The Last Wave (1977) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

I really have mixed feelings about the works of Peter Weir, who is arguably the greatest Australian film director. For a brief period in the 80's, he was turning out movie after movie that impressed the hell out of me: Gallipoli, The Year of Living Dangerously, Witness.  And I thought The Truman Show was a helluva movie in many ways. But it seems to me that the movies from the rest of his career are irritatingly empty. Right after the three films I mentioned above, he did The Mosquito Coast, Dead Poets' Society and Green Card. 

In the seventies he seems to have wanted to become some kind of intellectual art film auteur. If you've ever seen Picnic at Hanging Rock, you know that it is about as sterile and aloof as a film can be. The whole point of the film is that nothing happened and nothing happens, but people impute meaning to the surrounding circumstances because some girls are missing. Circumstances that seem completely routine take on a mysterious, threatening aura because of what they might mean in the context. Oh, some men were seen walking along that road where the girls were last seen- cue up Twilight Zone music. It is, in fact, the ultimate movie for Mrs Prickley to book for Monster Chiller Horror Theater, because there is nothing in it remotely scary or thrilling. The lack of explanation is the very point of the film. Some critics hail it as genius, but that kind of intellectual argument is a bit too abstruse for my movie-goin' pleasure.

The Last Wave is equally eccentric, but much more brilliant in other ways. It winds together two stories. 

On the one hand, there is a murder trial in Sydney that involves some aboriginals who seem to have killed one of their brothers in a drunken brawl. Or is it something far more than that? Some kind of ritualistic or legalistic tribal action? When they are assigned a barrister (Richard Chamberlain!), the attorney realizes that he has seen one of them before - in his dreams! Say what? Eventually, the boy from his dreams becomes his guide through a world of ancient talismans and predictions and secret caves and other such fol-de-rol and mumbo-jumbo. Chamberlain meets with an ancient tribal leader, and their conversation is (and let me point out that I'm not kidding!)

Are you a fish? 

(20 second pause)

Are you a fish?


Are you a snake?

(20 second pause)

Are you a snake?


Are you a man?


And so forth. 

All that is punctuated with the monotonous sounds of an ominous didgeridoo note. You get the picture. I think Chamberlain aced the quiz, but I'm not sure. He was going to go with "snake", and then changed his mind, and I don't know if he got the coveted "full credit". I don't even know if aboriginal shamans give partial credit. 


female: none

male: Gumpilil is seen from behind (he's the same guy from Walkabout)

 In the other plot development, there are some strange unnatural physical signs of a major change in natural law. Giant hail bricks - the size of window panes - fall from the sky on a cloudless day in the desert. Torrential rains swamp Sydney during the dry season. There is a plague of frogs. Donny Osmond records a platinum album. What does it all mean?

Well, at the end of the movie, Richard Chamberlain wanders through some subterranean caves filled with ancient runes, and he finally emerges on the beach, where he stares at the water, sees a wave, and the camera goes back to his face. The movie ends.

I'm not kidding. That's the movie.

I think the ending was bungled. As it was presented, the wave he saw could not have been a giant tidal wave, as some people have implied. I think Weir wanted to picture it as such, or at least to leave that possibility open, but it could not have been. Seconds before Chamberlain looks out to sea, we see a scene over his shoulder, and the sea is completely calm, stretching far out to the horizon. He could not see a tidal wave a second later, and even if he did, he wouldn't know what it was yet, because it would be miles away. Furthermore, the photography we see is obviously just a regular old two foot wave photographed from water level. They had no concept of how to create some simple F/X to imply a giant wave.

DVD info from Amazon.

  • Widescreen anamorphic, 1.78:1

  • excellent transfer

  • interview with the director

 So is Chamberlain just insane or something? Are there supernatural forces at work? Who knows? Maybe nothing happened at all. The script leaves everything completely open to any interpretation. I think we were also supposed to think that there may really have been an apocalyptic world-ending tidal wave. If natural law has been suspended, as in the desert hailstorm, then a tidal wave could appear within a second out of nowhere, couldn't it?

The film is beautifully rendered. It is truly a pleasure to look at scene after scene. The atmosphere is heavy with spooky premonition. There is a mood of mystery, constantly punctuated by that lone didgeridoo note. Many critics were impressed.

But, before you rent it, remember that nothing happens. You write the movie in your own head.

The Critics Vote

  • Consensus: two and a half stars: Maltin 3/4, 2.5/5

  • Rotten Tomatoes summary. Eight articles on file, split 50% positive.

The People Vote ...

  • With their votes ... IMDB summary: IMDb voters score it 7.0 
IMDb guideline: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence, about like three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, about like two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, about like two stars from the critics. Films under five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film, equivalent to about one and a half stars from the critics or less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, this film is a C+. I guess. I know that not many people will like it, but I know that many people love it, so I guess that means it's the classic C+ movie, worshipped by fans of this type of film, scorned by the masses.

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