Whale Rider

Tired of films with few virtues beyond stuff blowin’ up good? Looking for a film that adds elements of the mythic to everyday life, instead of a bloated myth that add characters emotionally unlike anyone who ever existed? Check out Whale Rider, inspired by Witi Ihimaera’s novel (which may be purchased from Amazon.com or Amazon.ca)


Premise:

Whale Rider tells the story of 12-year-old Pai, whose gender brings her into conflict with her grandfather, a Maori chief seeking an heir. While it has been marketed as a family film, it never panders to children.

Cast, Crew, and Other Info:

Director: Niki Caro

Writers: Niki Caro, Witi Ihimaera.

Cast: Keisha Castle-Hughes, Rawiri Paratene, Vicki Haughton, Grant Roa.

High Points:

Keisha Castle-Hughes as Pai steals every scene in which she appears, without grandstanding or chewing scenery. Rawiri Paratene works equally well as Koro, the traditionalist grandfather.

The film has thematic statements to make, but it allows its audience to think, and its characters to retain their essential nobility.

Low Points:

The film’s pacing lags slightly, even for a character film.

The Scores:

Originality: 4/6 Certain elements– the archetypal hero who appears in unexpected guise, the folklore that proves true, the strong female who comes of age in a traditional society– have been used before. Their context here, the Maori’s world, will be original to most viewers as it was to me.

Effects: 6/6. The few effects serve the story, and have been seemlessly integrated. We gave them no thought until we started discussing the film.

Story: 5/6: This intergenerational conflict takes us into the life of an entire, believable community. I can’t say I wasn’t expecting the ending, but the twists which take us there are not always predictable.

Acting: 6/6. The entire cast act in a natural and realistic manner. Given that many in the supporting cast were residents of the village where Whale Rider was filmed, they do extraordinarily well. I could award the acting a 5/6, but the central performances more than compensate for occasional weaknesses in the supporting cast.

Production: 6/6

Emotional Response: 6/6 The rationalist in me would like to scoff at the mythic ending– but metaphor can be important. We aren’t just bags of carbon; we are also what we believe in. The film should make you feel that much.

Overall: 5/6

In total, Whale Rider receives 38/42.

Additional Comments:

New Zealand has represented magical worlds before, from Tolkien’s Middle Earth to Xena’s Greece. It’s nice to see it representing New Zealand, in a film which makes use of indigenous mythic traditions.

6 replies on “Whale Rider”

  1. ouija147 says:

    MPAA and the rating system
    This film is rated PG13. For for brief language and a momentary drug reference (a pot pipe in one scene).

    Roger Ebert raved about the movie and said “take your kids to see this movie”…or words to that effect. Not drop your kids off at this movie. The film company briefly used his quote in their ads, until the MPAA got involved.

    Since it is rated PG13 the MPAA has taken the advertising of the film to task in that the ads for the film quote Ebert’s line to take your kids to this movie. The MPAA won’t allow ads to encourage children to see PG13 movies.

    Now that sounds reasonable. You don’t want to advertise an adult film to children, but consider this, Charlie’s Angels:Full Throttle is rated PG13 for action violence, sensuality and language/innuendo.

    To be honest I have not seen Full Throttle, but considering the ads, I can not believe that these two films are rated the same. The rating system is broken. Especially when a film of the caliber of the Whale Rider cannot encourage parents to take their children to see a story about a young girl that same age.

    Roger Ebert stated all of the above much better than I have on “At The Movies” this weekend, but I could not find a quote online.

    So I have to agree with Mr. Ebert. The rating system is broken and the PG13 rating is meaningless.

    • fiziko says:

      Re: MPAA and the rating system

      So I have to agree with Mr. Ebert. The rating system is broken and the
      PG13 rating is meaningless.

      The problem is a system with a criteria checklist that is subject to studio
      pressure. Studios have been trying very hard to allow more
      questionable material into a PG13 movie so they can avoid the R
      rating, which reduces box office impact. A movie like Charlie’s
      Angels: Full Throttle
      would be tempted to edit in just enough
      material to keep it under the R-rating barrier, while Whale
      Rider
      would be the movie edited for the sake of the art. I think
      the broken part of the system is how much they allow in the PG13 films.

      I also feel compelled to mention that Ebert’s words, as ouija147
      mentioned, were “take your kids to see this movie.” Children under 13
      can see a PG13 movie if they’re accompanied by a person over the
      age of 18; taking your kids to see it is perfectly permissible.

      By the way, I live in Alberta, Canada, which uses its own ratings board
      in place of the MPAA rating system. The Film Classifications Board of
      Alberta chose to rate this movie PG, so any residents of this province
      can see it. It sounds very much like they should. (Alberta uses 14A as
      the MPAA uses PG13, 18A as the MPAA uses R, and R as the MPAA
      uses NC-17.)

    • GrimSean says:

      Re: MPAA and the rating system

      So I have to agree with Mr. Ebert. The rating system is broken and the PG13 rating is meaningless.

      He’s actually becoming a bit more vocal about this recently (at least in his columns – I don’t regularly watch Ebert & Roeper at the Movies so I don’t know if he says anything on there) and he has been using Charlie’s Angels: FT for most of the comparisons. Check out his review of I Capture the Castle – there is a *Note at the very end which outlines his feelings fairly succinctly.

      I think Fiziko has probably hit the nail on the head with his statement referring to ‘studio pressure’ above and the ratings boards allowing more and more into movies. I remember when Ghostbusters came out when I was a kid – and I’m pretty sure it was rated above PG-13 (my Mom took me – I was all of 4 and a half, and man did I want to go), yet a quick check of Amazon shows that it is now PG (but the scene that suggests the ghost um… ‘pleasuring’ the boys in their beds is still there).

      • Timeshredder says:

        Re: MPAA and the rating system

        I agree with Ebert’s comments at the end of the …Castle review. But the problem goes deeper than that; the broader culture has some very odd views regarding what is and is not appropriate for younger viewers. Whale Rider is not a kids’ movie; it’s a Family movie. It’s about families, and a family could see and discuss it. The audience we saw it with included the elderly (including two rather stereotypical old ladies who nearly bust a gut at the closest thing this film has to a bawdy line, the “smoking” reference. I may be wrong, but I have a hard time seeing the same women being entertained by Full Throttle) and the young. And the major audience cliche was the boy in our aisle who had seemed a little distracted near the middle of the film, but who turned to his parents at the end and said (no, really), “I want to see that again.” The Native girl ahead of us had a zillion questions for her mother, which were (thankfully) whispered off until later. I’m only guessing, but I’m guessing mom will have a lot to say about this movie.

        I suppose not everyone will like like Whale Rider, but I can’t remember when I last watched a film where the audience reaction touched me so much. If that doesn’t make a film family, I don’t know what should.

      • lokki says:

        Re: MPAA and the rating system

        I remember when Ghostbusters came out when I was a kid – and I’m pretty sure it was rated above PG-13

        When Ghostbusters came out, the PG-13 rating didn’t exist. It was created in response to Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom in July of ’84. Ghostbusters was already rated PG at the time.

        • GrimSean says:

          Re: MPAA and the rating system

          I remember when Ghostbusters came out when I was a kid – and I’m pretty sure it was rated above PG-13

          When Ghostbusters came out, the PG-13 rating didn’t exist. It was created in response to Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom in July of ’84. Ghostbusters was already rated PG at the time.

          Interesting – I still find it hard to believe that Ghostbusters was released as PG, and what’s so much worse about Temple of Doom (aside from the chilled monkey brains, eyeball soup, brainwashing and ritual human sacrafice)? Ghostbusters is essentially an apocalypse movie, plus it’s full of scary, scary ghosts.

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