An Aussie filmmaking chameleon
Mention Australian filmmaker Brian Trenchard-Smith’s name and most people’s minds will automatically go towards the gruesome survivalist horrors of Turkey Shoot, the post-apocalyptic madness of Dead End Drive-In or the martial arts action of The Man from Hong Kong. But hidden among a diverse resume are a handful of family-friendly adventure flicks aimed at young adults and tweens who sought sun-drenched, freckle-faced thrills in the multiplexes of the 1980s.
While he never got much respect at the time, many of his films have withstood the test of films. Oh sure, they’re dated and often silly compared to what audiences are used to today from both the horror and young adult genres. But in an industry where spectators all too often want to talk about how infrequently we make films that are sad-sack dramas about drug users and dole bludgers or hoity-toity arty films about milquetoast suburbanites, Trenchard-Smith was making entertaining films for mass audiences with a high frequency. He was able to move between genres and styles with ease. Frog Dreaming is a stellar example of the sort of film that was rarely being made on our shores; an adventure tale that told a story about kids for kids and he did it with panache.
The great outdoors
Trenchard-Smith’s most famous film, the film that has continued to leave a cultural imprint bigger than any other among a generation of Australian filmgoers, is undoubtedly BMX Bandits. Released three years later in 1986, Frog Dreaming is obviously not as well-known as that teen-action movie starring a red-and-curly-haired Nicole Kidman, but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be ignored by fans of Australian film. Parents, especially, wanting to give their children a healthy dose of retro thrills, the kind that maybe they grew up with as a child, shouldn’t think twice about putting this colourful, exciting film on for their children.
Movies like Frog Dreaming are rarer these days, especially in Australia. Comparable to the likes of Goonies, Flight of the Navigator, and The Monster Squad, Trenchard-Smith’s film harkens back to a time before most kids’ films weren’t just computer-generated. When an Australian summer meant Sunny Boys, Smiths crisps, and investigating and not just touch-pad screens. Perhaps it’s just a case of looking back at our youth with rose-tinted glasses, but as much as they hurt at the time, scraped knees from climbing trees and crawling over rocks while discovering nature was a part of life. And as much as our parents didn’t like it, dirt on our jeans was usually a sign of a curious mind as we built imaginary worlds in the outdoors, and somehow make it out the other side safe and sound.
Filmed across Victoria in places such as Moorooduc Quarry and Healesville Sanctuary, hopefully Frog Dreaming’s lush green look and curiosity about the mysteries of nature can inspire some creative, adventurous thinking some 30 years later in young audiences of today when they see the possibilities of the great outdoors.
Darkness on the edge of town
Like most of the best films for young audiences, Frog Dreaming doesn’t think the age of its viewers should discount them from being taught about the darkness of the world. As children grow older, they are confronted with more and more the world’s dark side and often use movies to learn how to cope and adapt. Whether it is bullying on the school playground, or something much bigger, like the death of a loved one, which is the case of our main character, Cody, played by Henry Thomas from ET: The Extra Terrerstrial.
It is important that they learn about these things so as to better handle the world at large. We might like to shield them from harm’s way, but we all have to face our fears eventually. Knowing they can confront anything that comes their way is the best way build strength and confidence in a young adult. It’s a most valuable asset of filmmakers making movies for children and it’s one of the reasons Frog Dreaming stands up today as a surprisingly strong piece of youth filmmaking from Down Under.
Watch 'Frog Dreaming'
NITV, 7.30pm 31 May 2019 / 10.00am 1 June
Available after broadcast at SBS On Demand
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