Simon Wincer

Simon Wincer

A very skillful member of the second tier of accomplishment among the talents comprising the Australian New Wave of the 1970s and 80s, Wincer was, like many of his colleagues, beckoned by Hollywood. The results have, in general, been lighter, jokier fare; Wincer's craftsmanship has clearly thrived amid Hollywood's sumptuous production expertise, even if his work has not duplicated the handful of more provocative moments in his Australian work. His first US film was the forgettable comedy "D.A.R.Y.L." (1985), and he did no better with the silly concept driving "Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man" (1991). Hollywood has used him several times for Australian-based stories, but the material of "Quigley Down Under" (1990) and "Lightning Jack" (1994) was decidedly less substantial than his one return home for the intriguing historical war drama "The Lighthorsemen" (1989). Wincer's most popular US-made film marked another return for him, as the likable if derivative "boy and his whale" tale "Free Willy" (1993) recalled the tone and mass appeal of "Phar Lap." He later brought his craftsmanlike assurance to his most lavish film yet, "The Phantom" (1996), joining the list of US films based on comic strips.Wincer has scored some of his biggest successes in the US on TV. His first TV-movie, "The Girl Who Spelled Freedom" (ABC, 1986), was another of the inspirational sagas he has been occasionally drawn to, but his rendering of a young Cambodian refugee who becomes a spelling champ had a quiet heartwarming intimacy. His miniseries, meanwhile, have given him reign to indulge his considerable talent for figure and camera movement amid sweeping landscapes. "The Last Frontier" (CBS, 1986), made with an almost entirely Australian cast, was a gritty tale of property feuds and harsh environs. Wincer did even better with "Lonesome Dove" (CBS, 1989), winning an Emmy for one of the most acclaimed miniseries of the 1980s, a maturely and often poetically handled adaptation of Larry McMurtry's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel of a post-Civil War cattle drive.