US release poster
|Directed by||Niki Caro|
|Produced by||John Barnett
|Screenplay by||Niki Caro|
|Based on||Whale Rider
by Witi Ihimaera
|Music by||Lisa Gerrard|
|Editing by||David Coulson|
|Studio||South Pacific Pictures
|Distributed by||Pandora Film (Germany)
Newmarket Films (US)
|Running time||101 minutes |
(approx. $3.5 million)
Whale Rider is a 2002 drama film directed by Niki Caro, based on the novel of the same name by Witi Ihimaera. The film stars Keisha Castle-Hughes as Kahu Paikea Apirana, a 12-year-old Maori girl who wants to become the chief of the tribe. Her grandfather Koro believes that this is a role reserved for males only.
The film was a co-production between New Zealand and Germany. It was shot on location in Whangara, the setting of the novel.
The world premiere was on 9 September 2002, at the Toronto International Film Festival. The film received critical acclaim upon its release. Castle-Hughes was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress.
The film's plot follows the story of Paikea Apirana ("Pai") [In the book, her name is Kahu, short for Kahutia Te Rangi].The leader should be the first-born grandson – a direct patrilineal descendant of Paikea, aka Kahutia Te Rangi in the book, the Whale Rider – he who rode on top of a whale from Hawaiki. However, Pai is female and technically cannot inherit the leadership.
While he does later form an affectionate bond with his granddaughter, carrying her to school every day on his bicycle, he also condemns her and blames her for conflicts happening within the tribe. At one point Paikea decides to leave with her father because her grandfather is mistreating her. However she finds that she cannot bear to leave the sea as the whale seems to be calling her back, she tells her father to turn the car back and returns home. Pai's father refuses to assume traditional leadership; instead he moves to Germany to pursue a career as an artist. Pai herself is interested in the leadership, learning traditional songs and dances, but is given little encouragement by her grandfather. Pai feels that she can become the leader, although there's no precedent for a woman to do so, and is determined to succeed.
Koro decides to form a cultural school for the village boys, hoping to find a new leader. He teaches the boys to use a taiaha (fighting stick). This is traditionally reserved for males. However, Nanny tells Pai that her second son, Pai's uncle, had won a taiaha tournament in his youth while he was still slim, so Pai secretly learns from him. She also secretly follows Koro's lessons. One of the students, Hemi, is also sympathetic towards her, but Koro is enraged when he finds out, particularly when she wins her taiaha fight against Hemi. Koro's relationship with Pai erodes further when none of the boys succeed at the traditional task of recovering the rei puta (whale tooth) that he threw into the ocean – this mission would prove one of them worthy of becoming leader. With the loss of the rei puta, Koro in despair calls out the Ancient ones, the whales. In an attempt to help, Pai from the beach also calls out to them and they hear her call.
Pai, in an attempt to bridge the rift that has formed, invites Koro to be her guest of honour at a concert of Māori chants that her school is putting on. Unknown to all, she had won an inter-school speech contest with a touching dedication to Koro and the traditions of the village. However, Koro was late, and as he was walking to the school, he notices that numerous right whales are beached near Pai's home. The entire village attempts to coax and drag them back into the water, but all efforts prove unsuccessful; even a tractor does not help because the rope breaks. Koro sees it as a sign of his failure and despairs further. He admonishes Pai against touching the largest whale because "she has done enough damage" with her presumption. Also, the largest whale traditionally belongs to the legendary Paikea. But when Koro walks away, she climbs onto the back of the largest whale and coaxes it to re-enter the ocean. The whale leads the entire pod back into the sea; Pai nearly drowns in the process. When she goes out to sea, Nanny Flowers shows Koro the whale tooth which Pai had previously recovered. When Pai is found and brought to the hospital, Koro declares her the leader and asks her forgiveness. The film ends with the village, including Pai's father, uncle, and grandparents, celebrating her status as leader, as the finished waka is hauled into the sea for its maiden voyage.
- Keisha Castle-Hughes as Paikea Apirana
- Rawiri Paratene as Koro Apirana
- Vicky Haughton as Nanny Flowers
- Cliff Curtis as Porourangi
- Grant Roa as Uncle Rawiri
The film had budget of NZ$9,235,000. It received $2.5 million from the New Zealand Film Production Fund. Additional financing came from ApolloMedia, Filmstiftung NRW, the New Zealand Film Commission and NZ On Air.
Casting director Diana Rowan visited numerous schools to find an actress to play Pai. 10,000 children were auditioned before narrowing it down to 12. Castle-Hughes impressed Caro in the resulting workshop and was cast as Pai.
The film was shot in Whangara on the East Coast of New Zealand's North Island and in Auckland. Producer John Barnett said "This novel was set in Whangara and it would almost have been heresy to shoot anywhere else. There are very physical things that are described in the book – the sweep of the bay, the island that looks like a whale, the meeting houses, the number of houses that are present and of course, the people whose legend we were telling. [...] If we'd gone somewhere else and tried to manufacture the surroundings and the ambience, then I think it would have been noticeable in the picture."
Critical reception 
The film received critical acclaim. Based on 144 reviews collected by Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an overall approval rating from critics of 90%, with an average score of 7.7 as of June 2010. By comparison, Metacritic, which assigns a normalized rating out of 100 top reviews from mainstream critics, calculated an average score of 79, based on 31 reviews.
Margaret Pomeranz and David Stratton of The Movie Show both gave the film four out of five stars. Pomeranz said "Niki Caro has directed this uplifting story with great sensitivity, eliciting affecting performances from a sterling cast, and a wonderful one from newcomer Keisha Castle- Hughes." Roger Ebert gave the film four out of four stars and said, "The genius of the movie is the way it sidesteps all of the obvious cliches of the underlying story and makes itself fresh, observant, tough and genuinely moving." He said of Castle-Hughes: "This is a movie star."  The Los Angeles Times's Kenneth Turan praised Caro for her "willingness to let this story tell itself in its own time and the ability to create emotion that is intense without being cloying or dishonest." Claudia Puig of USA Today gave the film three-and-a-half out of four stars and praised Castle-Hughes' acting, saying "so effectively does she convey her pained confusion through subtle vocal cues, tentative stance and expressive dark eyes."
The film won a number of international film-festival awards, including:
- the Toronto International Film Festival's AGF Peoples Choice award in September 2002
- the World Cinema Audience award at the January 2003 Sundance Film Festival in the United States
- the Canal Plus Award at the January 2003 Rotterdam Film Festival.
- Best Actress (Keisha Castle-Hughes, lost to Charlize Theron for Monster)
- Most Promising Filmmaker (Niki Caro, lost to Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini for American Splendor)
- Most Promising Performer (Keisha Castle-Hughes, winner)
- Best Actress (Keisha Castle-Hughes, lost to Queen Latifah for Bringing Down the House)
- Best Film (lost to The Fighting Temptations)
- Best Foreign Film (winner)
- Best Film
- Best Director (Niki Caro)
- Best Actress (Keisha Castle-Hughes)
- Best Supporting Actor (Cliff Curtis)
- Best Supporting Actress (Vicky Haughton)
- Best Juvenile Performer (Mana Taumanu)
- Best Screenplay (Niki Caro)
- Best Original Score (Lisa Gerrard)
- Best Costume Design (Kirsty Cameron)
- Best Art Direction (lost to The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King)
- Best Director (Niki Caro, lost to Jim Sheridan for In America)
- Best Film – Drama (lost to In America)
- Best Screenplay – Adapted (Niki Caro, lost to Brian Helgeland for Mystic River)
- "WHALE RIDER (PG)". British Board of Film Classification. 20 February 2003. Retrieved 15 January 2012.
- "Film Fund 1 Interim Report" (Press release). New Zealand Film Commission. 18 May 2009. Archived from the original on 5 July 2010. Retrieved 5 July 2010.
- Whale Rider at Box Office Mojo
- "Whale Rider To Debut In Toronto" (Press release). South Pacific Pictures. 5 July 2010. Archived from the original on 5 July 2010. Retrieved 5 July 2010.
- "Production notes" (Press release). South Pacific Pictures. Archived from the original on 5 July 2010. Retrieved 5 July 2010.
- "Technicals" (Press release). South Pacific Pictures. Archived from the original on 5 July 2010. Retrieved 5 July 2010.
- "Notes about the location" (Press release). South Pacific Pictures. Archived from the original on 5 July 2010. Retrieved 5 July 2010.
- Glasshammer visual effects production photos, retrieved 23 January 2012
- "Whale Rider (2003)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 6 June 2012.
- "Whale Rider reviews". Metacritic. Retrieved 4 July 2010.
- Pomeranz, Margaret; Stratton, David (2003). "Review: Whale Rider". The Movie Show (Special Broadcasting Service). Archived from the original on 11 April 2004. Retrieved 5 July 2010.
- Ebert, Roger (20 June 2003). "Whale Rider review". Chicago Sun-Times. Archived from the original on 5 July 2010. Retrieved 5 July 2010.
- Turan, Kenneth (6 June 2003). "'Whale Rider' movie review". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on 5 July 2010. Retrieved 5 July 2010.
- Puig, Claudia (6 June 2010). "Haunting 'Whale Rider' revisits a timeless legend". USA Today. Archived from the original on 4 July 2010. Retrieved 4 July 2010.
|Wikiquote has a collection of quotations related to: Whale Rider|
- Official website
- Whale Rider at the Internet Movie Database
- Whale Rider at AllRovi
- Whale Rider at Box Office Mojo
- Whale Rider at Rotten Tomatoes
- Whale Rider at Metacritic