Friday, November 18, 2011

The World's Fastest Indian

 I've been doing this blog for 10 months now. Within that time I've only watched and reviewed one NZ made film. The film in question was Love Birds, and whilst not the best Kiwi film ever made it captured our national sense of humour well. Before that the last NZ film I saw in a cinema was the very popular 2010 release Boy. As a film I don't think many outside of NZ will ' get it '. It is very quintessentially NZ and sums up a lot about certain aspects of our culture and heritage. It's popularity saw it out-gross The World's Fastest Indian, a film that is certainly well enough known outside of NZ.

 Released in 2005 ( my god was it that long ago? ) it is a semi-biographical look at Burt Munro and his setting of a land speed record on his heavily modified Indian Scout in the late 1960's. The poster states ' Based on one hell of a true story' , and the key word here is ' based on '. Because in all reality it is very, very loosely based on the life of Munro. Director Roger Donaldson had previously made a short TV documentary on Monro in 1971 entitled Bert Munro : Offerings to the God of Speed. Ever since he had wanted to make a film based around Munro's achievements. He was certainly qualified enough to do so.

 Again, the film is loosely based on Munro. In the film it suggests that Munro went to the Utah Salt Flats and achieved his records in one year. This is totally inaccurate as Munro went to Bonneville many times and took several years to achieve the records he did. But inaccuracies aside what Donaldson has done is compress a certain part of Monro's 79 year life into 127 minutes with particular emphasis on his Bonneville years. It pretty much excludes his earlier life as a speed way rider in Australia and motorcycle mechanic and beach racer in NZ. But I find this alright because his achievements and many records within Australia and NZ were to be overshadowed by his international records of Bonneville.

 So the film is only slightly biographical due to its inaccuracies. But all the same Donaldson has captured much of Munro in the film. As a man Munro was eccentric to say the least. He had been around bikes for many years racing and repairing them, from which he gained his self taught engineering genius. The film does show an element of this in his shed ( and yes he lived like that for many years! ). We see him making his own pistons for instance. In fact the mold in the film is the very one Monro used. And on the walls are actual pistons Munro made and blew over the years. They were borrowed from the Southland Museum and Art Gallery.

The real story!!
 The other thing Donald does well is capture Munro's eccentric personality. Several scenes in the film are based on some of Munro's ways. But really what Anthony Hopkins does is show more a flavour of what type of man Munro was rather that a straight out portrayal. For anyone interested in reading more about Munro and his life there was a book published in the same year entitled One Good Run : The Legend of Burt Munro by Tim Hanna. It is an excellent biography and well worth reading if you can get a copy ( I'm sure will help in that regard! ). But be warned it gets rather technical at times as Hanna writes how Munro modified his Indian. But all the same it is an easy read and will appeal to anyone remotely interested in furthering their knowledge on this remarkable, eccentric man.

 So what of the film itself inaccuracies aside? I've established the inaccurate necessities to a certain degree and I'll include a wikipedia link that explores them in greater depth. Now as stated in 2006 this was the highest grossing NZ made film up to that point. It grossed a whopping NZ$7 million!! This is a staggering figure considering NZ's population hadn't quite reached 4 million! It went on to gross over US$18 million world wide. Which aren't bad figures considering the size of NZ's film industry ( which does NOT revolve around Peter Jackson!! ).

 But here the cast very much revolves around a certain Anthony Hopkins!! He was a good choice to play Munro because he had the age, but also the star power, in which to get cinema audiences outside on NZ interested in seeing the film. I've read a bit on the real Burt Munro and along with Roger Donaldson's personal knowledge of Munro I think Hopkins captures the essence of the man well. Even though of Welsh extraction Hopkins made his character feel like a Kiwi. Some criticise his accent, but really I think this can be ignored as the film needed someone of Hopkins age and stature. Sometimes little things like that have to be sacrificed for the film's greater good.

 I believe Hopkins found the whole film a great experience and enjoyed his time Down Under. I've read this of many big name stars who have filmed in NZ. Tom Cruise with The Last Samurai ( filmed in the Taranki where I lived when very young ),  and the entire foreign cast of The lord of the Rings stated the same thing. I believe it is the fact it is so far removed from the hype and big lights of Hollywood that they find so refreshing. Orlando Bloom for instance has stated he liked the fact he could walk down the street without being mobbed. Kiwis are like that as we don't really make a big deal out of seeing a celebrity in the street.

 The other two bigger names in the cast are Diane Ladd and  Christopher Lawford, son of actor Peter Lawford and Patricia ' Pat ' Kennedy, ( yes from THAT family of Kennedy's!! ). The rest of the cast is a real assembly of local Kiwi actors and lesser lights. This is important because it brings the Kiwi air to the fore and keeps it grounded as a Kiwi story for which it is. It isn't a Bonneville, Utah story, but one a Kiwi bloke setting land speed records on the international stage. When you realise this you can understand why it raked in the dollars at the Kiwi box office, as we felt a certain pride in Munro's achievements.

 The thing to was we all knew the film was to play overseas and we got a silly thrill from knowing that our local actors were to be seen worldwide. One scene is very tongue in cheek and completely unknown outside of NZ. The film used locations in Invercargill ( never been there! ) which was Munro's home town. In the film the modern day mayor of Invercargill, Tim Shadboldt is seen in bumping into Hopkins' Munro as he enters the bank to get his pension! It is a great touch and us Kiwis had a good laugh at the in-house joke!

 I personally saw this twice at my local cinema and several times since on DVD. My favorite scene is where the dis-believers and nay-sayers let Munro have a run whilst his entourage follow him in their car. What makes me laugh is when they hit 90mph in the car Munro cuts loose and just blows them away! Their jaws just drop!! Seriously folks when that bike disappeared like that I got goose pimples up and down my spine! It look fantastic on the big screen which gave a better feel for the speed he was travelling at. Read the book as Munro tells what it was like to ride at 300kph!!

 So this was a film NZ could be proud of. The thing I like most is that it feels like a NZ film and didn't sell out in making it more palatable for a worldwide audience. To be sure it isn't a truly great film in itself, but when you consider it's small budget and the small pool of acting talent it drew from then this is a good example of a New Zealand made film. It does have inherent flaws, especially to historical accuracy, but it doesn't pretend to be a true portrayal as it quite clearly states ' based on one hell of a true story '. But believe me if you like this film's story then I strongly urge you to read Tim Hanna's biography, because the real life story of Burt Munro far surpasses that of the film!

 In short a flawed film but with two thing going for it. A great story based on even greater events. In the process it is a show case of a real quintessentially made New Zealand film. IMDB has this with 7.9/10! To be honest I think that a little bit too generous as I feel it to be more down around 6.5-7/10. But none the less a fine watch.

Click here for a synopsis and more:

And here for more, especially in regards to inaccuracies and other interesting facts on Burt Munro and his Indian Scout:

And click here for wikipedia's biographical sketch of Burt Munro:


  1. Funny I just saw this movie yesterday at the DVD store and was curious about it. This sounds much more interesting that I first assumed, didn't know it was shot down there either. Excellent review.

  2. Yep its 100% Kiwi made! Worth a watch but not a great film as such. Munro's true life story far exceeds that of the film!

  3. 'It went on to gross over US$18 million world wide. Which aren't bad figures considering the size of NZ's film industry (which does NOT revolve around Peter Jackson!)' THANK YOU! Sometimes this needs to be reiterated.

    THE WORLD'S FASTEST INDIAN was the film we had to study in year eleven English. I remember I loved it so I must watch it again sometime soon.

  4. Yes the success of Jackson has over shadowed the fact we have a film industry...and he isn't it!! In fact I'm not overly fussed on him as a film maker.
    The World's Fastest Indian is flawed but it still feels like a Kiwi film which is what I like about it the most. I like it a lot and am quite happy watching repeated viewings of it!

  5. All you want to know about bhoomi jankari land record registration processes and requirements.