Autumn and the holidays used to promise moviegoers a handful of big-canvas movies designed to transport audiences to different times and places as well as woo Oscar voters with their grand scale and ambitions.
Those films have largely disappeared from movie theaters, but one of cinema's most romantic directors hopes to bring them back in style, at least for one season.
With "Australia," opening Wednesday, Baz Luhrmann is trying to revive the David Lean-style wide-screen historical drama in much the same way that his "Moulin Rouge!" helped bring back big-screen musicals.
Set on the eve of World War II, the film has Nicole Kidman playing an English aristocrat who travels to Australia to sell a family cattle farm and instead winds up falling in love with the remote terrain and a rugged cowboy (Hugh Jackman).
The movie is an expensive, lavish labor of love, a valentine from Luhrmann to his native country and an opportunity to show the rest of the world the hypnotic beauty of Australia's Outback.
We spoke to Luhrmann and Jackman about the film:
On making an old-school epic:
Luhrmann: When I was growing up, the genre I loved was the sweeping romantic epic. Four-category movies. And that's what this is. It has comedy, romance, action and drama. You don't have movies like that anymore. Maybe you hit two of the categories, but not all four. And that's what I'm trying to do.
Jackman: They don't make them nowadays, and for good reason. When they work, they're fantastic, but they're incredibly hard to make. You need a brilliant director with just enough craziness to undertake it.
Luhrmann: It's a movie for the whole family. And that's death, because you think, "Oh. It's a children's movie." No. But children can see it. It's the kind of movies families used to see over the holidays. It will make you laugh, make you excited, make you swoon.
Jackman: The movies Baz found inspirational for this were "Gone With the Wind," "Out of Africa," "From Here to Eternity" and "The African Queen." Movies in that true Hollywood style where the landscape is as big a character as the people in it. That's what gives the story scope and size.
On their collaboration:
Luhrmann: One exciting thing about making movies is working with actors and showing people a side of them that they otherwise did not know. With Nicole, people didn't realize she could be funny.
With Hugh, it's him putting across the iconic cowboy character with wry, offhand humor. It's the kind of leading man performance we don't see much anymore.
Jackman: Nicole told me that whatever you think the movie will be, it will be slightly different because it's Baz. Baz is an artist. He's always creating. All his movies ultimately have a great message about love -- love conquers all despite the rules of society. That's definitely a theme in this.
On the "love" between Jackman and Kidman as seen in a particular "Australia" publicity photo lighting up the Internet:
Jackman: That's a good shot, that one. Even my wife said, "That's a hot photo." It's weird because my wife and Nicole have been mates for a long time. Neither of them would like for me to mention how long. They used to share an apartment together when Nicole first came to L.A. So I've always had a lot of affection for Nicole.
Luhrmann: Again, you look back at those movies I mentioned, and you have Gable and Leigh, Bogart and Hepburn, Streep and Redford. They're not pairings you might immediately imagine, but there's a lot of heat when opposites attract.
Jackman: Definitely one of the things you can say about Baz's movies is that there's unbridled passion. And these two characters have a sexual attraction, a magnetism, they can't deny.
On shooting in the Outback:
Jackman: The Outback, there's something sexy about it. Everything that matters in town -- how you dress, the bar you go to, the car you drive -- is stripped away to the bare essentials ...
Luhrmann: It's the last remaining true frontier. There's such an abundance of nothingness. Even with the Sahara, you have people there. Here, there's an extra and profound beauty.
Jackman: When I was 19, I spent a number of months in the Outback on an African mission. I was with a group building houses. And I stayed on one for about a month. That was a defining time for me. For a second, I didn't think I was going to come back ...
On what the movie means to them as Australians:
Jackman: I've never been this invested in a movie, that's for sure. In every way. The aspirations of this film are to appeal to everybody, yet it is a movie called "Australia." My home is Australia. The idea of it not working is one I don't really want to contemplate.
Luhrmann: To take this genre and use my country as a canvas, that's a tall order. We'll see if I've succeeded.