is no extended director’s cut waiting in the wings and the only extra something being kept up the director’s sleeve is his remake of The Great Gatsby.

Speaking of sleeves – note the different DVD covers of the three major markets. While the two stars remain the primary focus in Australia, it would seem Jackman’s “sexiest man alive” sobriquet is reflected in the rifleman pose in the US and UK.

US DVD sleeve:

UK DVD sleeve:

Australian DVD sleeve:

And Crikey, do you get the feeling we’ve been there before?

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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