Marcus Clarke’s sprawling Victorian saga of an innocent man exiled to an Australian penal colony suffers from a multimedia experience that manages to dilute attention rather than enhancing the original source material.
Sometimes compared to Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables, Clarke’s tale follows the harrowing experiences of a British subject named Rufus Dawes after he is shipped off to the wilds of Australia for a crime he did not commit. Celebrated as a true classic of Australian literature, the text of the powerful story is presented here in truncated form and intercut with mostly two- and three-minute clips of a forgettable TV miniseries from the early 1980s. Additional clips from a far older 1927 silent film adaptation function merely as jittery curiosities. Short excerpts of factual information centering on early Australian history are similarly dry and lacking in significant power. Navigation through these disparate elements is seamless enough, with a point-and-click contents page that allows for quick and easy exploration. However, the app leans far too heavily on the televised series. And contrary to how it might have been received when it first aired, the 1983 production does not hold up well. Mostly painful to watch, it is largely notable for the consistency of its overstuffed and mediocre performances. American readers might find passing interest in post-Pyscho Anthony Perkins’ turn as James North, the troubled clergyman who befriends the beleaguered and often abused Dawes. Other than that, the overreliance on the miniseries as a substitute for real interactivity succeeds only in making Clarke’s original, time-tested yarn subordinate to far lesser material. Despite the app’s dramatic deficiencies, Clarke’s tale still evokes a fascinating period in Western history and in this new incarnation should spur further interest in Australia’s intriguing beginnings.
A ham-fisted multimedia adaptation of an otherwise absorbing tale of human endurance.