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‘Australia’ doesn’t awe Down Under

Will Oz auds stick with Kidman, Jackman film?

It may be the most expensive and ambitious film ever made Down Under, and it certainly received saturation media coverage, but Baz Luhrmann’s “Australia” isn’t breaking records in Oz.

Then again, how it holds will be the real test. Fox execs are hoping that, as the movie heads into its second weekend, it will have legs like Luhrmann’s 2001 “Moulin Rouge.”

“Australia” mustered a strong but not stellar A$7.8 million ($4.9 million) in its five-day opening weekend, which kicked off on Wednesday.

Fox opened the film on 643 screens, the widest-ever release on Oz, beating previous record-holder “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End” by 30 screens.

The release included a strong regional rollout — a strategy that paid off as pic proved a hit in the sticks, particularly among women lured by star Hugh Jackman. Australia provided a 40% tax rebate for the production.

“It’s definitely skewing older with a female bias, and it also is very strong in the regional centers compared to metro,” said Greater Union Cinemas manager of film Peter Cody. “The big test is this weekend. If word of mouth is strong, it should not drop much, which will go a long way to determine final numbers.”

There’s been no reports of audience hysteria but a general perception that the hype has been overdone not just by the studio but by its many media partners each running their own campaigns.

News Corp.’s national newspaper circuit built to a crescendo of daily coverage in the week of release, while Nine Network’s “A Current Affair” broadcast its entire program live from the preem’s Nov. 18 red carpet.

Ushers in suburban independent theaters told Daily Variety that their exit polls prove auds are enjoying the pic, unfazed by its 2 hour 45 minute duration and awestruck by young aboriginal newcomer Brandon Walters.

However, media reporters dispatched to cinemas for the opening weekend delightedly reported that they were half-empty rather than half-full.

“Australia” nevertheless saw the biggest opening ever for a Luhrmann film in Oz, beating “Moulin Rouge” by 200% in terms of tickets sold and “Romeo and Juliet” by 337%.

Meanwhile, Sony is riding high after “Quantum of Solace” raked in $7.5 million in Australia the previous weekend.

Sony had been forced to move the Bond pic’s opening date (and resked its publicity tour) after Fox bumped “Australia” onto the date originally set for “Quantum.”

“Comparisons with ‘Quantum of Solace’ opening weekend, or any big Hollywood franchise for that matter, while fun and juicy for the media I don’t think are realistic or terribly relevant,” said Fox Australia marketing topper Marc Wooldridge. “The audience profile for ‘Australia’ is quite different, as is the trend for Baz’s movies in the past.”

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