Wake In Fright ‘intense’ 4K restoration announced by Umbrella Entertainment

From a dismal opening weekend, to the bins of a film vault, and now returning as a celebrated Australian classic, Wake in Fright continues its journey.
Wake In Fright. Image: Umbrella Entertainment

Umbrella Entertainment have announced a brand new 4K restoration of the landmark Australian New Wave film Wake in Fright.

The 1971 thriller centres on one man’s hellish experience in a fictional town in the Australian outback. Directed by Ted Kotcheff from a script based on Kenneth Cook’s 1961 novel of the same name, Wake in Fright is a unique horror film – in equal parts an ode to the outback and bloody nightmare.

Wake in Fright synopsis

‘After finishing up the school term in a remote outback town, teacher John Grant (Gary Bond) looks forward to spending his holiday with his girlfriend in Sydney. But John gets waylaid in a mining town where a gambling spree leaves him completely broke. He quickly falls in with the hard-drinking locals, who constantly ply him with alcohol and force him to participate in a gruesome kangaroo hunt. Disgusted, John tries to hitchhike out of town and, when that fails, begins to contemplate suicide.’

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A before-and-after comparison

Umbrella have released a teaser video showing what the film looked like before and after their landmark restoration process. Have a look below:

Lost in freight

It’s well known that Wake In Fright was almost lost to time after a meagre box-office performance saw the film shelved, forgotten about, and then untraceable for over three decades. In 1998, the editor of the film, Anthony Buckley AO, tracked the negatives down to a storage facility in London (a journey which proved fruitless), and then eventually in Pittsburgh, USA four years later. He found what he was looking for in a box that was labelled ‘For Destruction’.

When the film was brought back to Australia in 2003, Buckley was dismayed to see that it was only the cut-for-TV version – meaning his search was incomplete. Eventually, the full cut was fortuitously found in the garbage bin of a film vault.

Finally, in 2004, all 263 cans of the film were sent to the National Film and Sound Archive (NFSA) to be preserved. ‘The search for it was almost like a film – “The Hunt for O-Negative,” said director Ted Kotcheff. ‘The loss of the negative would have been a knife in my heart as Wake in Fright is one of my proudest achievements.’

A new life

Scanned from the original camera negative, and then colour-corrected and stabilised one shot at a time, the new Umbrella 4K restoration has apparently ‘undergone months of work’ to clean all imperfections and distortion. The work was supervised by filmmaker Mark Hartley (Not Quite Hollywood).

With over 300 shots per reel, the restoration took months of intense work before a feature-length preview was ready. The most obvious difference is the colour between the previous scan and the newly restored and coloured master. According to the Umbrella press release, the 2009 grade had a green and yellow hue that didn’t correspond with the look of the surviving release prints. The grade on this new restoration has replaced these hues with ‘a far more natural and earthy aesthetic – capturing the Australian landscape in all its sweltering, sun-soaked colour’.

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Wake In Fright is arguably one of the best Australia films of all time, and is still inspiring viewers and creatives alike 50+ years on from its creation,’ said Ari Harrison, General Manager of Umbrella Entertainment. ‘I will never forget the first time I watched Ted Kotcheff’s new wave masterpiece. I was horrified, and absolutely captivated. This is my favourite kind of film, and in 4K it’s even better.  Umbrella are so proud to play an active role in the preservation of such an iconic and valuable Australian films.’

Umbrella also wished to give special thanks to colourist Charlie Ellis and the Wake In Fright Trust.

Silvi Vann-Wall is a journalist, podcaster, and filmmaker. They joined ScreenHub as Film Content Lead in 2022. Twitter: @SilviReports