The Dead Lands is a great movie; so simple in story and powerful in delivery. Director Toa Fraser ought to be a very proud man with the finished product.
Yes, it may not be entirely accurate historically; but with such a limited amount of information available, screenwriter Glenn Standring can be forgiven for lapses in veracity. The brutality shown on screen also proved to be very disturbing and shocking at times. However this level of violence is no different from what people in the crusades might have experienced. Vice versa with the pirates, or drone strikes or western shoot offs.
Hongi’s (James Rolleston) father has been murdered. The act of treachery was by a local Tribe led by Wirepa (Te Kohe Tuhaka). To restore justice and peace to the area Hongi follows the perpetrators and heads deep into the Dead Lands. This legendary area is ruled by a man known as Warrior, someone Hongi forms an unlikely alliance with, to avenge the death of his father. Warrior teaches Hongi how to be fearless, ruthless and remorseless.
They ruthlessly chase Wirepa and his comrades. The intensity goes up a level every time a battle takes place. Slowly we begin to see the young man develop into a more skilled and well-rounded warrior. There were a few times when I did wander when the face off between Hongi and Wirepa would take place as lot of the film is warfare on the run.
This is not just a film about vengeance. It is an insight into the customs and traditions of Maori culture. Frequent mentions are made of the dangers which are associated with walking through sacred land; one could upset the ancestors or the gods of the forest. Characters in the show are also seen to communicate with their dead. The Haka, a ubiquitous war dance in today’s kiwi society is always done before battle in the film as an intimidation threat to the opposition. Several other smaller things come up but I’ll leave you to find them. It was these things that made me walk out the cinema with a heightened respect for Maori culture.
Venturing through the pre-colonial landscape of New Zealand was fascinating. Cinematographer Leon Narby uses many long shots or aerial sweeps of the landscape as an indicator of what our beloved country looked like before western “progress” began concreting over it.
Spare yourself the ignorant reviews from foreign critics and go see the film. It may not be the best film you’ll ever see but it certainly makes you appreciate a culture which once dominated Aotearoa.
2014 has been a big year for New Zealand film and The Dead Lands is an indication our ability to produce fine movies looks set to continue.