La Grain et le mullet (The secret of the grain)

Universal Studios. Starring Jodie Foster, Abigail Breslin, & Gerard Butler. Directed by Jennifer Flackett and Mark Levin
Running Time: 87 mins
Rated: Rated PG (mild adventure action and brief language)

This is a family-action adventure yarn that is an adaptation of a story written by Wendy Orr who had a role in writing the film's script. The film takes source material from Orr's novel of the same name, "Nim's Island.' Named as one of the Best Books for Children of 2001 by the Los Angeles Times, this movie draws from it and should appeal to the whole family. Its country of origin is the US, but the movie was filmed on location at Hinchinbrook Island and Warner Bros. Studio, Gold Coast, Queensland and the scenes captured of our local environment does Stuart Dryburgh proud as the movie's Director of Photography. The movie was made in Australia and has for the most part Australian actors.

Nim's Island is a magical place ruled by a child's imagination and the film deftly combines animated special effects and realism to engage the viewer. Nim, the child, is played ably, though a little too cutely, by Abigail Breslin. She lives on the island with her father, Jack, played by Gerard Butler who sets off in a sailing boat and disappears. Jodie Foster is the draw-power to the movie and plays a reclusive author, Alexandra, who has written the novel Nim is reading on the adventures of "Alex Rover.' Alex gets into terrible trouble but always manages to escape following the inventiveness of Alexandra. Alexandra is summoned from afar by Nim when left alone after her father's disappearance. A ship appears, spilling out some terrible Australian tourists, and Nim calls on her animal friends to help preserve her very special island.

In the telling, the film strikes a nice balance between the child's independence, self-reliance and vulnerability and Jodie Foster escapes the role of traumatized victim for once to play here a comedy role as an obsessive-compulsive writer. All the elements come together but not with a great deal of finesse, and the film plays hard to win the attention of viewers with some over-the-top acting and sentimental tugs at the heart strings - the father appears to lose his life several times, but eventually emerges from the sea to re-unite himself with his daughter and team up with Alexandra, his daughter's favourite writer. Not surprisingly, the fictional hero Alex Rover and the father-biologist are played by the same actor (Gerard Butler). There are themes of empowerment in the movie and the moral values of the movie are without question.

The most enjoyable parts of the movie are the trained animals - a sea lion called Selkie, a marine iguana called Fred, and a pelican. They are called to do amazing things and they are wonderful to see. The mixture of realism and special effects and animation is always worth watching. Then, there is the local photography that captures so well a unique Queensland environment. For fans of Orr, the original story stays intact but there are differences - the original story stimulates the imagination more - but the overall result is a movie for children, who will undoubtedly be entertained. One minor observation is that the movie has a PG rating that legislates for children under parental guidance but there is not much in this film for parents to be really worried about. Children will like it and parents will be glad they took their children to experience the fun.

Universal Out April 10

Peter W. Sheehan. Associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting.

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