Episode 26: Utu (1983) – Part 2

We wrap up our discussion of Geoff Murphy’s Utu this week by taking a look at the historical incidents that inspired the film, as well as exploring the production process, and breaking down the differences between the three different cuts.

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Director and producer: Geoff Murphy
Executive producers: Don Blakeney, Kerry Robins
Screenplay: Geoff Murphy, Keith Aberdein
Director of photography: Graeme Cowley
Editor: Michael Horton
Music: John Charles

Te Wheke
…Anzac Wallace
Williamson…Bruno Lawrence
Wiremu…Wi Kuki Kaa
Lieutenant Scott…Kelly Johnson
Colonel Elliot…Tim Elliot
Matu…Merata Mita
Kura…Tania Bristowe
Vicar…Martyn Sanderson
Emily…Ilona Rodgers


  • Of the three cuts of the film, Utu Redux is the easiest to see. A special edition DVD/Blu-Ray release is available from Aro Video, and we highly recommend plumping for the Blu-Ray if you’re capable of playing it. It can also be rented in HD from NZ Film On Demand.
  • The original 1983 cut is a bit trickier to track down these days. It was released on DVD in the US by Kino with an awful muddy transfer. This release went out-of-print fairly quickly and has been known to command absurd prices on the second-hand market. The same transfer was used for a DVD released in Aus/NZ by Magna Pacific, which is the one we recommend tracking down. It’s also out-of-print, but shouldn’t be too hard to find. Keep an eye on auction sites like TradeMe.
  • The shortened international recut is trickier still. It’s never been released on DVD, so your best hope is to find a copy of the CBS/Fox Video US VHS release from 1986. Copies still turn up on eBay in varying condition. Take care that you’re buying the right version though – Kino put out the original cut on VHS in 2000 alongside their DVD release. The info on VHSCollector.com should be enough to make sure you’re getting the correct tape. And if you live in Wellington, you can bypass the hassle of tracking down old VHS tapes and watch the recut version of the film at Ngā Taonga‘s medialibrary.
  • As usual, more info about some of the various home video copies of Utu floating around can be found at the indispensable NZ Videos website.
  • For more information on Kereopa Te Rau, the Te Ara entry about him is a good place to start. As for the murder of Carl Völkner, his Te Ara entry is a good starting point as well. The Early New Zealand Books project by The University of Auckland has digitised a pamphlet produced by the Church Missionary House of London about Völkner’s murder, complete with an account of the trial. It’s obviously not an unbiased historical account, but fascinating all the same.
  • Roy Murphy’s website reproduces a couple of detailed articles he wrote for OnFilm magazine in 1984 that we didn’t get time to discuss in this episode. One covers Utu‘s US marketing and premiere and also talks about the recut. The other is a 1985 interview with his brother Geoff Murphy, which covers both the recut and Utu‘s reception in NZ. There are also articles about the production of Wild Man and Sleeping Dogs written for The Listener magazine.
  • We recorded a short discussion of Utu‘s soundtrack but couldn’t find anywhere to fit it into this episode. We’re both big fans of John Charles’ score, which is unlike any other we can think of in NZ cinema. The theme ranks up there with some of Ennio Morricone’s best work. The soundtrack release is still in print too – the limited 3-disc DVD of Utu Redux from Aro Video comes with a copy of the CD. For you whipper-snappers that prefer digital downloads, it can also be bought from iTunes.
  • Geoff Murphy wrote an interesting essay about the tax loophole years of the early ’80s and their impact on the industry for ‘Film in Aotearoa New Zealand’ edited by Jonathan Dennis and Jan Bieringa.

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