Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman in a scene from “Australia”.
The Outback epic "Australia" is director Baz Luhrmann's first film since he dazzled audiences with "Moulin Rouge!" seven years ago, and critics are wondering if the $130 million drama can live up to its hype.
Early reviews are mixed but generally warm for the movie, and while some critics say it might be an Oscar contender, a best director Academy Award could prove tough -- not that Luhrmann seems concerned.
"In a world where there's a lot of fear, I hope you can come out of the cinema after a few hours and feel like its been an enriching experience," he said in an interview, referring to the global financial crisis. "If you get a little bit of that and you have been entertained, then that is enough for me."
Starring Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman, "Australia" is the fourth film from Luhrmann, who co-wrote and directed the two-hour, 40-minute epic that is the most expensive film ever made in his homeland Australia.
It tells the tale of an English aristocrat, played by Kidman, who inherits a sprawling Outback property, falls in love with a rugged "drover" or cowboy, played by Jackman, and fights to adopt Nullah, a mixed-race boy.
They join forces to drive 1,500 head of cattle hundreds of miles across stunning yet brutal landscape in a bid to save her property and find themselves caught in the Japanese wartime bombing of Australia's tropical northern city of Darwin.
Luhrmann burst onto the global stage in 1992 with "Strictly Ballroom," followed by "Romeo + Juliet" (1996) and "Moulin Rouge!" which combined have earned $390 million worldwide.
He was nominated for a best picture Academy Award for "Moulin Rouge!," which also starred Kidman, while his wife, Catherine Martin, was nominated for a best art direction-set direction for "Romeo + Juliet" and then went on to win two Oscars for her work on "Moulin Rouge!"
Luhrmann, who grew up in the country town of Herons Creek, north of Sydney, spent four years working on "Australia" and said the scale of it had made it a struggle every day.
"Not giving up," he said was his greatest challenge. "Not succumbing to the relentless and endless difficultly of it, it was just relentless, psychologically and physically.”