The Film (5/5)
Peter Weir began his feature film career in the exploding Ozploitation film scene of the early 70's with the excellent The Cars that Ate Paris. That film shows a dark, desolate and socially conscious, yet mature vision, and was an excellent example of what Weir could do with even a small horror film budget. Of course, describing Cars... simply as a horror film is to do it a disservice, as he skillfully blended social drama with some action and horror to create something truly that stands as a part of and apart from the genre.
He would follow up The Cars that Ate Paris with what is arguably the film that would make his name, and is arguably his masterpiece Picnic at Hanging Rock. Picnic at Hanging Rock is a much more mature film from the director in both style and content, and shows what a power he would bring to his films for he next 40 years. The film can be described as a mystery whose central conceit is never resolved. It would go on to have an impact for decades to come, probably most notably on the first season of David Lynch's Twin Peaks' TV series in the guise of the death of Laura Palmer, and the impact it had around the community of the show.
The film is set on Valentine's Day in the year 1900. The students of Appleyard College in Australia's Victoria region are set to go on their yearly picnic. One girl Sara is left behind for misbehavior. The picnic occurs at a naturally occurring geological formation called Hanging Rock. It starts out quite normal with food, and fun, but then a group of the girls Miranda, Irma, Edith, Marion, and their teacher Miss McCraw go on a hike up the rock to obtain measurements of it for assignment. 3 of the girls, and Miss McCraw never return, Edith does, but does not remember anything of the incident. A police investigation ensues, but turns up no evidence or anything that might point to what happened to the girls and their teacher.
Picnic at Hanging Rock, is not a film that is easily summarized. While one can discuss the events of the film, the events do not really make up the experience. Weir's film is an atmospheric subtly erotic drama with a central concept that shrouds the whole piece in an air of mystery. Within the Joan Lindsay book, and the movie itself no answers are given, and the audience is forced to draw their own conclusions with what little information is present in regards to the films central mystery. This is a film that isn't meant to be broken down as much as it meant to be experienced, and to a viewer in the correct state of mind the film has the ability to draw a person in, and overcome them with it's hazy, warm, and dreamy atmosphere.
Criterion's Blu-ray edition of Picnic at Hanging Rock maintains their usual quality standard with an excellent 1:78:1 1080p transfer. The transfer offers excellent warm tones and fine detail. Black levels are solid, and flesh tones are accurate, and there is a healthy grain structure present throughout the film. There are some soft spots present, but nothing distracting.
Criterion presents the audio in a DTS-HD MA 5.1 track in English. The track is quite good with the dialogue, music, and background elements coming through nice and clearly. I did not detect any instances of pops, cracks, or hissing on the track.
Included within the packaging itself is a booklet of liner notes, and a paperback edition of Joan Lindsay's novel of Picnic at Hanging Rock. After that we have the disc content which kicks off with a introduction with film historian David Thomson, we also get 3 featurettes each running roughly half an hour in length that explore the making of the film the third featurette is a one on one interview with Peter Weir. We also get Weir's earlier short film Homesdale which runs 51 minutes, and was apparently what inspired the film's producer to hire him for Hanging Rock. The disc is rounded off by the films theatrical trailer.
Picnic at Hanging Rock is a masterpiece of moody atmospheric filmmaking. The Blu-ray restoration from Criterion is an absolute stunner, and the extra feature including the source novel really push this one over the top. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.