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WALKABOUT out on DVD

In the novel Nicolas Roeg’s WALKABOUT (1971) is based on, “The Children,” by James Vance Marshall, the two main characters, a 16-year-old girl and her younger brother must make their way through the Australian outback after surviving a plane crash. Along the way they encounter an Aboriginal boy on his walkabout, the Aboriginal rite of passage. Roeg’s film maintains the same central narrative, but in his version the two children, credited only as Girl and White Boy, are abandoned in the outback by their father, who has driven them there and tried to shoot them before lighting the car on fire and killing himself.

The beauty of WALKABOUT, and what sets all of Roeg’s film apart, is his ability to weave a visual narrative that speaks louder than words. The children never discuss their situation and why their father did what he did. Rather, the complexities of the drama, as well as the underlying motif of the loss of innocence and coming of age of both the Girl and the Aboriginal boy and the juxtaposition of their very different worlds is drawn out in their mostly silent journey through film’s dreamlike landscape, driven by John Barry’s brilliant score, which includes a cover of the nursery rhyme “Who Killed Cock Robin” that features, most notably, a spine-chilling chorus sung by lizards and insects.

On DVD for the first time, the Criterion release comes equipped with all the bells and whistles you’ve come to expect from them, like a second disc of extras that includes a documentary on Aboriginal actor David Gulpilil. More exciting for film geeks is the new 35mm preservation interpositive made from the original camera negative, a process that involved manually removing “thousands of instances of dirt, debris, scratches, splices, warps, jitter and flicker.” The same goes for the “clicks, thumps, crackle, hiss and hum” of the soundtrack. Available now in pristine, remastered condition, Nicolas Roeg’s 1971 directorial debut is as stunning to watch as it is compelling to witness.