Dr Plonk


Directed by: Rolf de Heer
Written by:Rolf de Heer
Starring: Nigel Lunghi, Paul Blackwell, Magda Szubanski, Wayne Anthoney
Released: August 30, 2007
Grade: B+

I like seeing different types of movies and if you feel the same way, then you’ll need to catch Dr. Plonk.  It is a black and white, silent comedy in the same style as those starring Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton in the 1920s.  It’s a weird feeling to be sitting in a packed movie theatre for 90 minutes without hearing a single shred of dialogue.

The film has been written and directed by Rolf de Heer, an Australian director who seldom puts a foot wrong.  He has won two Australian Film Institute Awards for best director – for Bad Boy Bubby in 1994 and for Ten Canoes in 2006.  The only other directors to have won the prize twice are Peter Weir, Fred Schepisi, Bruce Beresford and Ray Lawrence.

The creation of Ten Canoes was a very draining experience for de Heer.  In trying to come up with ideas for his next film, he knew that he wanted to make something that was fun.  After reflecting on the silent comedies he loved watching as a youngster, de Heer came up with the idea for Dr. Plonk.  Only a director with de Heer’s reputation could have managed to obtain funding for such an audacious project.

Turning now to the film itself, Dr. Plonk (Lunghi) is an eccentric scientist living in the year 1907.  It seems that when he’s not working on a crazy invention, Dr. Plonk is abusing his lazy assistant, Paulus (Blackwell).  After scribbling an array of crazy figures and symbols on a sheet of paper, Dr. Plonk comes to the conclusion that the world will end in 2008.  He takes his information to the Prime Minister (Anthoney) but is only laughed at.

Determined to find proof, Dr. Plonk creates a time machine that can transport him into the future.  Both Dr. Plonk and Paulus then travel back and forth between 1907 and 2007 in search of answers.  As you’d expect, they get themselves in some crazy situations.

Rolf de Heer has done an amazing job in bringing this film to life.  You’ll swear that it was made back in the 1920s when you see it on screen.  The camera is kept in the same position for long periods and the characters move a little faster than normal.  The piano music that plays in the background (composed by Graham Tardif) only adds to the experience.  I felt like I should have been going home from the cinema in a horse and carriage.

The performances also deserve a mention.  As we aren’t able to hear them, the only way we can understand the actors is through their actions.  You’ll see plenty of hand-waiving and concerned-looking expressions.  It’s enjoyable to watch.

As much as I applaud the idea, the film couldn’t quite maintain my attention for the full 83 minutes.  The novelty wears off after a little while and you realise that there isn’t much to the story.  It’s more of a tribute to the great silent comedies rather than something truly original.