Apple’s “Set to Screen” series is intended as a learning tool, but 20th Century Fox and Baz Luhrmann seem content to use it as a more respectable form of marketing for their upcoming epic, Australia. I’d bitch, but the still photographs in Luhrmann’s most recent podcast (a tutorial on set photography) make his first feature since 2001’s Moulin Rouge! look like Sergio Leone in the outback (in fact, there’s a cue that sounds like Jill’s theme from Once Upon a Time in the West). Then Nicole Kidman turns up, and you’re socked in the jaw with memories of Far and Away (“Yer a corrrrker, Shannon. What a corrrrker you arrrh.”)

But that sensation vanishes when you see the sweeping aerial shots of waterfalls, scorched desert landscapes and a sneering, bloodied Hugh Jackman in mid-wallop, at which point you’re convinced Luhrmann’s crafting a classic saga of the land down under. If you’re not paying a whit of attention to the comments of talented photographers James Fisher and Douglas Kirkland (who once shot Marilyn Monroe for Look Magazine), so be it. This is breathtaking stuff.  (And the attached photo is not one of those astounding images.)

Maybe I’m easily impressed, but I honestly wasn’t expecting this from Luhrmann.  Nearly everything he’s done has been self-referential to a fault; this looks like a real, honest man’s western. It’s just too bad Robert Bolt is still dead (when’s he gonna knock that off?). I miss literate spectacle.

Australia is currently set for wide release on November 14th.