Whale Rider

Hi, everyone. “Moriarty” here with some Rumblings From The Lab…

A coming of age story about a young girl hardly seems like Vern’s cup of tea, but I’ve met this guy. He may be an ex-con, hardened by his years on the road and in the pen, but he’s got a soft spot a mile wide. It’s one of the things that makes him such a good read:


Well SIFF is over but that doesn’t mean I can’t somehow end up seeing WHALE RIDER, which won best film and best director at the festival. In fact, I DID end up seeing WHALE RIDER, which won best film and best director at the festival. Also I wrote a review of it. Or at least I am writing a review of it right now. If all goes as planned you will keep reading from here and it will be a review.

First of all let me say that this is not about some guy riding around on a whale. I thought maybe it would be some dude who travels from port city to port city helping people, solving problems, delivering goods, etc. I don’t know if maybe he would be on the run for a murder he didn’t commit. Or maybe if it was Seagal he would be an ex-CIA whale rider fighting corruption using his special spook skills, while riding a whale. That’s not really what the movie is like though. If that’s what you’re expecting this may be your biggest disappointment since LAST OF THE DOGMEN.

What it is though is a real well made and moving family movie just like THE BLACK STALLION or that flying goose movie with Anna Paquin, but with less animals. The story is about a Maori man name Koro trying to maintain the ancient traditions of his culture. He says he is descended from the first Maori tribal leader who rode a whale from Hawaii to New Zealand. He believes a new chief will be born and trained in the old ways, and he alienates his family in his obsessive quest for that chief. Especially his two sons who he doesn’t think are good enough to be chief.

Whale RiderThe movie opens with Koro’s daughter-in-law giving birth to twins. But both the mother and the boy twin die, leaving a baby girl. Before they even get the bodies in the ground Koro is already talking about trying for a new baby boy.

Skip forward 13 years, the girl is grown up as Pai and Koro is giving lessons to the local boys to do traditional Maori stick fighting, chants, etc., and to test them to find the new chief. Pai is not allowed to participate or even watch because she’s a girl.

You pretty much know where it goes from there – Pai believes she can be the chief, but her grandpa doesn’t understand, so she must secretly train and somehow prove herself to him. For most of the story you pretty much know where it’s going, but it never matters. The execution is just perfect, especially in the acting. Every one of them is great but especially the girl Keisha Castle-Hughes, who has never been in a movie before. This is one of those performances where it’s hard to believe it’s even an actor it seems so much like a real person. There is a scene where her grandpa catches her stick fighting and yells at her for desecrating sacred traditions. Instead of making a rebuttal or some other thing a movie kid would do, she just kind of looks down and starts playing with the bark on the end of the stick, like a real kid would do. She is very quiet through most of the movie but conveys her emotions indirectly by the way her face tries to hide her emotions.

I gotta admit this is a good one, and there may be some crying in some cases. I definitely noticed signs of sniffling in the theater. The movie is PG-13 but only because of a scene where Pai’s uncle is asleep with a bag of weed next to him. If your 9 year old gets the joke then it’s too late anyway, throw in the towel and start bringing him to pornos.

One word of caution. Be careful not to see this movie with a bunch of idiots. The screening I went to was one of those crowds of middle age, middle class middlebrow types who you can tell don’t get out to the movies very often. I’m sure you’ve all experienced it. They show the same annoying commercial you’ve seen before ever movie for months, and the whole crowd laughs at the punchline. That’s how you know you’re in trouble. This one wasn’t as bad as when I saw FRIDA with some asshole giving on ongoing commentary about “yeah, that was a painting Frida did” or “yeah, those are the stairs at Frida’s house.” This crowd was the ones who overreact to anything mildly amusing in a movie. There’s some little joke that makes you halfway smile but the rest of the people in the theater laugh like it’s the funniest thing they ever saw, and then you start to want to retract your half smile and declare that it was less funny than you originally thought. Of course a movie like this has it’s mild stick-it-to-the-man moments where grandma tells off grandpa and sticks up for girl power or whatever, and this goes over a little too well with the crowd and you are tempted to hold it against the movie. Guilt by association.

This particular crowd also found Maori traditions to be very amusing, so any time the warriors widened their eyes to make an intimidating face the crowd laughed like they thought it was supposed to be silly. Then when I was leaving I actually heard somebody say, “This should really fly here too, with the Macaw” (referring to a local native american tribe that occasionally hunts whales). I’m not even sure what that meant exactly but I thought it was worth writing up on the internet for posterity.

Also did you know they used to have a FREE WILLY cartoon where the kid and the whale and some dolphins fought against a cyborg, who was sort of a personification of man-made technology encroaching upon the natural habitats of endangered species? That’s what I heard anyway.

Well anyway that’s about it but I predict this movie will end up on many top ten lists and probaly get a couple token oscar nominations. We’ll see. if you like movies about people and whales and shit you know what to do.



p.s. By the way Harry, I called it: THE REVOLUTION WILL NOT BE TELEVISED won best documentary at SIFF(tied with something called A GREAT WONDER).

As always, it’s a pleasure, Vern. Thanks.

“Moriarty” out.

Originally posted at Ain’t-It-Cool-News: http://www.aintitcool.com/node/15509

View the archived Ain’t-It-Cool-News Talkback

  • June 20, 2003, 9:13 a.m. CST


    by superflash68

    Since I hardly ever make comments on the talkback this is my chance to say first, and to also recoomend “Once were Warriors” your chance to see the father of “Whalerider” as a bastard child rapist! Love this site!!!

  • June 20, 2003, 9:27 a.m. CST

    Sounds like Maori Mulan.

    by Ray Garraty #47

  • June 20, 2003, 10:54 a.m. CST

    So let me get this straight: This movie ISN’T about humping fat

    by Chastain-86

    Well, never mind, then.

  • June 20, 2003, 11:06 a.m. CST

    Inane movie crowds…

    by Frying Bologna?

    Oh, ain’t it the truth! They’re like first posters on AICN who remind us they are first. Yeah, its cool you are first, but even cooler to NOT say you are first, even when everyone can clearly SEE that you are first. Plus, when you inevitably miss being first by .003 milliseconds, you don’t look like an idiot when your FIRST post is actually #4. The psychology/sociology of this site is just mind boggling sometimes… I guess the sociology of a movie theatre is pretty durn interesting as well. Feel free to use this for your Masters Thesis if you wish, just be prepared to defend it here. “Inane Movie Crowds and AICN First Posters: Ignornace, vanity or yet another sign of the apocalypse?”

    Oh, yeah, “Whale Rider” looks great, and “Once Were Warriors” was great, too. Looking forward to this one.

  • June 20, 2003, 12:11 p.m. CST

    Fry this Oscar Myer…

    by superflash68

    What’s the problem man…I read this site everyday just looking for information, just looking for material to use on my radio show, and always read the talk back and get a kick out of the first posters and even like the 2nd posters…but I have never put them down…I figure that it’s like a game that my kids play…the first to get to the van after leaving the store, first to get to the comfy couch when it’s movie night, that kind of thing. But today I came in early and saw a article about a movie that I have read about lately and was excited to see (since I find the Maori people fasinating) and even tossed a comment about seeing one of the main characters play a complete reversal of his character in another N.Z. film. And when I went back to the post later to see if anyone else had made a note on how well an actor Cliff Curtis is, I get to read about you getting your jollies by trying to impress everybody with you $10 words, tossing up “Inane”,

    “milliseconds”, “psychology/sociology”, “mind boggling” and lets not forget the ever classic “pretty durn interesting”!

    I was just excited that I was able to get on the computer early in the morning and make my comment! But I didn’t expect you! Please just let people have fun on the internet, and have fun yourself. Beacause there is always a Jesse Custer out there how might not like your tone of voice. L-A-T-E-R! (.003 milliseconds, my ass…I WAS first!)

  • June 20, 2003, 1:08 p.m. CST

    This sounds very interesting. Any release info? And superflash..

    by IAmJacksUserID


  • June 20, 2003, 3:22 p.m. CST

    It’s already playing at the 2nd street theater in Santa Monica

    by epitone

  • June 20, 2003, 3:28 p.m. CST

    SupaFlash? Quick, someone turn on the Fett-signal!

    by Frying Bologna?

    “…I figure that it’s like a game that my kids play…the first to get to the van after leaving the store, first to get to the comfy couch when it’s movie night, that kind of thing”… and isn’t the reason they play the game is because they secretly hope the other one tries to beat the living crap out of them if they actually are… FIRST! Hey, I went easy on you compared to others here (see other postings in this very thread), but you had a pretty good – and tame – comeback as well. I’ll even take the “big words” shot as a compliment. That www.thesaurus.com works really… ummm… really… good!

  • June 20, 2003, 6:17 p.m. CST

    “Keisha Castle-Hughes is the new Anna Paquin!” . . . “Whale Ride

    by truthseekr1488

  • June 20, 2003, 11:51 p.m. CST

    by raum

    Sorry to be anal about this but i just thought i’d clear something up as a proud NZer – although i’m not Maori.

    Maori origin myths have them coming from Hawaiki, not Hawaii.

  • June 20, 2003, 11:53 p.m. CST

    Review Correction

    by raum

    Oops, sorry. Forgot to put subject in.

    Sorry to be anal about this but i just thought i’d clear something up as a proud NZer – although i’m not Maori. Maori origin myths have them coming from Hawaiki, not Hawaii.

  • June 21, 2003, 5:10 a.m. CST

    is the girl in this movie the next natalie portman?

    by newc0253

    yes. yes, she is. or maybe the next jessica alba. she will do a handful of small roles in bigger pictures, then in four years or so, we will see her doing keira knightley/anna pacquin-type roles as the exotic hottie in a hollywood blockbuster. w00t.

  • June 21, 2003, 6:11 p.m. CST

    Whale Rider is stupid…….

    by ACanOfTab


  • June 22, 2003, 12:17 a.m. CST

    debut’s of NZ actresses

    by rowox

    Anna Paquin in The Piano, Melanie Lynskey in Heavenly Creatures, (Weizbicki girl with three names) in Rain and now Keisha Castle-Hughes in Whale Rider. All with little or no acting experience, all incredible performances. Must be something in the water down here, aye…

  • June 22, 2003, 12:54 p.m. CST


    by kiimo

    I thought for sure this was a Bizzaro Dune movie. “Bless the Sperm Whale and His water. Bless the coming and going of Him. May his passage cleanse the North Atlantic. May He keep the blubber for His people.”

  • June 23, 2003, 2:15 a.m. CST

    We are not from goddamn Hawaii!!!!!……

    by Speed Racer

    I’m getting a bit sick of all the Whale Rider reviewers who are obviously having trouble with the NZ accent or too ignorant too care. It’s not HAWAII, we’ve never stated we originate from HAWAII. It’s HAWAIKI pinheads. Now I know it sounds the same as Hawaii and for many Americans that seems to obviously be enough. But HAWAIKI is actually assumed to be the original name for the Cook Island which are several thousand mile from Hawaii. The fact that natives there are referred to as Cook Island Maoris kind of gives the game away too. Also last week there was a review by some chick called Moon Sung Li or something at some Hawaiian movie fest who kept referring to the area they made the movie as “Fangara”. Where the hell is Fangara?!?! “Whangaroa” maybe, but considering we don’t have the letter F in out language maybe she was thinking of the last edition of Fangoria she read.

  • June 23, 2003, 4:25 a.m. CST

    I’m sorry bud

    by Vern

    I’m very sorry that I left out ONE GOD DAMN LETTER of Hawaiki. No, actually, seriously though. I did not mean to. If you are Maori I would be interested to know what your take on this movie is as far as its treatment of Maori culture and tradition. I wonder if what we see as so delightful and what not might be a bit condescending to members of the actual culture. I have no idea, this is one issue I meant to address in the review but didn’t get around to on account of I forgot. Also I should’ve put in a couple lines like “it is really WHALE made” or “you WHALE love this movie” so I could maybe get quoted in the ads. anyway sorry again I will put an extra ‘k’ in my next review to balance it out. thanks bud.

  • June 23, 2003, 2:24 p.m. CST

    This could be a contender

    by Jaxon727

    I saw this film about a month ago at a special screening. Was going to try my hand at writing a review but never got around to it. This film was done to perfection, and I’ll be curious to see if Keisha Castle-Hughes carries on with what should be a good career. From interviews I’ve read she dosen’t seem very motivated to continue, just kind of “well if it happens great, if not no big deal”. Its this attitude that probably made her performance so real. I thought she was fantastic in her control not to over play the role. The relationship between her and her grand father was very complex. He loves her as a grand daughter but resents her for her desire to take on a males role in tribe.

    This movie is one to catch.

  • June 25, 2003, 1:36 a.m. CST

    This was NOT a good movie.

    by Munchinsonton

    It was boring, and although not predictable, didn’t make me want to try to predict it. Eberts review made want to see it, now I want to punch Ebert. There was nothing UPLIFTING about the end. Nuff said…..except that HULK SUCKED!

This entry was posted on Friday, June 20th, 2003 at 8:22 am and is filed under AICN, Drama, Family, Reviews, SIFF. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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