Film review: SATELLITE BOY, from Built For Speed

Satellite Boy, the debut cinematic feature for writer/ director Catriona McKenzie, is an amiable, well-meaning but dramatically flat story of an aboriginal youth’s journey of self-discovery.

Newcomer, Cameron Wallaby plays Pete, a 10-year-old boy who lives on a remote and dilapidated drive-in site in the Western Australian desert. As his mother (Rohanna Angus) is away in the city trying to forge a career, Pete has been left in the care Of his grandfather Jagamarra (David Gulpilil). Tired of his grandad’s dreamtime stories and traditional teachings, Pete dreams of helping his mother open a restaurant on the drive-in site. When a mining company unexpectedly announce that they have acquired the site, Pete and his friend Kalmain (Joseph Pedley) decide to travel to town in the hope they can dissuade the mining company from taking the land. When the two youngsters’ journey goes off course and they find themselves trekking through the bush, Pete begins to see the value of his grandpa’s survival teachings and his respect for the land.

Many Australian films have explored the relationship between people and the nation’s rugged landscape. Perhaps the best of these was Nic Roeg’s 1970 masterpiece Walkabout, which captured the harshness and beauty of the Australian desert while suffusing it with sexual tension.  Satellite Boy is far more prosaic than Walkabout and occasionally looks like a telemovie but it does feature some stunning shots of the outback including ominous wave rocks and endless parched plains.

The film suffers from the same problem that has plagued a number of recent movies, namely a thin storyline that makes it feel as if we are watching a short film padded out to feature length.  Apart from one threatening incident, Pete and Kalmain’s journey isn’t particularly eventful or exciting and often plays like a pedestrian episode of a Bear Grylls TV show or the Bush Tucker Man.

As Pete, Cameron Wallaby has a natural ease in front of the camera and makes a very likeable young lead but he isn’t quite ready to carry a film yet.  By contrast, the iconic David Gulpilil can certainly carry a film and this movie would have benefitted from him having a larger role; despite being absent too often in this film, he still manages to leave an indelible impression.

In the end, Satellite Boy is a likeable and an engaging tale with a positive message but hardly a riveting film.


Nick’s rating: Three stars.

Classification: PG.

Director(s): Catriona McKenzie.

Release date: 20th June 2013.

Running time:  90 mins.


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