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The Criterion Collection presents
Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975)

"Everything begins, and ends, at exactly the right time and place."
- Miranda (Anne-Louise Lambert)

Review By: Dan Heaton  
Published: October 12, 2001

Stars: Rachel Roberts, Helen Morse, Jacki Weaver
Other Stars: Vivean Gray, Anne-Louise Lambert, Tony Llywellyn Jones
Director: Peter Weir

Manufacturer: CMCA
MPAA Rating: PG
Run Time: 01h:47m:07s
Release Date: October 20, 1998
UPC: 037429126325
Genre: drama


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A- B+B+A- D+

DVD Review

The imposing, rugged landscape of Hanging Rock rises into the sky with majestic fury and grace. While it first appears cold and lifeless, a closer look reveals the existence of a complex natural world among the large boulders. All types of wildlife inhabit this entity, including poisonous snakes, lizards, birds, and a variety of insect forms. Also, the jagged shapes of the rocks bear an uncanny resemblance to the eyes, face, and mouth of human beings. Does a mystical force inhabit Hanging Rock, or is it only exaggerated by our imaginations? During an afternoon outing at this monstrosity, three virginal young girls and their female mistress mysteriously disappear without a trace. Thus springs a haunting puzzle that offers few answers and raises strange questions about the true nature of Hanging Rock.

Peter Weir's Picnic at Hanging Rock elegantly presents the eerie tale of the unexplained disappearances from the school of Mrs. Appleyard (Rachel Roberts). The instructors at this institution spend their time grooming young ladies on the proper skills supposedly necessary to become a proper woman at the outset of the 20th century. Most of the studies appear quite trivial in today's world, but the atmosphere there remains strict and very serious. Based on a novel by Joan Lindsey, this story uses slight hints to reveal the burgeoning sexuality in the young girls. Considering their stern upbringing, even the removal of their shoes at the rock is a major action, and it's treated in that manner by Weir's exquisite direction. While they roam through the trees and boulders around Hanging Rock, the girls' reverie corresponds with this new type of freedom and growth occurring in their bodies. Lead by the charming Miranda (Anne Louise-Lambert), they stroll in a dreamlike state towards an unknown destination. During the trip, the piano score and wistful camera shots create a hypnotic feeling that makes the young ladies' ultimate state even more mysterious and unsettling.

Although this story centers on the girls' disappearance, it also takes an in-depth look at the inner workings of the school itself. Mrs. Appleyard treats her subjects with virtually no respect and looks upon them as spoiled brats in need of correction. The worst part of the problems at Hanging Rock in her mind is the financial ramifications of parents pulling their children out of the school. Her dealings with young orphan Sara (Margaret Nelson) are particularly cruel and insensitive. She forbids the troubled girl from attending the picnic, then expels her from the school because her guardian is inept. However, hints exist that Mrs. Appleyard may not be the simple monster she appears to be. This presents a perfect example of the remarkable essence of this film. Weir (The Last Wave, The Truman Show) and screenwriter Cliff Green never explain anything in simple, Hollywood terms. Instead, they stretch our imaginations by leaving the pivotal information just outside the frame or in the background of each character's minds. The lone survivor of the trek at Hanging Rock remembers only snippets, and these help to generate even more confusion about the events that occurred.

Before viewing Picnic at Hanging Rock, heed this warning: Don't expect to understand anything about the disappearance. While plenty of clues exist throughout the story, few provide more than slight hints into the actual nature of Hanging Rock. Weir creates a mystery without a clear explanation or reason, but that does not mean everything is pure chaos. There's a clear difference between generating confusion without purpose and using chaos for specific goals. The eerie atmosphere of each scene leads us to think more instead of turning off the brain for mindless entertainment. Sara's story appears not to have a direct connection with the mysterious occurrences during the picnic. However, clues exist that could connect her peculiar behavior with the lost girls. It's up to the audience to decide her specific place in the unfortunate story. This difficulty leads to one of the more unsettling (and possibly rewarding) experiences available on the screen.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: B+

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.66:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicno


Image Transfer Review: Picnic at Hanging Rock features a brand new 1.66:1 nonanamorphic widescreen transfer made from the original negative. The imposing sight of Hanging Rock looks unbelievable, with wonderfully lush natural colors. Overall, the outdoor scenes are excellent, with only a few instances of problems with brightness levels. A decent amount of minor glitches do exist on the picture, but they're understandable given the significant age of the print. Although it falls short of perfection, this Criterion transfer brings Peter Weir's vision to life in remarkable fashion. The unsettling visual atmosphere created by his inventive direction stands well on this release.

Image Transfer Grade: B+

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital
5.1
Englishno


Audio Transfer Review: One of the most striking attributes of the film is the melodic, piano-driven score that helps to create the mysterious tone. This disc contains a newly mastered 5.1-channel Dolby Digital track that carries the music effectively throughout the entire sound field. While this track lacks the complexity of the best transfers, it does nicely convey the ghostly atmosphere of the story. This is especially evident at Hanging Rock, where the sounds of the natural world overtake the noises of civilization. The music also springs well from all sides of the track, and it leads to an impressive experience.

Audio Transfer Grade: A-

 

Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 33 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual
Layers Switch: 0h:55m:45s

Extra Extras:
  1. Liner notes by Vincent Canby
Extras Review: Picnic at Hanging Rock includes a full-frame trailer that runs for nearly five minutes. It shows far too many pivotal scenes and runs much longer than necessary. The only other supplement is a nice essay written by the late New York Times film critic Vincent Canby about the wonders of this story. It's well written and helps to capture the essence of this magical film. This disc does contain nice menus with the eerie score running over shots from the movie.

Extras Grade: D+

 

Final Comments

Picnic at Hanging Rock provides a frustrating experience in a basic sense because it refuses to provide any type of explanation for the troubling events. There is no Bondesque scene where the villain explains his entire plan and motives to the audience. However, this film remains compelling because of Weir's beautiful direction and remarkable ability to create a tense atmosphere. While the story may leave you hanging, the execution works wonderfully so that it lessens any drawbacks from the uneven story.

 


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