South Australian author Colin Thiele published his popular children’s novel Storm Boy in 1964. Since then, it has been made into an audio dramatisation, a stage play and a 1976 award-winning feature film. Now it has been adapted to film for a second time. There is definitely something about this fifty-year-old tale that attracts reimagining and retelling.
The story at the centre is set somewhere in the 1950s and focusses on a young boy, Mike Kingley (Finn Little) who is being raised by his father, Hideaway Tom (Jai Courtney) in a shack on wild, mostly uninhabited, Ninety Mile Beach. The only other person who lives nearby is Fingerbone Bill (Trevor Jamieson). One day, young Mike and Bill rescue three hatchling pelicans whose mother has died. Mike takes them home, and with help from Bill, they work out a way to feed the hungry babies on mashed-up fish. Mike names the birds Mr Ponder, Mr Proud and Mr Percival. He particularly bonds with Mr Percival who is always by his side. Meanwhile, Hideaway Tom slowly becomes aware that his choice to raise Mike without the influence of regular society and formal education might be detrimental to his son.
The rest of STORM BOY is about Mike in the present day (as played by Geoffrey Rush). He is a grandfather and formerly the head of a large company which is now run by his son-in-law Malcolm (Erik Thomson). The company is doing some environmentally questionable things that are opposed by Mike’s granddaughter, Madeline (Morgana Davies). She is seventeen and not yet old enough to take her place on the company’s board and have a full vote in its activities. She seeks help from Mike. Meanwhile, Mike is troubled because he keeps having flashback memories to his rocky relationship with his father. For the first time in years, he is also reminded of what Mr Percival meant to him.
The 1976 film STORM BOY had quite the impact on the South Australian film industry and on the wider national film industry. It was a local story that was well received by audiences and critics and is remembered fondly by many who saw it as children. Remaking it for current audiences is a sound idea. Unfortunately, this adaptation relies too much on tying the present to the past. All the material that involves young Mike, Hideaway Tom and Fingerbone Bill is great. The pelicans, the cinematography and the music do a powerful job at evoking the natural forces of the land and ocean. Filmed (as was the 1976 movie) in the Coorong, the images and soundscape are beautiful.
The modern section of the story seems tacked on, confusing and largely pointless. Madeline’s storyline is a sledgehammer attempt to link contemporary environmental attitudes with the original tale. It is difficult to see how the abstract idea of boardroom politics will connect with the children in the audience. Although youngsters who enjoy the trade dispute parts of STAR WARS EPISODE 1 – THE PHANTOM MENACE may find some joy here.
Jai Courtney, Trevor Jamieson and newcomer Finn Little put in solid performances in the flashback scenes. And Salty who plays Mr Percival is excellent. (He is currently resident in Adelaide Zoo). If you’re an old timer like me, keep your eye out for a cameo appearance of Chantal Contouri.
Director Shawn Seet does a great job with the historical section of the film, but the present day, despite being the “ticking clock” portion of the story, does not feel particularly crucial and is no improvement on the original movie.