• Heaven's Burning (Umbrella Entertainment) Blu-Ray Review



    Released By: Umbrella Entertainment
    Released On: July 11, 2018.
    Director: Craig Lahiff
    Cast: Russell Crowe, Yuki Kudo, Kenji Isomura, Ray Barrett
    Year: 1997
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    *Note: Blu-ray packaging indicates that this disc is locked to Region B, but may be all region.

    Heavens Burning - Movie Review:

    'twas many moons ago, in 1992, to be more specific, and I sat in the dark of the local arthouse theatre, jaw agape at the explosion of brutal neo-Nazi violence unfolding on the screen before me. The film was ROMPER STOMPER, and the leader of the skinhead gang was the still relatively-unknown Russell Crowe. Crowe played the racist ringleader with an intensity so frighteningly realistic, it would later become difficult for me to see him in films without associating him with his skinheaded role. In any event, I was convinced that Crowe was a fantastic actor, and would break out huge in North America (spoiler alert, I was right), and that he would shine in every role he took on (spoiler alert, I might have missed the mark on that one). But, for every bland film he appeared in where he played some variation on the same character in a different costume (Gladiator, Robin Hood, Noah), he still managed to kick out the jams in some memorable roles (The Quick and the Dead, L.A. Confidential, Mystery Alaska). And while still in the post-coital bliss of that first discovery, I happened upon 1997's Heaven's Burning, a lower-budget Australian take on the road film genre. But while it shared certain traits with more well-known road films of the 90's, such as Love & A .45, Heaven's Burning had enough weirdness and plot quirks to give it legs of its own; though it would ultimately fail to establish itself as a memorable film.

    Heaven's Burning starts off by introducing us to Yukio Takada (Kenji Isomura), a Japanese businessman taking care of Japanese business while honeymooning in Australia with his young bride, Midori (Yuki Kudo). But while Yukio is pleased with the way that things are going and the prospect of sticking around Australia for a while longer, Midori seems anxious; and it's that night that she disappears, the apparent victim of a kidnapping. Takada has his business associates, the police, and hotel staff do what they can to find out what happened, but sadly discovers that his new wife has kidnapped herself; a plan she's put into action so that she can return to Japan and the arms of the man that she's actually in love with. Heartbroken and just a little bit angry, Takada buys a gun and a motorcycle, shaves his head, and puts on leathers, going from suit and tie guy to streamlined, two-wheeled assassin, determined to travel far and wide to shoot down the woman who wronged him.

    Meanwhile, Colin (Russell Crowe) sets himself up to make a little cash when he hires on as the getaway driver for a daylight bank robbery, to be carried out by a local crime family. Despite Colin's pledge of allegiance to the patriarch of said family, he waffles when the robbery goes sour, resulting in the kidnapping (for real this time) of Midori, who happens to be there trying to withdraw money. When one of the brothers involved in the robbery attempts to get rid of the witness, Colin steps in, killing him and taking off with Midori. As the two travel across the country, they inevitably fall in love, with the threat of being killed by either the bank robbers, Takada, or both at the same time.

    As I mentioned, Heaven's Burning does appear to owe a fair bit to the Road Movies of the 1990's, but Writer Louis Nowra and Director Craig Lahiff have thrown in some oddities and flash that attempts to set the film apart from its predecessors. Takada is the first example, becoming an instant killer when he trades in his suit for bike leathers and a smooth, bluesy, boogie-woogie slide guitar soundtrack, and let's not forget about the wheelchair-bound alcoholic accordion player who excels at annoying everyone with his take on the works of Wilhelm Richard Wagner. The setting works well, also, as everyone heads at breakneck speed across Australasia, which will likely never be confused with Nevada. Violence can be excessive at times, and if it weren't for the fact that the unlikely love affair between Colin and Midori is, in fact, highly unlikely, it would be another thing that would make you go hmmmm.

    But for all of its eccentricities, Heaven's Burning doesn't quite come through, in the end; there are some glaring holes in the behaviour of some of the characters, some plot holes that are just as bad, pacing issues, a horribly bad sex scene, and a lot of confusing plot points that make it a difficult sell. The actors do what they can with the material (really, aside from that sex scene), but one gets the feeling that the script started off as a stew of great ideas that ends up lacking cohesiveness. And while the end of the film does inspire a WTF reaction, that WTF is followed with a, "did I just watch?"

    Heavens Burning - Blu-Ray Review:

    Umbrella Entertainment brings Heaven's Burning to Blu-ray in an AVC-encoded 2.35:1 transfer. Detail is strong for the most part, and the print is largely clean. Colours do seem a bit odd at times, but this is likely due to the film's low budget. Regardless, the picture doesn't exhibit any major flaws.

    English Audio (with English Subs) is available courtesy of a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track, with a DTS-HD 2.0 track also available. It is worth noting that the authoring of the disc does not allow you to select audio from the menu; you'll have to use the remote's audio button to switch between tracks. Both options are more than adequate, with dialogue remaining clear and coherent throughout, with good balance of sound effects and music. Slight edge to the 5.1 for opening up a little more atmosphere.

    First up in the extra features is vintage featurette Cast and Crew Interviews (22:45) that features Russell Crowe, Yuki Kudo, Craig Lahiff and others, discussing the script, directorial style and the characters in the film.

    Script to Screen Storyboards (with optional commentary by Craig Lahiff) (5:10) features pages of the script and how they translate to storyboards, followed by the actual scene. Engaging the commentary from Lahiff, you can hear him discussing how storyboarding helped save money on this low budget film and other interesting bits of information.

    Four Deleted Scenes (8:22) are also available with optional commentary. The scenes are very rough-looking, and Lahiff's commentary explains why they were trimmed from the final film.

    A brutally boring Behind The Scenes (34:24) showcases the monotony of working on a film (though probably not intentionally) as it provides multiple examples of cast and crew standing around on the set for long periods of time, waiting to shoot.

    A number of Craig Lahiff shorts (Labyrinth, The Jogger) and trailers (Coda, Fever, Black & White, Swerve) are also available, though the quality ranges from adequate to bad VHS dupe. A theatrical trailer for Heaven's Burning is also included.

    Finally, a Commentary with Director Craig Lahiff, Writer Louis Nowra, and Producer Helen Leake is available to select from the supplements. The three spend a sizable chunk of the running time discussing the casting of the film and the marketing involved, as well as the plot and character motivations. While there is definitely some good information in here, the volume fluctuates pretty wildly, so keep the remote handy.

    Heavens Burning - The Final Word:

    It's definitely not for everyone; actually, it's probably not for many people at all; but Heaven's Burning is an okay time-waster, especially if you're into seeing young Russell Crowe with big sideburns, or just want to check out a 90's-style road movie. Umbrella's disc loads a bunch of extras fans will want to see (and some they probably won't), so if you're a fan, this is not a bad way to go.

    Click on the images below for full sized Heavens Burning Blu-ray screen caps!