Monday, August 13, 2007

Two very different crocodile movies

My wife and I saw two very different movies last weekend. Both featured crocodiles, and crocodile attacks, but that's about where the similarity ended. You see, the first dealt with the crocodile as a villain - a creature to be feared, which wanted to kill repeatedly, with little motivation other than a desire to protect its territory. But in reality it was a classic movie monster - a creature hidden in darkness, possessing the ability to kill in nasty and unpleasant ways, and usually at the most inopportune moment. Its victims were essentially charicatures of the human condition, and the movie followed the great traditions of monster movies by setting the group up to be picked off one-by-one, some predictably, some slightly less predictably. And then there was the monster, based on reality but bowing to the conventions of the genre by being somewhat unreal, much larger than normal, considerably more aggressive and insatiable. Oh, and computer-generated. All credit due to them, the film-makers clearly went out of their way to create a believable looking crocodile. They failed of course, but they came pretty close on several occasions. So close, in fact, that it was easier to spot when they got it wrong. You see, it's the uncanny principle: the closer something gets to reality, the less real it looks because your brain just knows that it's not quite right. Every mistake is amplified, every nuance is picked over. Don't get me wrong, these guys did a remarkable job, but we just become more vicious critics the better they get at it. I was expecting to give the crocodile effects a 5/10 at best, but I had to concede to an 8/10 on the night. Probably a whole mark was down to general adrenaline, but it was much better than I expected.

If you haven't guessed by now, the movie was Rogue - the latest feature by director Greg McLean (Wolf Creek). It doesn't open until October internationally, but Darwin was treated to a real-life movie premiere as a gesture of thanks by the director to the Territory and those who worked on the film. I was impressed by that. Turns out, unsurprisingly, that Greg McLean is a top bloke, and he accepted my criticisms of his croc very graciously. I felt bad even criticising it, to be honest, because it's obviously they really tried very hard. Good job guys, but I still prefer the real ones.

The movie itself, incidentally, was actually pretty good. It's basically a creature feature horror movie, doesn't take itself too seriously, but also doesn't try to seem important simply because it's not taking itself seriously. Don't you hate that? It's a film of three very distinct acts: the introduction which is a stunning showcase for the Northern Territory, the second where things go badly wrong for our cast, the the last act where... well, let's just say we get to see a lot of that CGI crocodile being an almost crocodile. A crocsimile, if you like. Overall I enjoyed the first two acts the most, while the third provided a fun but fairly shallow resolution. However, Rogue is probably the best "creature feature" monster film I've seen since... well, since Jaws. Just don't take it too seriously, all right?

And now to the second crocodile movie: Crocodile Dreaming. This, unlike Rogue, treated the crocodile with reverence and respect. In fact, that was the whole premise behind the movie: an Aboriginal "dreaming" story about the power of the crocodile's spirit and its importance to the lives of those people who share it. It was also, at heart, a supernatural thriller bringing together two estranged brothers: the first who angered the crocodile spirit (and paid for it dearly) and the second who helped him appease and come to terms with it. To be honest, I was far more affected by this film within the first 5 minutes than throughout the entirety of Rogue - it was much more frightening for a start, mostly because it was so real. Part of this may come from the fact that real crocodiles were used instead of computer generated ones, with all the unpredictability that comes with that. I have to fess up and say that I was the crocodile wrangler for this film, but I had no artistic input whatsoever so I'm not biased about my opinions. It's only a short film, less than half an hour, but it really packs a massive emotional punch, plus it's stunningly shot and very well acted. Make sure that Rogue isn't the only crocodile movie that you see this year.