This was Nicholas Hammond's Australian screen debut See more »
Spectacular Special Effects but Too Long
This three part TV miniseries made in 1986 is out on DVD which is how I saw it. Famous in its day in Australia, it boasts a huge budget, spent mostly on the special effects, which are amazing to this day.
Part 1 sets up the various character plot lines including the single mum whose divorced father and mother are not on speaking terms, her navy boyfriend who's being transferred to the other side of the continent, a woman and her American boyfriend who get mixed up in a drug importation scheme off the coast, various comic relief characters (Greek truck driver and his stereotypical immigrant mother, newly arrived drag queen booked into the redneck-est pub in the whole territory), and the suicidal reporter and his sidekick cameraman who happen to be in the right place at the right time - the middle of the category 5 storm that hit Darwin in the dead of night on Christmas Eve 1974 destroying 70% of the city. Part 2 is all about the Cyclone hitting, and Part 3 is about the survivors and general plot line resolution.
The special effects in Part 2 are some of the best and most realistic you'll ever see (particularly the family huddled under the bathroom sink as the walls of the house are stripped away). The makers go for realism rather than Hollywood 'disaster' spectacular and this adds to the growing suspense and emotional impact. Part 3 includes the seamless insertion of real high quality news film footage taken the morning after the disaster which adds to the weight of the whole thing. It is a testament of how to make a proper TV movie of a real disaster that won't offend anyone who actually went through it (Australians still talk about Cyclone Tracy because it was the worst natural disaster to ever hit the country and included the biggest airlift evacuation, over 40,000 people, outside of war time).
However, there are some major failings. At over 200 minutes it is way, way too long. It could have been edited down to a 2 parter or even a long TV movie (at the end of Part 2 I was actually surprised there was another 1½ hour part to watch). The acting was poor at times, especially that of Tracy Mann (single mum), Linda Cropper and Nicholas Hammond (drug dealer boy and girlfriend). Mann's character was also unsympathetic which went against the general idea that she was symbolic of the devastation to the people of the city. The DVD didn't include subtitles and I struggled to understand what some characters were saying (either poor sound quality or poor articulation by the actors). And the stereotypical antics of the Greek boy and his mother made me cringe with embarrassment.
The DVD includes a 9 mins extra of the actual news film footage as well as a 48 mins Australian TV special commemorating the disaster (with the amazing story of the woman whose torso was nearly cut in half by flying debris who lived to tell the tale).
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