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Wake in Fright (1971) - Blu-ray Review

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Wake in Fright - Blu-ray Review


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4 stars

Sweat. Dust. Violence. And beer. These are the outback facts of life in Ted Kotcheff’s hard-hitting Wake in Fright.  An Australian film long thought lost due to the ravages of time, Wake in Fright stands proudly alongside Mad Max and Picnic at Hanging Rock as high water marks in filmmaking from the land down under. Few films can be as stunning and as beautifully brutal as this one; the story of a schoolteacher who descends into his own personal hell after being stranded in a threatening outback town.

John Grant (Gary Bond), a bonded – read as enslaved - schoolteacher, arrives for an intended overnight stay in Bundanyabba, a small mining town, before catching a plane to Sydney.   But this will be an extended stay for Grant.  In the town, he meets a variety of hard-drinking residents whose cruelty knows no consciousness.  Police sergeant, Jock Crawford (Chips Rafferty), encourages Grant to chase his frustration with alcohol and introduces him to a gambling game called two-up where he could win enough money to pay off his bond and earn his freedom from an outback teacher.

Instead of winning, Grant loses all his money and has to rely on the crude denizens for survival.  The men – after taking Grant to the ramshackle residence of Tim Hynes (Al Thomas) - question his manhood and tease him with sexual advances from Tim’s daughter (Sylvia Kay).  He’s drugged and driven to the edge by "Doc" Tydon (Donald Pleasence), who routinely drugs him and keeps him guessing with a series of mind games and a bizarre kangaroo hunt that will haunt for years.  Will Grant be able to survive his stay in “The Yabba” long enough to restore his sense of self?

This cinematic example of ruggedness and extreme living has been gorgeously restored by Australia’s National Film and Sound Archive and AtLab Deluxe, and is presented in its original uncut form.  You simply won’t be able to turn away.  This is the edge of brutality and its steely balance is unsettling.  There is a level of uneasiness achieved by Kotcheff’s direction and unflinching lens that translates to the audience in remarkable ways.  You actually believe the oddness of the location and that its denizens – Pleansence is achingly good here – are actually doing this to Grant and not acting … at all.

Wake in Fright isn’t a complete gem, though.  There are a few scenes of go-nowhere violence and some of the acting isn’t up to the quality of the rest of the picture.  There are only a few moments that could benefit from tighter edits but, all in all, its dynamic portrayal of Australian outback living is primal and explicit and the looseness of some of the edits might just add to the overall flavor of the filmic experience.

Wake in Fright is a film – and experience – that grows on you…even if you don’t want it to.

{2jtab: Film Details}

Wake in Fright - Blu-ray ReviewMPAA Rating: This title not rated by the MPAA.
109 mins.
: Ted Kotcheff
Writer: Evan Jones
Cast: Donald Pleasance; Jack Thompson; Gary Bond; John Meillon
Genre: Drama | Thriller
Have a drink, mate? Have a fight, mate? Have some dust and sweat, mate? There's nothing else out here.
Memorable Movie Quote: "The aim of what you call civilisation is a man in a smokin' jacket, whiskey and soda, pressing a bottom... button, to destroy a planet a billion miles away, and kill a billion people he's never seen."
Theatrical Distributor:
Drafthouse Films
Official Site:
Home Video Distributor: Image Entertainment
Release Date: October 13, 1971
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date:
January 15, 2013

Synopsis: Wake in Fright is the story of John Grant, a bonded teacher who arrives in the rough outback mining town of Bundanyabba planning to stay overnight before catching the plane to Sydney. But his one night stretches to five and he plunges headlong toward his own destruction. When the alcohol-induced mist lifts, the educated John Grant is no more. Instead there is a self-loathing man in a desolate wasteland, dirty, red-eyed, sitting against a tree and looking at a rifle with one bullet left.

{2jtab: Blu-ray Review}

Wake in Fright - Blu-ray Review

Component Grades

Blu-ray Disc
4 stars

4 stars

Blu-ray Experience
4 stars


Blu-ray Details:

Available on Blu-ray - January 15, 2013
Screen Formats: 1.85:1
: English SDH
English: Dolby Digital 2.0 (192kbps)
Discs: 25GB Blu-ray Disc; Single disc (1 BD); Digital copy
Region Encoding: A

Drafthouse Films presents Wake in Fright in a fully restored 1080p, AVC-encoded Blu-ray.  The colors are bright and properly dark during the nighttime sequences.  Black are strong but the occasional bleed-through occurs in the image.  There’s a nice depth to the heat being shown on-screen and the contrast is tempered enough to reveal fine detail in the surroundings.   There was an obvious choice from its director to use no cool colors and the transfer keeps that intent clear with a strong palette dominated by red, brown, and other earth tones.  The sound is presented in a lossless DD 2.0, and, while the results are limited, the sound is surprisingly clear and matches the quality of the image.



  • Provided by director Ted Kotcheff and editor Anthony Buckley, 2009-recorded consists of stories and additional details about the filming of the movie.  Interesting, but not completely needed as some of the information is covered in the supplemental material.

Special Features:

First, there is a fantastic booklet included with the purchase of the Blu-ray.  The 14-pages features photographs and essays covering the film, its restoration, and its reaction.  It’s quality information that most of the featurettes don’t cover.  On the disc itself, the viewer will discover that most of the stronger featurettes are actually extended interviews from Mark Hartley’s Not Quite Hollywood, a documentary about the Australian film industry.  There’s a Question and Answer session from the Toronto International Film Festival which adds some information about the making of the picture and a vintage news segment about the film.  A digital copy of the film is also included.

  • To "The Yabba" and Back: An Interview with Ted Kotcheff (13 min)
  • Q&A with Ted Kotcheff at the 2009 Toronto International Film Festival (46 min)
  • Who Needs Art?: Vintage Segment on Wake in Fright (6 min)
  • Chip Rafferty's Obituary (3 min)
  • TV Spot: ABC's 7:30 Report on the Rediscovery and Restoration of the Film (6 min)

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