Utu (Redux) (DVD Review)

utu-discsStarring: Anzac Wallace, Bruno Lawrence, Ilona Rodgers and Tania Bristowe
Quinton Tarantino called it, “hands down the best New Zealand movie of all time,” when he was here to promote The Hateful Eight. He was talking about Geoff Murphy’s 1983 film Utu. It’s no wonder Tarantino was impressed. After watching this “enhanced & restored” version of the film just released on DVD and Blu-Ray, it’s clear Utu is Tarantino before Tarantino.

My own initial impression of Utu is somewhat less flattering. I remember seeing a scratchy, fuzzy version of the film on TV a number of years back and dismissing it as a low-budget oddity, of interest only because of the presence of Bruno Lawrence.

Boy, was I wrong.

A few years ago Murphy got together with cinematographer Graeme Cowley and editor Michael Horton to rescue their masterpiece. The restored version premiered at the New Zealand Film Festival in July of 2013 in Wellington and now it is available for home purchase.

They’ve done a magnificent job, going back to the original film negatives to bring the film back to life. It really looks stunning. As the nine minute featurette, Revisiting Utu, explains, the film has to be re-edited and the score rebuilt, so this is virtually a new version of the 30 year old film reworked with modern technology my the same people who made it originally.

And looking away from the technical aspects of Utu (Redux), the film itself is a revelation, opening a door to New Zealand’s history, specifically the NZ wars of the 1870s.

Anzac Wallace’s performance as the vengeful Maori soldier Te Wheke is nothing short of iconic, while scenes such as the one which takes place in the church where the vicar is beheaded and the attack on the farm are as powerful as anything Tarantino has done.

This 2-disc special edition comes with Gaylene Preston’s 1983 documentary, Making Utu, along with a 16-page booklet to add perspective and detail to both the original film and the newly-restored version.

Utu is an important film both culturally and artistically and thankfully it can now be seen and appreciated as it was meant to be. Do yourself a favour and watch it now.

Marty Duda
[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CsTqvrgPOHE]