We celebrate the rescue and restoration of Geoff Murphy’s unsurpassed 1983 epic.
Producers: Don Blakeney, David Carson-Parker, Kerry Robins
Redux Producer: Graeme Cowley Screenplay: Keith Aberdein, Geoff Murphy
Photography: Graeme Cowley
Editor: Michael Horton
Production designer: Ron Highfield
Costume designer: Michael Kane
Sound: Graham Morris
Music: John Charles
With: Anzac Wallace (Te Wheke), Bruno Lawrence (Williamson), Tim Elliott (Colonel Elliot), Kelly Johnson (Lieutenant Scott), Wi Kuki Kaa (Wiremu), Tania Bristowe (Kura), Ilona Rodgers (Emily Williamson), Merata Mita (Matu), Faenza Reuben (Hersare), Tom Poata (Puni), Martyn Sanderson (vicar)
The glorious peak achievement of the new feature film culture that burgeoned here in the 70s, Geoff Murphy’s 1983 Utu is unveiled afresh in its ravishing, pictorial splendour. Here it is, our own turbulent history transcribed with cinematic élan – and an elegiac, absurdist vision of the devil’s mischief in paradise.
Utu traces the interwoven trajectories of several vividly etched characters caught up in the wake of the vengeful Te Wheke, whose people have been massacred in a British military blunder. Thirty years ago we thought such a copious panorama of the Land Wars might be where our movies were headed. Now that we have a feature film industry, Utu looks like a miracle.
Dismayed by existing copies, Murphy and DoP Graeme Cowley tracked down the available original elements to be reconstituted in this splendid new, digitised director’s cut. Redux improves in significant small ways on the original New Zealand release. Murphy has snipped a few diversions along the way towards Te Wheke’s capture and trial, and the clearer sense of disparate forces converging gives the film a new, baleful energy. The culminating campfire scene, conducting the rueful business of satisfying utu without setting off another round of recrimination, speaks more clearly than ever to a New Zealand audience now. But it is not the film that has been changed to make that so.
“Geoff Murphy has an instinct for popular entertainment. He also has a deracinated kind of hip lyricism. And they fuse quite miraculously in this epic… The ferocity of these skirmishes and raids is played off against an Arcadian beauty that makes your head swim.” — Pauline Kael, New Yorker