Utu: Redux 'virtually a new experience'

Last updated 05:00 27/06/2013
Utu: Redux

SNAP SHOTS: Zac Wallace as Te Wheke in Utu: Redux.

Geoff Murphy
ALL SMILES: New Zealand film director Geoff Murphy is hoping for a better home reception this time.

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Veteran director Geoff Murphy is hoping to get some revenge on film critics when a remastered version of his classic 1983 movie Utu premieres in Wellington.

New Zealand critics savaged the film at the time. Wellington director Gaylene Preston hails it as a "visionary" piece of work.

Murphy says Utu: Redux will be shown to a "completely different country", unmarred by the confrontational nature of Maori and Pakeha relations in the 1980s.

The film reaped international kudos at the time - becoming the first New Zealand film to be accepted into the Cannes Film Festival - but audiences at home were less embracing.

A new cut of the historical epic will premiere as part of the International Film Festival in Wellington and Auckland next month.

Along with Sir Peter Jackson's production studio Park Road Post, Murphy and photography director Graeme Cowley have spent three years and $250,000 digitalising and remastering Utu. At least 10 minutes has been edited from the original.

"The whole thing is sharper and smarter, and what that does is makes it more powerful," Murphy said.

"It's virtually a new experience. We took out things that at the time we felt were quite funny or relevant. This was 1983, it was two years after the Springbok tour, so there were references to that ... thirty years later they are meaningless completely, so we just got rid of them."

Cowley spearheaded the project after being "shocked" at the poor quality of Utu when it was shown on Maori Television in 2010.

Though stored in archives, the 35mm film itself had suffered significant deterioration, Murphy said. Tears were shed during an "emotional" editing process, with stars Bruno Lawrence, Wi Kuki Kaa and Martyn Sanderson among those who had died since the film was made.

Murphy is interested in the response to Utu: Redux. In the 1980s, many New Zealanders were resistant to the depictions of brutality during the land wars of the 1870s.

"They'd say, 'But that didn't happen?' And I'd say, 'Look, I'm sorry but it did, quite a bit of it ... we can't forget it happened.

"That's the difference today, people aren't pretending things like that didn't happen any more - well, not so much."

The festival will also show a little-known documentary called Making Utu, a behind-the-scenes look at the film by Preston.

Yesterday, she described Utu as "visionary", especially considering it was told on a $3 million budget.

"It's not a story told from anywhere else but here. The country is not the backdrop. The story is us."

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- The Dominion Post

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