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The witty Nonni and the stuck-up city-boy Harry are the only ones to survive a massacre of a gang of poachers among the gamekeeper's family on his lonesome farm in the savanna. Now the ruthless murderers are after them as the only witnesses. Without a means of transportation, the only way to escape is to walk through 2000 kilometers of Kalahari desert with the help of the African bushman Xhabbo. On the months-long journey ahead they not only become good friends against their differences, but also realize that every one of them has strength and skills that are required to survive. Written by
Tom Zoerner <Tom.Zoerner@informatik.uni-erlangen.de>
It is unfair to judge a children's film by the same non-technical standards you would judge a film made for a more mature audience. That said, I had a difficult time figuring out the intended target audience for Disney"s "A Far Off Place", an odd mix of "Alaska", "Walkabout", and "Blue Lagoon". Since each of these films had a different target audience (children for "Alaska", adults for "Walkabout", and teens for "Blue Lagoon"), "A Far Off Place" suffers from a poorly matched and confused mix of story elements, the attempt to appeal to multiple target audiences ultimately makes it unappealing to all audiences.
Despite some positive comments on this database, "A Far Off Place" did not impress audiences at the time of its 1993 release and has generated little interest since. Based on stories by South African writer Laurens van der Post, "A Far Off Place" is the story of three teenagers: Nonnie (Reece Witherspoon as a girl raised on South African game preserve), Harry (Ethan Randall as a visiting American boy) and Sorel Bok (as their young Bushman guide Xhabbo) who attempt to evade a gang of ivory poachers by fleeing into the Kalahari Desert. Ethan Randall is actually Ethan Embry from "Can't Hardy Wait".
Although recommended for ages eight and up, younger viewers will be disturbed by the early scenes, where the family's idyllic life is ended by a night attack on their home by the poachers. The house is burned and the parents are murdered. And more mature viewers will be deeply disturbed by the next scene where Nonnie turns into Rambo and kills most of gang in a sequence credible only to a horrified eight-year old.
At this point it begins to look like "Walkabout", a story of an Australian girl, her little brother, and a young Aborigine on his ritual journey to manhood. In a significant deviation from the book Xhabbo's wife does not accompany the group into the desert.
"Walkabout's" more adult theme of interracial sexual awakening is replaced by a "Blue Lagoon" romance between the two white teenagers, a reflection of the film's narrower values and more modest ambitions.
The scenes shot in the desert are almost the equal of "Alaska" for scenic beauty but "Alaska"s" more realistic survival challenges are superior to the blend of survival skills and mystic powers that Xhabbo demonstrates to his two companions during their journey. There is an element of "The Gods Must Be Crazy" in this clash of cultures but the film does not go very far (bad pun intended) with the concept.
Both "Alaska" and "A Far Off Place" insert the element of poacher violence into the journey, to the detriment of the basic story. 'Walkabout" did not need this and found sufficient story material in the enormity of the survival experience.
Bok is excellent as the young Bushman and Randall/Embry's performance is solid if unexceptional. Those interested in Witherspoon's early work would be better served checking out her great debut performance in "The Man In the Moon" and avoiding this career misstep. Those looking for a children/family story should stick with "Alaska".
Then again, what do I know? I'm only a child.
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