Colin Zweber

Assignment 2: Critical Review and Bibliography
13 April 2007
MED231 Australian Cinema
Dr. Garry Gillard

 

The World’s Fastest Indian


Directed by Roger Donaldson, 2005
"… a heck of a ride with Hopkins leading the way …"

- Los Angeles Times | Kevin Crust

 

Principal Cast and Credits
Cast:
Burt Munro:      Anthony Hopkins
Jim Moffet:       Christopher Lawford
Jerry:                 Bruce Greenwood
Fernando:          Paul Rodriguez
Ada:                  Diane Ladd
Rusty:                Patrick Flueger
Tom:                 Aaron Murphy

Director: Roger Donaldson
Writer: Roger Donaldson
Producers: Roger Donaldson, Gary Hannam
Co-Producer: John J. Kelly
Executive Producers: Megumi Fukasawa, Charles Hannah, Masaharu Inaba, Satoru Iseki, Barrie M. Osborne
Cinematographer: David Gribble
Film Editor: John Gilbert
Production Design: Robert Gillies, J. Dennis Washington
Music:            J. Peter Robinson
Production Companies: 
   *New Zealand Film Commission
   *WFI Productions Ltd.
   *3 Dogs and a Pony
   *New Zealand Film Production Fund
   *OLC / Rights Entertainment

Distributors: 
    * Ascot Elite Entertainment Group (2006) (Switzerland) (theatrical)
    * Cinema Mondo (2006) (Finland) (theatrical)
    * Gemini Film (2005) (Belarus) (theatrical)
    * Gemini Film (2005) (Kazakhstan) (theatrical)
    * Gemini Film (2005) (Russia) (theatrical)
    * Gemini Film (2005) (Ukraine) (theatrical)
    * Golden Village Entertainment (2006) (Singapore) (theatrical)
    * Independent Films (2006) (Netherlands) (theatrical)
    * Magnolia Pictures (2005) (USA) (all media)
    * Mediacorp Raintree Pictures (2006) (Singapore) (theatrical)
    * Oro Film A/S (2006) (Norway) (all media)
    * Rézo Films (2006) (France) (theatrical)
    * Sony Pictures Entertainment (Japan) (2007) (Japan) (theatrical)
    * Telexcel/ImpactoCine (2006) (Argentina) (theatrical)

Other Film Information
Running Time: 127 minutes
Genre: Action/Adventure, Biopic
Certification: Australia: PG / USA: PG-13 (brief language, drug use and a sexual reference)
Release Dates: 7 December 2005 (USA), 6 April 2006 (Australia), 13 October 2006 (New Zealand)
DVD Release Date: 13 June 2006 (USA)
Budget: $25,000,000
Box Office Opening/Total:    $400,782/ $5,022,468
Highest Cinema Ranking:    24
Awards:
Won: New Zealand Screen Awards- Contribution to a Soundtrack, 2006
Nominated: San Sebastián International Film Festival- Golden Seashell Award- Roger Donaldson, 2005

 

Bibliographical Details — Interviews with Filmmakers

Interview with Roger Donaldson: OutNow.CH: 13 February 2006.
http://outnow.ch/specials/2006/WorldsFastestIndian/Interview-Donaldson.E/
“I had a filmmaking partner who was into motorbikes and influenced me. So I had a motorbike at the time, an Indian. We heard about this old boy who lived down the very tip of the South Island of New Zealand and we went down to see him”.—(Roger Donaldson, director, writer, producer)

Interview-Donaldson on World's Fastest Indian: Emanuel Levy. http://www.emanuellevy.com/article.php?articleID=633

“I had a particular vision for this project: the story of a man of extraordinary belief in himself and his dream. Several times over the past two decades I had offers to fund this film if I re- wrote the script to tell what others considered to be a more marketable story. I was determined not to compromise my vision of the story in this way and was prepared to wait until I could make this film as I intended”.—(Roger Donaldson, director, writer, producer)

Boutilier, Corey. The World's Fastest Indian: Independentfilm.com: 1 February 2006.  <http://www.independentfilm.com/films/the-worlds-fastest-indian.shtml>

“After I finished my last feature film in the States, I just thought, I've been talking about this movie for so darned long and if I don't make it I might as well admin that I'm never going to make it”. – (Roger Donaldson, director, writer, producer)

 

Bibliographical Details — Reviews

Reviews for the film The World’s Fastest Indian vary greatly.  Compiled below is a mix of positive and negative reviews for the film from numerous newspapers, magazines and journals. 

*Dick, Jeff T. “Fast scans”: Library Journal (15 May 2006) Vol. 131 Issue 9, p138-138

*Holden, Stephen. “An Old Man and His Bike, Chasing an Impossible Dream”: New    York Times (7 December 2005)
“This is a film that wears a smile button on its sleeve along with its happy heart. It believes that most people are absolutely wonderful, and it is well enough made so that a dusting of that dogged optimism is bound to rub off on you.”— (Stephen Holden, New York Times)

 

*LaSalle, Mick. “Pure of Heart and Swift of Motorcycle”: San Francisco Chronicle (3 February 2006) p. E-5
"The World's Fastest Indian" might be the world's worst title for a charming, slice-of-life biopic starring Anthony Hopkins.” – (Mick Lasalle, San Francisco Chronicle)

*Hunter, Stephen. “'Indian': A Slow Story About a Blazing-Fast Cycle”: Washington Post (3 February 2006) p.C05
“As the movie's tag line has it, it's based on a hell of a story. Too bad they didn't just tell it.”— (Stephen Hunter, Washington Post)


*King, Stephen. “2006: My Top 10 in Movies”: Entertainment Weekly no. 912 (22 December 2006) p. 90

*McCarthy, Todd. “The World’s Fastest Indian”: Variety (11 September 2005)
“Sometimes shticky biopic overcomes its cornball conventionality to become a genial entertainment, thanks to Anthony Hopkins' exceptionally engaging performance.”— (Todd McCarthy, Variety)

*Morgenstern, Joe. ”As Old Biker, Hopkins Helps 'Fastest Indian' Speed Past a Slightly Sluggish Script”: Wall Street Journal - Eastern Edition 2/3/2006, Vol. 247 Issue 28, pW1-W5

*Puig, Claudia. “'Indian Never gets in High Gear”: USA TODAY (8 December 2005)
“Slogs pokily along and never quite picks up speed.”— (Claudia Puig, USA TODAY)

*Travers, Peter. “Bubbling Over”: Rolling Stone no. 993 (9 February 2006) p. 72-3

 

 

On-line Presence

References to The World’s Fastest Indian were very prevalent on the internet.   A very basic Google search listed many website reviews, trailers, photos and other information pertaining to the film as well as tributes to the late Burt Munro.  The search also listed many offers to buy a copy of the video and showing times for the film while it was in theaters.  A sample of these websites include:
- http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/worlds_fastest_indian/
- http://www.worldsfastestindian.com.au/
- http://www.biker.co.nz/Reviews.asp?id=122
- http://www.indianmotorbikes.com/features/munro/movie.htm
- http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0412080/

 

 

Synopsis
The World’s Fastest Indian is the true story of a New Zealand man who never gave up on his lifetime dream of going faster than anyone before him had gone. Burt Munro’s heart warming tale provides the basis for this engaging action/adventure biopic. Born in 1899, Burt Munro (Anthony Hopkins) spent his life in Invercargill, New Zealand. From childhood, Munro was infatuated with speed and his passion, fast motorcycles. At the age of 21, Munro bought an Indian model cycle with a 600 cc engine. This motorcycle became Munro’s obsession for the rest of his life as he constantly tinkered with his treasured Indian motorcycle’s engine and frame, determined to make it run as fast as it possibly could. Starting out slowly in the beginning, the film introduces Burt Munro and his old bachelor lifestyle.  Living in a shed on a cot with only his Indian motorcycle and tools, Munro neglects to maintain his yard and is a thorn in his neighbor’s side as he wakes them up early in the morning, dulls their kitchen knives and urinates in their view on his lemon tree daily.  Following heart problems in 1967, Munro decided it was time to make his attempt at breaking the world's land speed record at Utah's Bonneville Salt Flats.  Attempting to raise funds for his journey, the first glimpse of the unrestrained power Munro’s Indian Motorcycle is capable of is shown as he races a bike gang on a New Zealand beach.  Munro eventually settles for mortgaging his property to finance his journey to America. After a lifetime of fine tuning and perfecting his Indian motorcycle, Munro sets off on his quest from Invercargill, New Zealand to Utah in the United States.  Munro faces many trials and tribulations along his journey to the salt flats, but his charming Kiwi personality and good nature makes Munro many friends who are very eager to help him along his way.  These friends include Ada (Diane Ladd), a widow who fell for Munro's rough charm and helped him fix his trailer, and Fernando (Paul Rodriguez) a car dealer who also helped Munro by letting him use his automotive shop. However, when Munro finally arrived at the salt flats in Utah, he was told he would not be allowed to participate in the time trials due to the facts that he had not pre-registered, his machine was too unsafe and he was too old to ride. This only made Munro more determined to show what his motorcycle and he were capable of doing.  Once again when faced with adversity, Munro used his charming personality. He swayed Jim Moffett (Chris Lawford), a ranking American driver, to use his influence on the officials and convince them to give Munro a chance to ride and be timed on the Bonneville Salt Flats.  Given the chance he had dreamed of his entire life, Munro and his Indian Motorcycle don’t let it go to waste.  With everyone at the salt flats doubting him, Munro displays an impressive show that remains legendary throughout the motorcycle community to this day.
Personal Commentary/Review
            The World’s Fastest Indian is a beautifully crafted, light hearted and heart warming film that allows the viewer to empathize with Anthony Hopkins character Burt Munro.  Anthony Hopkins captivating performance and mastery of the Kiwi accent brings his character to life.  Even if you know what is going to happen, the movie still holds onto you as you pull for and want to believe in Munro as he attempts to accomplish his life long dream.  The numerous twists and turns throughout the movie are interesting and easy to follow.  It is a very compelling film that has the power to brighten anyone’s mood.
           
Roger Donaldson & Pre-production
Roger Donaldson is an Australian-born New Zealand film producer, director and writer and one of several co-founders of the New Zealand Film Commission.  As a 21 year old young filmmaker in 1971, Donaldson traveled to Invercargill, New Zealand.  There Donaldson met Burt Munro, an enthusiastic old man who was eager to tell Donaldson his life story.  Captivated by Munro’s life, Donaldson filmed the documentary Offerings to the God of Speed on Burt Munro’s story and his record breaking 600 cc Indian Motorcycle. 
            Following this documentary, Donaldson entered the film industry by creating the New Zealand television series Winners and Losers.  He directed and produced his first film Sleeping Dogs in 1977.  Throughout his career leading up to The World’s Fastest Indian, Donaldson directed 14 films including The Bounty (starring Mel Gibson and Anthony Hopkins), No Way Out (starring Kevin Costner and Gene Hackman), Cocktail (starring Bryan Brown and Tom Cruise), Dante's Peak (starring Pierce Brosnan and Linda Hamilton) and Thirteen Days (starring Kevin Costner and Steven Culp). He also produced three films and wrote Smash Palace in 1981.  Throughout his career though, Donaldson never forgot about Burt Munro’s story and maintained his feelings that it should be told to the international community. Written, directed and produced by Donaldson, The World’s Fastest Indian was Donaldson’s second attempt to tell the true and inspiring story of Burt Munro to the the rest of the world.  It took Donaldson many years to perfect the script as he was very careful to keep the spirit and attitude of Burt Munro alive in every possible way throughout the movie.  After Donaldson finished directing The Recruit (starring Al Pacino and Colin Farrell) he realized that if he didn’t film The World’s Fastest Indian soon, he most likely never would.  After coming to this realization, Donaldson set out to find funding for the film. He had been offered funding for the film numerous times over the previous 20 years but had turned all the offers down because the potential financing organizations wanted him to change the script which he refused to do. Through the use of past contacts, a Japanese company agreed to finance a large portion of the film which truly started the ball rolling towards actually filming the movie.
            Donaldson’s next task was to find an actor that could handle Burt Munro’s character.  After getting Anthony Hopkins to sign on to play Munro’s character, the filming of the movie started very quickly.

Production
Donaldson had not found enough financing to finish the film and was forced to pay out of his own pocket a portion of the expenses at the beginning of the filming.  This rapid start was necessary due to the salt flats only being suitable to be raced on for a limited amount of time every year.  The commitment shown by Donaldson and Gary Hannam, who co-produced the film with Donaldson, showed investors how strongly they felt about the film and how much energy and passion they were putting into it.  Over the course of the filming, this attracted other investors and their money.  The budget of the film slowly reached $25,000,000.
Under the circumstances of the limited resources, the cast and crew grew closer together.  Anthony Hopkins has said that filming The World’s Fastest Indian was his greatest experience as an actor(http://hddvd.highdefdigest.com/worldsfastestindian.html)
The movie was filmed in New Zealand and Utah, USA and was first released at the Toronto Film Festival on September 10th, 2005. I was unable to find any more in-depth information on the production of the film.

 

Critical Uptake
                        Although The World’s Fastest Indian has received a much higher number of positive reviews than negative reviews, it failed to ever truly gain a large amount of attention and recognition in the United States.  The film did however do much better in both Australia and New Zealand.  In fact, The World’s Fastest Indian became the highest grossing New Zealand film at the domestic box office by taking in over $6.5 million, beating the New Zealand box office record that was previously held by Once Were Warriors (Lee Tamahori).
                        The general response to the film – seen through reviews- was that it is a light hearted and inspirational film in which Anthony Hopkins delivers possibly his best performance as an actor and makes the film what it is.  The film should stay fairly popular throughout New Zealand and Australia for many years to come.  However, judging by the lack of recognition it received in the United States and its less than stellar US box office totals, it seems as if The World’s Fastest Indian will fall into the movie category of those that are gradually forgotten throughout the rest of the world, watched once and then placed in the back of the movie cabinet behind mega-blockbusters such as Titanic (James Cameron) or the Star Wars Trilogy (George Lucas).  However, what the film does do is break away from the mold of the traditional Australian cliché comedy or depressing drama and provides an entertaining and inspirational story.

 

Genre within Australian Cinema
I would classify The World’s Fastest Indian as a lone hero Australian action/adventure biopic.  It is slightly different from the typical action/adventure genre film as the main character, Burt Munro, is striving to accomplish a goal rather than to defeat an enemy.  As Munro works to achieve his goal of setting the all time world speed record for a motorcycle in his division, he is faced with numerous challenges.  Utilizing his intelligence, perseverance and charming personality he faces and overcomes each challenge.  These challenges include but are not limited to his heart condition, his lack of funds, his journey to the salt flats, the race registration officials, his bike fish tailing and the physical pain from the leg burns he inflicts upon himself to break the record. 
It is established very early on that Burt Munro is a community man, a key component of an Australian action/adventure protagonist.   This is evident from the number of people that attend his birthday party and the young neighbor boy that he befriends.  Munro’s charming personality and good nature help him overcome many of the challenges he faces throughout the film as people are eager to help him.  Ada, the old woman, gives him a spare tire for his trailer, Fernando, the car salesman, allows him to use his automotive repair shop and many different individuals help him when he needs there help at the salt flats whether they helped convince the registration officials to let him race or provided a helping hand working on his motorcycle.
The majority of the film focuses on Munro’s struggles during his journey to the salt flats and before he is allowed to race once there, but the climax of the movie is during his time test.  Although the movie lacks the special effects and large explosions characteristic of most Australian action/adventure genre films, the ending compensated for the rest of the film.  The raw, unrestrained power of Munro’s Indian Motorcycle and his crash ending makes the viewers’ adrenaline surge.
What the film lacks in special effects and adrenaline producing action, it makes up for with the unusual locations and circumstances that place Munro in the odd locations during his journey.  The unusual settings begin with the shed that he lives and works out of.  The shed lifestyle raises the question of what Munro’s history is.  Further into the movie as he goes to the old woman’s house for help with his trailer, suspense is built up due in most part to the setting of the house in the middle of nowhere.  Munro’s heart problems add an additional amount of suspense to his journey as he travels through miles of barren land and deserted roadways.  The pay by the hour motel leaves viewers with an uneasy feeling as far as the individuals in the area and the salt flats are mysterious in themselves.
                        I have stated that the film is an Australian action/adventure biopic because although it is not a 100 percent accurate documentary of Burt Munro’s life, it is still an attempt to tell the most interesting part of his life story.  Although there are inaccurate parts to the movie, such as Munro setting the speed record at 201 miles per hours at Bonneville when his fastest-ever officially recorded speed was 190.7 miles per hour, the majority of the film is highly accurate.

 

 

Works Cited

The following are the primary works that were used to gather the information that I have
provided.  Additional sources are given in the bibliographical reviews and interviews sections.

Australian Film Commission (Accessed: 11 April 2007)
http://www.afc.gov.au/newsandevents/mediarelease/2005/release_350.aspx

International Movie Data Base (Accessed 10 April 2007)
www.imdb.com

Rotten Tomatoes (Accessed: 11 April 2007)
http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/worlds_fastest_indian/