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Weekend Tv/reviews : Doctors, Australia And Baseball

May 23, 1987|PATRICK GOLDSTEIN

Australian film makers in recent years have obsessively chronicled the historical wonders of the Land Down Under. "Colour in the Creek," the latest offering from PBS' "Wonderworks" series (which airs in two parts, tonight and next Saturday at 7 p.m. on Channel 50 and at 8 p.m. on Channel 28), continues this cultural archeology expedition, though with mixed results.

Adapted from a pair of books by Sonia Borg, the two-hour program neatly captures the communal spirit of a family of Depression-era nomads who search for gold in the tiny country towns of the Aussie outback.

Narrated by 12-year-old Alec Fletcher (Ken Talbot), the story wanders in several directions, with the most interesting relationships developing between the young folk, who begrudgingly attend school, compare callouses, zealously avoid religious ceremonies and show an abiding fascination with a visiting biplane pilot, who takes Alec up for a brief, soaring zoom through the clouds.

After a while, you get the impression that '30s rural Australia isn't that far removed from frontier-era America. If "Colour" had a touch more cynical humor, it could easily pass for a Mark Twain coming-of-age tale, especially when it concentrates on Alec's budding friendship with Robbie, a bratty, Huck Finn-style village scamp.

Unfortunately, the film is long on endearing sentiment and woefully short on excitement. (And poor Alec's mum is given the dreary assignment of playing a fragile frontier flower--she's always weeping when the kids disappear into the woods or neglect their books). Worse still, it seems to take forever for the film makers to focus any drama on the gold-strike rivalries, which set the locals against a pair of greedy outsiders.

There are several stellar performances here; our favorite is Margot Lee as a steely schoolmarm. But "Colours" is so laid back that it plays more like a bedtime story than a colorful adventure.

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