Although "The Man From Snowy River" became one of the most successful movies ever in Australian film history and was immensely popular in North America as well when it was released in 1982, it took six years before the producers could put together a sequel.
Obviously, "sequelmania" is one movie industry malady that is not running rampant in Australia like it has in Hollywood.Tom Burlinson, in Salt Lake City this week as part of a whirlwind promotional tour, explained that producer-director Geoff Burrowes was involved with several other projects in the meantime, including a major min-iseries and some other films.
"I think it took him a while to decide to make a sequel to the first one, then he decided to direct it himself, and there was a lot of script preparation coming up with a viable continuation of the first film."
("Return to Snowy River" is playing at the Villa, Trolley Corners, Trolley North and the Midvalley Cinemas.)
The film is being distributed in North America by Walt Disney Pictures, opening less than a month after it opened in Australia, where it quickly rose to the No. 1 box office position. (In the United States, the sequel placed No. 5 during its first weekend.)
But don't expect another sequel.
"I think the story's finished now," said Burlinson, in his suite at the Marriott. "There's a sense of completion about the story. Geoff says he's going to retire from show business now. I don't know if that will happen, but I doubt there'll be a `Man From Snowy River Part Three.' "
Burlinson, who was totally untrained as a horseman when he was first plucked from an audition of 2,000 young lads for the first "Snowy River" production, did much of the riding himself in both films, including the heart-stopping ride down the steep mountain near the climax of the movie.
"I didn't perform the `leap over the edge of the world,' as we used to call it, or the fall. They're done by stuntmen as they should be but almost all of the rest of the riding I did myself," he said.
He admits there were risks involved, "but . . . if the audience can see the actor playing the character that hopefully they're involved with actually on the back of the horse and doing the action riding, then it leads to more excitement and more involvement. That certainly was true in `Snowy River' and it was something I particularly wanted to continue in `Return to Snowy River' because it gives it a genuine quality."
It seems ironic that a "city born and bred" actor is known at least to North Americans for his horsemanship prowess in three major films: the two "Snowy River" projects and, in between, a film about Australia's legendary race horse, "Phar Lap."
When he was first picked for the initial "Snowy River," Burlinson said he was told he had "some natural ability (for riding horses) and there was a great challenge there. Here I was cast as this young guy who's been around horses all of his life and it's a lifestyle of which I had no knowledge. That was a great experience for me, both as an actor and a person, to mix with those mountain cattlemen who were fourth generation and were teaching me to ride. To spend time with them, to get a feeling for what they felt about their land and their heritage all of those things helped me to play Jim Craig."
In "The Man From Snowy River," the orphaned Jim Craig rides off into the sunset, leaving his young sweetheart (Jessica Harrison, played by Sigrid Thornton) behind on her overbearing father's ranch while the boy returns to the rugged high country in order to stake out a life for himself.
The sequel, which picks up the same characters three years later, gave Burlinson a chance to play a more mature version of Craig.
"It was certainly my intention to play Jim this time around with more maturity and self-assuredness. In the first one, he was the wide-eyed boy. Only in the final frames did you see the real `Man From Snowy River' emerging, whereas now, he's been away and got some experience. He now has a better idea of who he is and what he wants out of life and where he's placed in his world."
Several of the key personnel from the first film were also involved in the second. Producer-director Burrowes wanted to maintain the feeling and style of the first movie. By utilizing the same cinematographer, composer, art dirctor and much of the crew, Burrowes was able to recreate many of the same things audiences liked about the first production the romance, the scenery, the music and the action.
The two "Snowy River" films are based on an epic poem and a character created by Banjo Paterson. The poem is as well known to Australian youngsters as the heroic exploits of Paul Bunyon or Johnny Appleseed are to children in the United States.
Written some 90 years ago, the poem tells of a would-be man and bit of an upstart who happened onto the Snowy ranges of Australia's Great Divide mountains. Basically, it's the story of passage from boy to man.
Some events in the first film the riders gathered as the Craig homestead, the colts joining the wild bush horses and the "man from Snowy River" riding head-long down the hill to round up the horses himself are essentially from Paterson's poem and were used for the climax of the first film. Everything that occurred before that was imagined by the filmmakers, but when it came to filming the events of the poem itself, they stuck very close to what was described, according to Burlinson.
The actor, now in his 30s, would like to do more riding, but finds it difficult because he lives in Sydney.
"My whole experience with horses has been out in the country where they can run free or in a herd. I don't agree with putting a horse in a stable and riding it one day a week. So I don't have my ownhorse, but when I get the chance I do go into the country and ride there."
When the first "Snowy River" was being made, the producers "were looking at a broadly-based film for the Australian family market. Although the poem is well known in Australia, I don't think they expected it to end up being the most successful Australian film ever shown in the country nor for it to outgross `Star War,' `Jaws' and `Superman.' Until `E.T.' came along, it was the No. 1 box office film of all time in Australia and the No. 1 Australian-made film, until `Crocodile Dundee.' "
"We hope that with `Return to Snowy River,' more people will see it in the cinemas because it needs that wide screen and Dolby stereo sound to really get the best effect," Burlinson said.
Does Burlinson miss not going into law as he originally planned?
"No, I can't complain about the way my career has developed the past 12 years or so. I mean, as a young actor working in Australia just to get the opportunity to work on stage and on television . . . and then the fantastic career break of `The Man From Snowy River.' That's not something that one can create or anticipate, but when the opportunity comes along, you make the best of it. So much of the work I've done since then has been because of the success of `Snowy River' and it still is, so I can't complain."
Currently, Burlinson is filming "A Piece of Cake" in Great Britain. He portrays an Australian spitfire who leads a squadron of Royal Air Force fliers through the Battle of Britain. It's based on a novel by Derek Robinson an amalgamation of several real events. He'll be filming in England until the end of June and the film should be aired on PBS early next year.
Burlinson got involved in the Australian film industry just as it really took off. In the late 1960s and early '70s, the Australian government decided to provide incentives to young Aussie filmmakers in order to bolster the country's movie industry, based primarily in Sydney and Melbourne. There was a wealth of talent coming out of the country at that time such artists as Peter Weir ("Picnic at Hanging Rock") and Bruce Beresford ("Breaker Morant") and several others who American audiences now recognize.
Burlinson followed up "Snowy River" and "Phar Lap" with a filmed-in-Spain drama, "Flesh and Blood" and a low-budget romantic-comedy, "Windrider." "Flesh and Blood" was directed by Paul Veorhoven, and although it was financed by Orion Pictures, a U.S.-based company, it wasn't quite the same as filming an "American" movie.
The young actor is still waiting to join the handful of Australians who've been invited to film movies in Hollywood.
Burlinson arrived in Salt Lake City on Wednesday night from Minneapolis. Before then, he'd visited New York, Toronto (where he was born), Atlanta, Houston and Kansas City, and will make one more stop Seattle before heading back to London to complete his "A Piece of Cake" assignment.