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Australia

Romantic epic reunites Luhrmann, Kidman

20th Century Fox

Release date: Nov. 26

Although unscreened for journalists at press time due to last-minute tinkering by notorious perfectionist helmer Baz Luhrmann, his eagerly awaited “Australia” looks to be the kind of sweeping, lavishly made epic for which the Academy (as “Gone With the Wind” through “Titanic” attest) invariably has a soft spot.

Leaving behind the genre-tweaking musical form of his “Moulin Rouge” (nominated for picture in 2001) and “Romeo + Juliet,” Luhrmann chose to resurrect the landscape/love/strife extravaganza — a continent-wide one, no less — which seems wholly well-suited for this aficionado of the grand gesture and outsized emotion. His tale, set in the late 1930s and early 1940s, concerns an English aristocrat (Nicole Kidman) who embarks on a massive cattle drive with a rugged stockman (Hugh Jackman) to save her embattled Northern Territory ranch, which leads to a charged, opposites-attract romance that has the makings of “Giant” meets “Out of Africa.”

With promises of eye-popping vistas of the country’s more unforgivingly arid yet poetically vast locales, A-list passion and effects-laden WWII re-creation — courtesy of Japan’s bombing of Darwin — it’s safe to say that if the film is met with critical praise and box office, there’s nary an Oscar category this film couldn’t touch.

Back in the Luhrmann fold after “Moulin Rouge,” Kidman has a more than reasonable chance at a third actress nom, but fellow Aussie Jackman could be looking at his first Academy recognition. Another major character is an 11-year-old mixed-race child, and if it’s a powerful and popular enough performance, young Aboriginal actor Brandon Walters could get noticed as well. Technically, the trailer’s breathtaking footage is enough to consider d.p. Mandy Walker and Luhrmann’s Oscar-winning wife Catherine Martin (production design, costumes) for noms.

But again, “Australia” has to be seen first before this Down Under saga has a chance to go over the top with voters.

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