Recalling WALKABOUT, this adventure takes two youngsters and a native on a perilous desert trek. As WALKABOUT did for Nicolas Roeg, A FAR OFF PLACE marks the feature directing debut of ace Danish cinematographer, Mikael Salomon (THE ABYSS, BACKDRAFT, ALWAYS). However, here the
resemblances end. PLACE is as thin and unsatisfying as WALKABOUT was rich and absorbing.
Botswana. The teenage daughter of a game commissioner and his wife (Robert Burke, Patricia Kalember), Nonnie (Reese Witherspoon) wants to join radical conservationist Mopani (Maximilian Schell) in hunting down ivory poachers. Standing in her way is a family friend from New York City (Daniel
Gerroll), whose son Harry Winslow (Ethan Randall) Nonnie is expected to entertain for the summer. Sneaking off in the middle of the night to join Mopani, Nonnie is followed by an interested Harry, and they meet Nonnie's bushman friend Xhabbo (Sarel Bok), who has been injured by a leopard. While
they nurse Xhabbo in a cave, Nonnie's farm is attacked and both youngsters' parents are murdered by ivory poachers fearful that Nonnie's father is about to break up their operation.
To reach the authorities, the three cross 1,000 miles of the Kalahari Desert to get to the nearest town, pursued by both Mopani and the poachers. When one of the poachers' planes flies too near the ground, Nonnie recognizes her father's old friend Ricketts (Jack Thompson) as their would-be
killer. After their harrowing trek, during which Harry learns survival skills from Xhabbo and Xhabbo attempts to play matchmaker between Harry and Nonnie, they meet Mopani and tell him about Ricketts. Going to a mine Ricketts owns, they discover his huge cache of elephant ivory and try to arrest
him. He dies, however, attempting to extinguish a fuse on dynamite Nonnie has rigged to destroy the ivory. At the last minute, Harry decides to stay with Nonnie and help rebuild her farm.
The videocassette box for A FAR OFF PLACE recommends the film for children eight and up. However, parents should be forewarned that the film opens with a wholesale slaughter of elephants, followed by Mopani killing the poachers and the poachers' slaughter of the youngsters' parents. As if that
weren't enough, Nonnie then returns to the ranch and blows up the poachers' vehicles, killing several more people. Unfortunately, this Peckinpah-style opening is about as genuinely exciting as A FAR OFF PLACE ever gets. The performances are competent and the cinematography, by Juan Ruiz-Anchia,
highlights the forboding beauty of the Namib desert, standing in here for the Kalahari.
The problem is an uneven script drawn from two novels by Sir Laurens van der Post. Roeg's film started simply by dropping two city kids in the middle of the Australia outback, which allowed the bulk of the film to focus on their odyssey. A FAR OFF PLACE overloads itself with environmentalism,
poacher-villains, a traitor, and Maximilian Schell, before its kids even get to their desert trek (which, for 1,000 miles, seems astoundingly brief--they only fill their canteens once!)
Rather than the sense of wonder Roeg and a gifted cast brought to WALKABOUT, A FAR OFF PLACE's evocation of nature and the desert is dull, routine, and predictable. The kids seem to be enduring a bad day at the mall rather than undergoing a life-transforming experience. Since he's introduced
gunning people down, Mopani is a questionable hero at best, while Ricketts' pursuit of the youngsters has no real urgency. A protege of Steven Spielberg, Salomon doesn't seem to have yet acquired his mentor's talent for keeping a leaky, improbable scenario moving fast enough to elude scrutiny.
Though kids may be terrified by the opening of A FAR OFF PLACE, by the second reel they're likely to be dozing peacefully, alongside their parents. (Violence.)
Cast & Details See all »
- Released: 1993
- Rating: PG
- Review: Recalling WALKABOUT, this adventure takes two youngsters and a native on a perilous desert trek. As WALKABOUT did for Nicolas Roeg, A FAR OFF PLACE marks the feature directing debut of ace Danish cinematographer, Mikael Salomon (THE ABYSS, BACKDRAFT, ALWAY… (more)