A satisfyingly tense and atmospheric 1977 picture from director Peter Weir, "The Last Wave" starts off with a rather wild scene; a powerful hailstorm pounds a schoolhouse in the middle of Australia, but there's not a cloud in the sky. We are then introduced to David Burton (Richard Chamberlain) , a lawyer who wants to defend a group of Aborigines who are accused of killing another Aborigine outside of a bar. Strangely, one of the Aborigines have been turning up in David's dreams, showing him a sacred stone.
The Aborigines mainly remain silent, forcing David to go deeper on a journey into their culture with one of the members (David Gulphill) as his guide. The search reveals that these people may be operating on a higher plain, able to communicate with one another in a "dream state". The film functions on two levels; as an interesting mystery about both what the tribe is hiding as well as an piece about the differences between two cultures; one more primitive and spiritual and one more modern. The underlying story about the strange weather occurences also serves to hold interest.
The performances are terrific across the board. Chamberlain is especially good as a mild-mannered individual who finds himself in the midst of fascinating and strange circumstances. "The Last Wave" is not a quick picture; the pacing is certainly deliberate. But, I found that my patience with the picture consistently paid off. Little twists, odd events and strong moments came often. The film's quiet, subtle nature only makes it stronger dramatically; not forcing its twists and moments only drew me in further. It's not one of Weir's best works, but it's still a haunting picture with a remarkable conclusion. I'm somewhat suprised nobody's tried to do a remake.
VIDEO: "The Last Wave" is presented by Criterion in the film's original 1.77:1 aspect ratio; it is in anamorphic widescreen. The new high-definition digital transfer was created on a Spirit Datacine from a 35mm interpositive. Criterion's efforts here are quite impressive; there are a few flaws here and there, but overall, this is a stellar presentation for the 24-year old picture. Sharpness and detail are generally quite satisfying, but just short of strong, as the picture has a slightly soft appearance.
There are a few minor print flaws over the opening credits, but as the picture itself begins, these flaws seem to dissapear almost completely. A stray speckle or two does appear, but otherwise, the film remained clean throughout. Very light grain is sometimes visible, but only hardly so and only briefly so. Colors looked natural and rich, with no fading or any other flaws. This is a superb effort from Criterion - the transfer has also been supervised by director Peter Weir.
SOUND: Suprisingly, the film is presented by Criterion with a remastered Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack. While the audio quality makes the film's age apparent, there's actually a considerable amount of activity throughout the track, including the opening sequence, as the winds are easily heard sweeping in from the rear speakers. I was really quite pleased with the track's subtler touches, as there's a fairly decent amount of background ambience and sound effects offered by the surrounds.
Audio quality is not quite up to today's standards, but it's better than I'd expected for a film from 1977. While dialogue sounds a bit rough on occasion, general sound effects come through clearly and the occasional music sounds crisp. What really suprised me was that there is some pretty considerable and occasionally strong low-bass on occasion. There seemed to be a few tiny pops on the soundtrack, but I really didn't find these that horrible. This is definitely a very nice remix that adds good atmosphere and additional enjoyment to the viewing experience.
MENUS: Although the menu itself is not animated, haunting music and sounds from the movie are presented in Dolby Digital 5.0, making for an interesting introduction to the picture.
EXTRAS: The only main extra is a newly taped 10 1/2 minute interview with director Peter Weir, who does a terrific job recalling the production struggles that the film went through as well as discussing working with the Aborigine actors. It's an interesting and informative interview, but it doesn't really provide quite as much as I'd like, at only 10 minutes.
also: The only other extra is a trailer.
Final Thoughts: "The Last Wave" is a haunting and well-acted piece that often hides rich intensity in its quietest moments. Criterion's DVD doesn't add much in supplements, but it does boast great audio/video quality, considering the film's age. Recommended.