Dr Plonk (2007)
By: Captain Red Eye on January 15, 2010  | 
Madman (Australia). Region 4, PAL. 4:3. English DD 2.0. 81 minutes
The Movie
Cover Art
Director: Rolf de Heer
Starring: Nigel Lunghi, Paul Blackwell, Magda Szubanski, Wayne Anthoney
Screenplay: Rolf de Heer
Country: Australia
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Inimitable Aussie auteur Rolf de Heer has been plying his craft for well over two decades now, producing a body of work remarkable for its thematic dexterity and scope of execution. From 1993's confronting and unforgettable Bad Boy Bubby to the multi Award-winning Ten Canoes, de Heer has shown himself to be a filmmaker of rare integrity and insight.

One of his lesser-known efforts is 2007s Dr Plonk, an energetic and endlessly irreverent homage to the silent film era. Set in 1907, the film stars heretofore unknown street performer Nigel Lunghi as the eponymous scientist and inventor whose calculations irrefutably demonstrate that the world is doomed to end in 101 years. With the 'assistance' of rotund Mrs Plonk (Magda Szubanski), his bumbling deaf-mute assistant Paulus (Paul Blackwell) and Tiberius the dog, the good Doctor must travel into the future in his ramshackle time machine to warn the powers that be of the impending disaster. But is the future ready for Dr Plonk? And is there any guarantee he'll even be able to make it home again?

The genesis of the film came, according to de Heer, from his discovering a cache of excess film stock lying around in an old refrigerator. Not wanting to waste decent (if somewhat aged) celluloid, the director conjured a story that would suit the vintage look of the supply, surely making Dr Plonk one of the few films to have been primarily motivated, at least initially, by a desire to use up a reserve of old film. The casting of the production was also somewhat unorthodox, with Lunghi being approached by the director whilst busking in Adelaide's Rundle Mall, Blackwell suggested by a producer and Blackwell's hilariously animated Jack Russell Reg nabbing the plumb role of Tiberius on the basis of his single-minded obsession with anything spherical. If these beginnings sound somewhat inauspicious, rest assured that under the steady and practised hand of de Heer it all comes together beautifully.

There's plenty of slapstick, with the gormless Paulus in particular needing numerous kicks up the backside in order to spur him into action, though the film is by no means a tiresome succession of pratfalls and comedic chase sequences. There's substance too, and some real laughs- the contrast between Plonk's steampunk aesthetic and the television-obsessed modern age is mined to wonderful effect, and try as he might he has a hell of a time convincing the folk of 2008 he isn't insane, let alone that the demise of humanity is imminent. The film also contains wry references to present-day concerns such as the increased power of governments and threat of terrorism, much to the chagrin of Dr Plonk, who must do everything in his power to evade the thoroughly unappreciative law enforcement agents of a future that seems, on the surface, decidedly hostile.
With its square framing, bordered title cards and reliance on physical comedy, Dr Plonk neatly recreates both the look and feel of silent classics such as The General and Keystone Kops whilst maintaining its own stylistic vision. Shot on a hand-cranked camera and utilising the odd bit of modern trickery to good effect, the film is an affectionate, convincing and well-realised tribute to the comedy stylings of the 1910s and 20s.
Graham Tardif's period score, alternately frenetic and melodic, sounds fine in 2.0 and is clean and crisp throughout.
Extra Features
An hour of excellent bonus content is on offer, including a 20-minute 'Making Of' which features interviews with the director and three principle cast members, a 'Juggling Dr Plonk' interview in which Lunghi keeps no less than five oranges airborne whilst telling the story of how he came to be involved in the production, featurettes on the cinematography, score and the ever-energetic Reg, trailers and a 15-page Media Study Guide.
The Verdict
Movie Score
Disc Score
Overall Score
Featuring some impressive physicality and deft timing from its three leads, Dr Plonk is a captivating homage to a bygone cinematic age in which de Heer once again demonstrates the talents that have made him one of the most unique and unconventional filmmakers of his generation. Intelligent, funny and thought-provoking cinema at its finest.

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