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Whalerider (2003)

Filed under: — reisneus on June 5th, 2003 11:06:18 pm

whalerider.jpgNew Zealand, present day. Amidst an ancient Maori community, a girl is born. She’s been given the name of the mythical founder of the tribe. Paikea, the Whale Rider. Her grandfather and leader of the tribe resents her bearing that name. By tradition, it should only be given to a man, to a leader. The girl, Paikea, feels she needs to fullfill the destiny of her namesake. And her acts clash with the traditions and religion of the tribe.

Director Niki Caro did a great job. Especially considering it’s her first major production. She has taken Witi Ihimaera’s book and the myth of Paikea. And transformed it into a film that works on several levels at once. A criticizing but respectful portrait of Maori culture in general and the role of women in particular. A touching story of about a girl and her family and tribe. And a ‘pretty shots’ scenery film with lot’s of amazing New Zealand in it. (always a sucker for that :) ).

The cast consists of non-actors, residents of the area. Whose performance is admirable. But actors as well. Some of which we’re really good. Rawiri Paratene starring as Paikea’s grandfather was every bit the tough patriarch with a heart of gold that he needed to be. But most convincing was Paikea herself. Eleven year old, Keisha Castle-Hughes’ is really talented. I especially liked the part where the whale rider, inevitably of course, becomes the tear jerker. Most convincing crying scene I’ve seen in a long time.

OK she cries well. What else. Like I mentioned before. Really nice pretty pictures of Hills, and water, and a Maori boat, water, whales, water, shores, water. Beats the national geographic channel.

I will not get into the social and political message. First see for yourself what you think. In general the only two negative things I could find in this movie was it’s length. Some parts don’t ‘move’. And the Disney ending. Which is mildly OK if you keep your pink spectacles on. One to see, definately.

Rated **** (out of 5)

Travis has set up a Whalerider fan-site. Check it out.
Whale-Rider Fan Site

Come check out my collection of quotes from the people involved in making, Whale Rider.
author picture reisneus (34 posts)


  • damn. I was so into seeing this while i was reading the review … and then you said “Disney ending.” What a bummer! Why does that happen?

    Comment by marisa — Fri June 6, 2003 @ 16:30
  • I was hoping that the little girl doesn’t die. if she does this movie will really piss me off. Disney ending better mean she lives. I love happy endings

    Comment by Anonymous — Tue July 8, 2003 @ 1:58
  • yeah that “Disney ending” thing isnt really doing much for me either…

    Comment by fleu — Mon July 21, 2003 @ 22:07
  • Argh so many movies so little time. Gotta see this one :))

    Comment by punkmachine — Tue July 22, 2003 @ 9:46
  • I just saw it. Not a dry eye in the house. What a wonderful film in every imaginable way.

    Comment by Erko — Sun August 10, 2003 @ 17:03
  • pretty phat, i liked it

    Comment by bott-kim wynaldi — Sat August 16, 2003 @ 23:28
  • phat

    Comment by bott-kim badolado — Sat August 16, 2003 @ 23:31
  • Does anyone know how they filmed the whales-on-the-beach scene? Were they convincing props or by some bizarre coincidence for filming, the real thing?

    Comment by Steve parker — Thu August 21, 2003 @ 16:50
  • I think, most of them are mechanical special effects. I also found an article that spills something about that.


    Comment by reisneus — Fri August 22, 2003 @ 11:37
  • i saw i loved it i think its wonderful,sometimes its nice to have a disney ending with the way the world is today,i’m tired of seeing movies that leave me depressed

    Comment by sam — Sat August 23, 2003 @ 20:23
  • loved it. some funny parts, but with this tear-jerker of a movie, yes i wanted that disney ending.

    Comment by bgs — Thu August 28, 2003 @ 8:06
  • I’m all for Disney endings. At this point my question is: What age is this appropriate for?
    I have a nine year old daughter whom I want to take to see a movie with friends for her birthday. Will this be right for her?

    Comment by Tamar — Sun September 14, 2003 @ 12:13
  • It will not be harmful for her. There’s no offensive or troubling content. I wouldn’t go see the film with kids on a birthday party. But I’d certainly let her go see it on another occasion. It’s not a happy joy film, but it’s certainly not sad per se. It’s simply a subtle film about a young girls’ feelings towards her family and culture.

    Comment by reisneus — Sun September 14, 2003 @ 16:19
  • THanks a million!! It does seem like a very good film, and both she and I thought the story sounded good.
    Since I posted my question, I found the movie is rated PG13. Do you know why? Perhaps because it is emotionally powerful?

    Comment by Tamar — Mon September 15, 2003 @ 10:55
  • Maybe. There are some scenes where the girl has ‘words’ with her father, or with her grandfather. These are realistic and can be described as emotionally powerful.
    What I’d do, as a parent. I’d accompany her. And talk about it afterwards over coffee … eh … milkshake 😉 She’s bound to have a lot to say and ask.

    Comment by reisneus — Mon September 15, 2003 @ 11:13
  • Thanks for posting Tamar, you asked my question for me! Been trying to find the rating…lol…

    My daughter is interested too, and I want to take her tomorrow! It sounds like a great movie.

    Thanks to reisneus as well for the great commentary. I can live with a disney ending if I have to :) LAUGH… It’s probably best having the kids attending and all.

    Comment by lw — Fri September 19, 2003 @ 7:19
  • I just put together a fan website with quotes from some of the people involved in making Whale Rider. I thought this might intrest some of you.

    Comment by Travis — Sun September 21, 2003 @ 23:00
  • nice stuff Travis.
    Cliff Curtis. I knew I had seen him somewhere before 😉

    Comment by reisneus — Mon September 22, 2003 @ 14:22
  • Keisha Castle-Hughes, Paikea in this film, will be in the upcoming Episode III of Star Wars.


    Comment by reisneus — Tue September 23, 2003 @ 13:33
  • Saw the film last Sunday. All I can say is it was excellent. It gave a taste of the richness of Maori culture along with the sobering thought that so much will be lost though the assimilation into the Anglo world that now surrounds it.

    Comment by mike — Thu September 25, 2003 @ 21:05
  • Have lived in Aussie 17 years,cried my heart out through most of the film.Thought I stopped being homesick years ago

    Comment by Mary — Mon September 29, 2003 @ 13:08
  • my wife and wonder if the movie is ok for our five and six year old daughter and son.

    Comment by anthony — Sat October 18, 2003 @ 18:12
  • Like I mentioned earlier. It’s not particularly targeted at young children, but it will not scare them or anything. It’s more suitable for older children and grown-ups.

    Comment by reisneus — Sat October 18, 2003 @ 20:22
  • Seen the movie 12 times! Thought the movie was well done and they couldn’t have found a better actress for Pai than Keisha Castle-Hughes. Sincerely hope this movie will get nominated for its screenplay, directing, best film, best music and that Keisha and Rawiri get nominated for best acting awards. It has been a truely inspirational film for not only myself but for alot of the students that I teach polynesian cultural heritage. It teaches a great lesson on legends, heritage, tradition and most importantly family ties web together with love

    Comment by Lisa — Fri October 31, 2003 @ 7:30
  • I love this movie. I thought it had lots of meaning to it. I even cryed! I now have a favortite movie; Whalerider

    Comment by Tabitha — Sat November 1, 2003 @ 22:00
  • Looking for some excellent family entertainment? Then take your kids to see this movie or buy the DVD (just released yesterday in the US).
    A fantastic story with some fantastic acting by the lead cast and especially by a young girl named Keisha Castle-Hughes. Remember that name ’cause she’s going to be a star!

    Lastly, the soundtrack, like icing on the cake, is delicious.

    Comment by Abdel — Thu November 6, 2003 @ 6:25
  • The whales in the movie were real…sort of. What they did was build whale forms with people inside to control the whales actions e.g.
    spouting, breathing, ect.
    When Pai rode the whale they had it rigged to a boat and they pulled it with that. Also, they built one that could dive into the water independently. What a wonderful movie.

    Comment by sarah smith — Sun November 16, 2003 @ 22:03
  • Where can I get information on Keisha Castle Hughes?

    Comment by . — Sun November 16, 2003 @ 22:06
  • I don’t what people saw in this movie. I thought it was very slow paced and boring. It was hard to stay away during the movie. I mean maybe if I lived in New Zealand I would have understood it but I hope that I never have to watch this movie again. It is not a movie for teenagers

    Comment by Anonymous — Thu December 11, 2003 @ 0:50
  • This movie sucked!!!

    Comment by Anonymous — Thu December 11, 2003 @ 0:51
  • hi guys,havent saw the movie whale rider yet,but i saw keisha castle-hughes on the tonight show with jay leno and ever since,i fell in love with her.so,i was just wondering if you have any how i can contact her.if you do,please tell me how.tnx

    Comment by axle — Sat December 13, 2003 @ 11:06
  • Where can I get/buy or see the film (I live in the Netherlands/Holland)

    Comment by Theo Leeman — Sat December 20, 2003 @ 4:29
  • I wasn’t really impressed with it. The pace was too slow and I didn’t get a good understanding of the culture. The ending sucked.

    If you want to see a powerful depiction of Maori life and its culture clash, then go see the superior “Once Were Warriors”. It is very much cruder and less Disney-like (preferably no young children) but it shows the true dualism in this culture.

    Comment by paco — Sun December 21, 2003 @ 0:52
  • I also think ‘Once were warriors’ is a powerful depiction of of modern-day Maori life. But I think you assume a lot Paco. I haven’t lived among Maori people. Have you? Sure I also tend to think that the OWW view is closer to reality. But 2 fiction films and a handful of opinions is a meagre basis for so little nuance :)

    Comment by reisneus — Mon December 29, 2003 @ 18:30
  • Well, I think you’ll agree with me that this movie is much too sweet to be realistic. If I am not mistaken -and I might well be- I think a part of the Maori society is now living a similar situation as the American Indians. These once proud people suffer under the consequences of heavy alcohol abuse, discrimination (of the former colonists) and a loss of (cultural) identity. I do see some strong similarities between these two ‘nature-people’. Someone may correct me if my assumption is wrong.

    Comment by paco — Wed December 31, 2003 @ 0:45
  • I read that Keisha is coming to LA for the Feb 29 Academy Awards. I’m willing to bet she’ll win! I am bummed out that I missed her TV appearance with Jay Leno. If anyone has a video recording of that Tonight Show, or knows in advance of another TV interview with her – please let me know. Did you know that the Whale Rider DVD has 2 ‘hidden’ (amazing) extras – her audition tapes for the Whale Rider role, and the NZ trailer!? I also just discovered keishacastlehughes.com

    Comment by Anonymous — Sun February 1, 2004 @ 1:23
  • I say the true Maori culture is somewhere in the middle of these two movies. I mean there are similarities in modern society with both of these. Maori culture is still very much alive and as strong as depicted in whale rider but then at the same time you also have families like that of Once were warriors. Many families especially those rurally all know the values of culture and are very much like the society in whale rider. I would hate to think people gatehred all their feelings about Maori people from what they viewed on Once were warriors sure that sort of thing happens but it is not only maori people that it happens to. Really we are just another minority group striving for equality.

    Comment by April — Sun February 1, 2004 @ 3:22
  • whatcha mean by “hidden”? how do you find teh extra then?

    Comment by tuss — Sat February 28, 2004 @ 19:25
  • funny… pip and I went to see this one this afternoon and we were really amazed by it…

    she even loved it even more than I did…

    Comment by arjan — Sun February 29, 2004 @ 2:14
  • A simply wonderful film which took me by suprise by how much I loved it. It’s one of my absolute favourites. I give it 9.5 out of 10.

    Comment by Pip — Mon March 1, 2004 @ 0:37
  • Keisha Castle-Hughes is actually gonna star in Star Wars Episode III as Queen of Naboo… that is a HUGE movie after Whale Rider

    Comment by Arjan — Mon March 1, 2004 @ 1:09
  • There are very few instances when one is able to witness the crowning work of a true prodigy, in the case of this film, that prodigy is keisha Castle-Hughes. Her level of overwhelming passion drives the purpose of the film, enlightening the vigilant audience and honoring the sacred essence of the individual spirit.

    Comment by Guatama — Sat March 6, 2004 @ 6:47
  • Indeed Guatama. I worry about her being lost when she starts taking on roles such as Stars Wars Episode III. She’s too good for Hollywood.

    Comment by Pip — Mon March 8, 2004 @ 0:37
  • The Force is strong with this one :)

    Comment by reisneus — Mon March 8, 2004 @ 12:19
  • Seriously. I’m convinced that she will not let herself be drawn into a life full of superficial roles.

    Comment by reisneus — Mon March 8, 2004 @ 12:30
  • im 12 years old and i can say shes my dream date righ????? anyways great movie and i got a hint goto the special features section put the highlighted thing on mainmenu and push the left arrow button……just doit…. or goto ohio.com and see for urself

    Comment by anthony cultrera — Wed April 21, 2004 @ 16:51
  • This movie was CRAP!
    I’m from New Zealand and it is THE worst movie I have seen.
    The main girl can’t act and the storyline is terrible!

    I have no idea why she was nominated for best actress! Especially for the “Stop the car!” bit in the movie which just made my jaw drop in disbeleif that the director didn’t fire her on the spot!

    I don’t know why everyone seems to like it. I’m ashamed that New Zealand spewed up a movie like this and that people enjoyed it! Maybe it’s differen’t becuase i’m surrounded by the accent etc. and can actually tell when someone couldn’t act to save their lives!

    Comment by jac — Sun May 8, 2005 @ 7:22
  • “Disney ending”? I take that to mean “an inappropriately happy ending.” But I thought that the ending of Whale Rider was absolutely appropriate. Not every happy ending is Disneyfied!

    Comment by Pearce — Tue June 7, 2005 @ 5:34
  • I loved th ebook but the movie was just fantabulous yup

    Comment by Sherrrry — Fri October 21, 2005 @ 2:50
  • I’m from new Zealand, and its a really beautiful country, the scenery is beautiful, the air is fresh and clean, there is no pollution, no nothing. If you enjoyed the movie, why not pay a visit to aotearoa?

    Comment by Bonnie — Wed November 30, 2005 @ 10:59
  • Aotearoa / New Zealand is a beatiful land, with beautiful people. I have come to terms with that fact, finally. And WhaleRider is set in THAT isolated landscape….

    Comment by Joulsey — Sat January 28, 2006 @ 10:54
  • I liked the movie, and I’m a teen. Our English teacher made us watch it for an assignment, I thought it was great…. but a bit perverted (like dicks dropping off) and all that. The guys thought it was sucky but the girls were like it’s great and our teacher was like that’s sooooo sweet (she meant the ending).
    The story line could be more intresting- the assignment was sooo boorriinngg!!! but the movie was okay…EXCEPT I HATE KORO HE’S A SEXIST!!

    Comment by Janet — Thu April 20, 2006 @ 12:48
  • do u go to elwood out teacher made us watch that shit also i needa no if u guyz think if pai is a leader or not cause itz an essay and i cant b stuffed……….GO SWANS!

    Comment by dylon — Mon June 12, 2006 @ 9:34
  • I for 1 luved that film, have seen it about 6 times and am still not sick of it, GO NZ!

    Comment by Alex — Mon August 7, 2006 @ 8:27
  • shitest movie eva

    Comment by mundooks — Tue August 22, 2006 @ 9:56
  • I think this film was amazingly filmed and everything i read the book before hand so I would understand the film. I bought the film sat down with my popcorn( and tissues after all the reviews i had read about it!) and cried in some parts were the whales are dead are they really dead or are they pretend? But my main concern was when did it end? I have watched it 6 times through and still don’t understand the ending could anyone help me?
    Add me on msn: x-o-xmegsx-o-x@hotmail.co.uk
    cheers xx

    Comment by megster — Sun December 10, 2006 @ 11:01
  • I live in New Zealand and I think a movie like this is exactly what New Zealand needed to be out there on the film market. But a movie like this definatly describes how families are within a Maori culture its a very nice movie. I think now with the publicity from LOTR being filmed here as well as The Last Samurai. New Zealand will most likely be showing better things.
    Oh by the way has anyone seen Her Majesty that is also filmed in NZ and i’m in it as an extra 😀 But I was wondering does anyone know where I can buy it from?

    Comment by Nikki — Thu January 25, 2007 @ 7:09
  • Yes, HER MAJESTY is available on DVD in New Zealand

    Check with the NZ distributor’s web site (www.arklesentertainment.com),
    but at various times I’ve seen it available from Madman.com (store.co.madman.nz — I think) and AroVideo, as well as other
    brick and mortar and online vendors.

    By the way, the extras in the movie were terrific — costumes,
    makeup, period look. You did a great job. I love that movie
    as does almost everyone I’ve spoken to who has seen it!

    Comment by Lucy Beth — Thu March 29, 2007 @ 18:06

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