Dr Plonk

Starring Nigel Lunghi, Paul Blackwell, Magda Szubanski. Directed by Rolf de Heer
Running Time: 86 minutes
Rated: Rated G

Rolf de Heer is one of Australia's most significant and celebrated directors. He has made a habit of pushing the boundaries of cinematic style and form. His Ten Canoes last year was the first major Australian feature filmed in an aboriginal language. Dr Plonk looks back to cinema's earliest days. It is a black and white silent film.

Dr Plonk, a famous scientist and inventor, works away in his laboratory trying to make sense of the world. It is 1907. Plonk is somewhat less than ably assisted by his deaf-mute assistant, Paulus, and his accident prone wife and his dog, Tiberius. One fateful day, Plonk's car runs out of fuel, leading Dr Plonk to a series of discoveries. Many calculations later Plonk deduces that the world will end in 101 years. A time machine is required, to bring proof of this deduction from the future. Dr Plonk sets about inventing one. Tiberius is the first time traveler. He returns safely. Further forays into the future begin to reveal what a terribly strange place the world of 2007 is. Little about it makes sense to the intrepid Doctor. Finally he gains irrefutable proof that the world is indeed about to end. But his efforts to alert the appropriate authorities in the future lead Plonk to fall foul of the law. He becomes a hunted man, with the nation's entire law enforcement system arrayed against him.

Dr Plonk is an affectionate whimsy. To make his film look as authentic as possible De Heer and cameraman Judd Overton use a crank camera. And to raise the bar even higher they sought out all the unused black and white ends, or scraps, they could beg from fellow filmmakers. Very environmentally friendly.

This personal homage may be technically well crafted, but I was left wondering why De Heer bothered. I'm not convinced that we need to canonise the silent black and white era so much that it cannot be vastly improved upon.

There is nothing fresh or interesting in Dr Plonk that justifies his efforts, or ours. Even with its modern commentary on terrorism and ecological damage, the story is too naive, and Dr Plonk is a bully in every way, especially to his disabled assistant and wife.

Even though Dr Plonk runs for only 86 minutes it wears very thin very quickly. This nostalgic journey is too indulgent to offer the art form anything that comes close to breathing new life into it.

Palace Out August 30

Fr Richard Leonard is the director of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting

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