PICNIC AT HANGING ROCK 4K Review: Wow. Wow. Wow.

Peter Weir's magical mystery tour from 1975 looks like it was released today in the incredible-looking Criterion Collection 4K edition. This is why Australia is called "Oz."

Managing Editor; Dallas, Texas, US (@peteramartin)
PICNIC AT HANGING ROCK 4K Review: Wow. Wow. Wow.

The opening scenes took my breath away. Then, four young women simply ... disappear.

Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975)
The film is now available from The Criterion Collection in a new, two-disc 4K+Blu-ray edition, as well as separate releases on Blu-ray and on DVD. Spoiler: 4K is highly recommended.

I've seen Picnic at Hanging Rock multiple times: on the big screen (at a repertory theater), on videotape, on DVD, and on a streaming service. (In the U.S., it's currently available to stream on The Criterion Channel, along with a selection of extras, as well as on Max.)

Nothing prepared me for the breathtaking beauty of the film in 4K in a new edition from Criterion. The colors, in all registers, are true and pure. When someone is covered, in whole or in part, by shadows, they disappear entirely. Skin tones look like human flesh. The sound is peerless.

Why does this matter? Why does it matter that Russell Boyd's intentionally soft and exquisite photography, gorgeously shot with diffused light, is captured accurately?

Because the film is a mystery about three women who simply disappeared one afternoon in February 1900, leaving behind only a tiny trace of cloth and completely mystified classmates at the private boarding school they were attending. It's as though they were absorbed into the atmosphere, which the film's presentation in 4K makes more likely an answer than ever.

In the richly detailed, natural landscape, filled with "venomous snakes and poisonous ants," as one teacher describes it, nature is fraught with danger, even though it's very, very quiet and peaceful. It's deceptively quiet, of course, all the better to emphasize the shock of a scream when it echoes through the quietude.

It's been nearly six years since I last rewatched the film, in connection with the pungent Prime Video series, which took a different, character-based approach to the same source material, namely, Joan Lindsay's novel, first published in 1967. The series falls short of Weir's film, but I appreciated the fresh look at the time.

Watching Picnic at Hanging Rock again, I was reminded of what I wrote previously:

"Seeing it now as it was meant to look (emphasis added) makes a huge difference." Of course, that was the streaming edition, which pales -- pales, I tell you truly -- in comparison to 4K on physical media.

Even so, I agree with myself on this point: "It is very much a film to sink into, the moods and sounds and disturbances creeping up and enveloping the viewer in an atmosphere of curious disquiet, though not despair." And even more so on 4K.

Not to get too carried away with that, though: the film itself is why the very best presentation makes a difference.

Criterion's two-disc features the 4K edition on its own disc, noting that the 4K digital restoration was "supervised and approved" by director Peter Weir and director of photography Russell Boyd. The Blu-ray version is on a separate disc, together with the extra features, which are all from Criterion's 2014 edition:

-- Interview with Weir, 25:00, conducted in 2003. Excellent interview that covers how Weir got on the project, details pre-production (locations and casting included), production itself, and the post-release reception. It's a very good chat, and essentially takes the place of a feature-length audio commentary.

-- Everything Begins and Ends. Program on the making of the film, featuring interviews with executive producer Patricia Lovell, producers Hal McElroy and Jim McElroy, cinematographer Russell Boyd, and cast members Helen Morse and Anna Louise Lambert, 30:24, 2003, 2014. This, too, is excellent, and supplements Weir's separate interview, with everyone filling in details about the entire production process.

Russell Boyd talks about his idea to shoot with diffused light and how he did it, which is invaluable. It's also good to hear from Morse and Lambert, who talk about things from the perspective of the cast. (By the way, the cast includes future Academy Award-nominated Jacki Weaver in a supporting role as a member of the household staff).

-- Introduction by film scholar David Thomson, author of The New Biographical Dictionary of Film, 9:03, 2014. As one might hope, Thomson puts the film into historical context, while also having the advantage of hindsight and putting it into context with Weir's career.

-- A Recollection... Hanging Rock in 1900. On-set documentary hosted by Lovell and featuring interviews with Weir, actor Rachel Roberts, Dominic Guard, and source-novel author Joan Lindsay, 26:13. This low-resolution piece dates from 1975, but is very much worth a look. I love that Joan Lindsay stuck to her guns and declined to confirm or deny the true origins of the story.

-- Homesdale (1971), a black comedy by Weir, 49:52. Executive producer Patricia Lovell saw this very rough, black-and-white comedy and decided Weir would be a good pick for Picnic at Hanging Rock, which speaks to the unique ability of producers to see beyond the obvious.

-- Trailer.

Both the 4K and Blu-ray discs include English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing. The package, featuring a lovely cover by Eric Skillman, also includes a printed booklet, containing a wonderful essay by author Megan Abbott and a pointed excerpt from film scholar Marek Haltof's 1996 book Peter Weir: When Cultures Collide. Both are very good and help to round out the package.

Picnic at Hanging Rock in 4K is highly recommended, even if you already have Criterion's Blu-ray edition from 2014.

Picnic at Hanging Rock

  • Peter Weir
  • Joan Lindsay
  • Cliff Green
  • Rachel Roberts
  • Anne-Louise Lambert
  • Vivean Gray
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4KAustraliaCriterion CollectionPeter WeirJoan LindsayCliff GreenRachel RobertsAnne-Louise LambertVivean GrayDramaMystery

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