Some people are just plain nuts. Take the current crop of MTV weenies known as the gang from Jackass, who are willing to cram anything and everything up their butt crack for the sake of a joke (or a trip to the proctologist). Or what about those reality show media whores, ready to sell their dignity and ethics for .15 minutes of fame and the chance to be exposed in all their unnatural, vile hedonistic glory. Politicians and pundits are equally deranged, manufacturing enemies and agendas for the sake of power and ratings points to maintain their struggling to stay above the bottom line cable stations. But none of these batshit brainpans can hold a cerebral hemorrhage to Steve Irwin, also known as the Crocodile Hunter, also known as the guy who can't leave dangerous critters well enough alone. On his lunatic Discovery/Animal Planet Channel show, this altered consciousness Aussie struggles to stay alive as he thrusts his corpuscles into the waiting jaws and claws of various omnivores, all looking for a little evolutionary payback. So successful is this deranged dingo dodger with a death wish that he is now given a chance to star in his first Hollywood feature film, The Crocodile Hunter: Collision Course. And as they would say Downunder, it's a fair dinkum bottler.
Facts of the Case
A satellite containing top secret US military and covert information self-destructs while in orbit and the all-important black box crashes into the Australian outback, and plops directly into the mouth of a huge crocodile. Competing American intelligence agencies want this object and they each field teams to head down under to recover it. As luck would have it, the oversized amphibian is terrorizing the cattle of the equally bovine Brozzie Drewitt, who wants to pump the pesky cow poacher full of Queensland lead. But there are strict laws against doing a drive-by on a modern dinosaur, so the local wildlife marshal seeks the aid of experts to help relocate the randy, radar swallowing swamp rat.
So, there's a cranky croc, in your neighborhood. Who ya gonna call? STEVE IRWIN! That's right, the Discovery/Animal Planet Channel star is out among the bush babies filming his next great reptile wrangling adventure when he's asked to move his date and shift this sly steak slayer. And he runs directly into the government agents (posing as geologists…sort of) who he mistakes for rustlers. They want the shiny metal orb out of the 'dile's diaphragm. Steve just wants to resettle this scaly scoundrel before it can partake of more swim-through Brozzie burgers. TV show meets high tech tension when the two sides wage a land, sea, and air campaign to procure the vital spy stuff before Irwin says "WOOO!" one more time.
Once there was a time when the nature film could get away with just presenting pretty images of the great outdoors and those things that dwelled therein. There was no need for a story arch, special effects, or chase sequences. True, your run of the jungle cinematic lion or pre-Adidas cheetah would stalk and race after a gazelle, finally bringing it down with a stomp and a chomp, but no attempt was made to jazz up the circle of life with pyrotechnics to interest an attention deficient audience. Forty years ago, all Uncle Walt and his dizzy Disney denizens had to do was show a cactus in the sunset or a desert rodent munching on a sidewinder and Oscar shimmied up to the podium and practically begged for acceptance. But it wasn't long before a Dr. Doolittle approach of talking and squawking and squeaking with (and by) the animals was devised, if only to teach the tiny tots that wallabies and three toed sloths were human (?) too. Again, the soon to consume the world workers over at the House of Mouse made natural world wonders in which dogs and cats struggled for interspecies tolerance while traveling cross country on three handfuls of kibbles a day. Cougars named Charlie experienced depressing disassociation issues and sea lions saved small seaside communities from crooked corporate takeovers. Unless you had a little plot to help polish the presentation of the Good Earth, forget about finding an audience willing to watch.
Enter television, and shows like Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom. This new breed of animal antic understood that there wasn't an Othello waiting inside each ocelot. They decided to up the grue factor and show the food chain in all its bone cleaning and marrow munching brutality. If a herd of wildebeests or a murder of crows was hanging around, you'd be sure to find a complimentary carnivore surrounding the potential pot luck like Ted Bundy near a sorority house. The fight for survival as wilderness serial killing became a fuel efficient way of managing the bloodlust pouring from adolescents who were more than satisfied to watch a hippo have its heart devoured than envision themselves dying for their country. Just when it seemed like every depiction of the animal as antagonist would result in a torrent of gamy forcemeat squirting from between massive eye teeth, PETA and other ethical squirrel huggers came along and demanded a retraction and a discretionary warning label. Nature was not longer mean and nasty, it was merely misunderstood. And heaven forbid the wee ones learn that Simba and the rest of his feline followers ate other animals for dinner. Better to have them envision the King's lion family feasting on soy burritos and singing Elton John penned pop tones.
Soon, a weird amalgamation of man as misguided beast buster took shape. Since you couldn't hurt the rancorous critters any more or have them harming other less self-confident members of the planetary pecking order, why not throw your own human jugular into harm's, and rhino horns, way. While there were, and still are, many pretenders to the throne of erroneous elephant manipulators, no one is crazier or more committed than Australian Steve Irwin. Now, Steve seems like a nice enough guy. Rugged with kind of a goofy, lost in his own world weariness about his silly putty mug, he gives off the aura of actually enjoying what he does a little too much. Steve loves to wrestle crocodiles, fondle snakes, share a Fosters with a fruit bat, and play fly to a parlor dwelling spider. His hugely popular show, The Crocodile Hunter is a consistent ratings winner for the Discovery Channel and its sister station Animal Planet. And why shouldn't it be? Where else would you see a grown man straddle an incredibly pissed off reptile, its mouth snapping with flesh encrusted razor sharp molars glinting just inches away from his life lines, and swear he was doing it to HELP the beast. His deranged dare devilishness has earned him a wealth of fans (and just plain wealth!) and now, the opportunity to kick Paul Hogan in his Hollywood daks.
The Crocodile Hunter: Collision Course knows that it's a farce. It never strays from what makes Irwin's small screen enterprises so unrealistically entertaining. In between the high tech treachery and outback slapstick, there's Steve and his ever-patient wife/assistant Terri leaping onto lizards and stroking serpents, all in the name of habitat reassignment and scientific experimentation. The fact that the writers could fashion a fairly inventive action flick around this mostly mental mongoose handler is amazing. The fact that it's entertaining is even more so. Irwin is not required to act. He doesn't have long, turgid soliloquies about Sheilas and Sandgropers. He and the wife don't exchange witty and/or romantic bon mots while sipping cider near a babbling barbie. Heck, even when he runs across a road kill marsupial, he is more concerned about the poor creatures who would play carcass cleaners, and matter of factly tosses Roo's mother into the off shoulder underbrush without so much as a dramatic, teary eyed farewell. Throughout the entire film, he maintains his hyperactive, ain't this a stoking screamer wide eyed combination of adventurer, mad explorer, rescuer, and information kiosk and you can't help but be won over by his passion and childlike charm.
The rest of the cast, like the fictional film they inhabit, are rather non-descript, merely moving through the movie motions with professionalism and determination. Magda Szubanski (Babe) stands out as a bush dwelling Yosemite Sam (call her Ayers Rock Broz) ready to show any rascally varmint the business end of her boomstick. And towards the end, we could not really care less if Uncle Sam and his undercover bunglers end up with the orb or not. What will intrigue and amuse you is just how friggin' crazy Irwin is. There is no question that the man is certifiable. Here is a human who sees absolutely no problem with wading into croc infested waters, because getting his ankles wet is the least of his intentions. He wants to merge with the beasts, become one with their infinite majesty and limb bisecting jawbones. If it's poisonous, deadly, or even the least bit precarious, Irwin is on it like guano on a bat cave floor. He doesn't really have a death wish, since he actively taunts the grim reaper. Call it more of a death truce. The black angel knows he's gonna get him one day, it's just that he and Irwin haven't mutually negotiated all the concessions. This neck risking for the sake of a camera shot makes The Crocodile Hunter: Collision Course a disquieting movie experience. You don't want to see Irwin or his wife get hurt, and yet they flaunt mortal injury at every scene change, all for your approval.
The Crocodile Hunter: Collision Course is educational, exasperating edge of your couch seat fun. You'll marvel at the beautiful Australian scenery. You'll cringe as Steve snuggles up to a deadly spider called a "birdkiller" (lovely) and you'll giggle in self-realizing amusement as the thriller plot kids itself and the audience with insider jocularity. One sequence in particular, where the CIA links the environmentalist Irwins to several major world espionage cases, coinciding with actual seasons and shows from the couple's real life television series, is hilarious. Still, for all its innocent fun and well-intentioned preaching, the movie is just a little dreary. Since Irwin barely interacts with the remaining cast, you get a strange separation sensation, like you're viewing two different films about to broadside each other. But they never really do. Part of the problem is the use of shifting aspect ratios. The movie is a standard widescreen 2.35:1. But whenever Steve and his wife appear on camera, we shift into "doco-cam" (as Irwin calls it) or documentary style, with a smaller, square image. This is obviously being used to simulate a full screen television framing, but its weirdly disorienting. This cinematic schizophrenia continually occurs in the movie, and keeps The Crocodile Hunter: Collision Course from gelling as a cohesive whole. But the wit and wildlife more than make up for any artistic or continuity flaws.
MGM can be credited for a great deal of truth in advertising when they call The Crocodile Hunter: Collision Course a special edition. This is one bonzer dinky-di. Along with a spectacular, crystal clear anamorphic widescreen image (sort of, more on this in a moment) you get a bevy of extras and tons of interactive features. As for that weird transfer, as stated before the picture does switch between genuine widescreen and the side letterboxing doco-cam. Those with a home theater set up be forewarned. While it looks great, the appearance and disappearance of those pesky sidebars can grow annoying. Aurally, we get an excellent Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack that makes excellent use of all the channels to suggest motion or underlying dangers. While there is no commentary track offered, there is a pop-up video style Croc Fact option which allows you to watch the movie with cartoon balloons filled with information appearing the screen every two or three seconds, literally. In some ways it's better than a self-congratulating filmmaker's narrative because the offered material can focus directly on what's happening on the screen. While a little too grade school ("the first dry cell battery was created in…") or arcane at times, it does offer a great deal of detail about the film and life in the Australian outback.
As do the multiple behind the scenes documentaries and featurettes. Over ninety minutes of backstage material shows just how realistic and non-special effects oriented the production was. There is no CGI or camera trickery used when Irwin interacts with these deadly, dangerous animals. While he may be in a controlled setting, it's his extremities, and his ass, on the line. And even though one of the sequences discusses the effects used to achieve certain shots, it has nothing to do with the cantankerous critters and everything to do with action oriented explosions and chases. Some deleted footage is presented by director John Staiton, who explains just how the preview process shaped the production. None of the edited footage is vital, or very interesting. Those with a weak stomach or delicate sensibilities may want to avoid one particular extra feature on the disc. No, it's not the sequence where Steve wrestles the 15-foot crocodile. It's the abhorrent video by those talentless tunesmiths the Baha Men. Too bad someone doesn't let the dogs out…to crap all over these miserable musicians as they bastardize Sir Elton's classic "Crocodile Rock." (We are even treated to an ad for their mostly music soundtrack compilation CD atrocity) Finally, there are some games and galleries that, while mildly amusing, will definitely test your patience and DVD remote skills.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
The Crocodile Hunter: Collision Course is nothing more than an all dressed up and no place to go episode of Irwin's award winning television show blown up for the big screen, with added Hollywood blockbuster bloat throw in to wear down any potential charisma or magic. The producers and director Stainton would have been better just making a best of compilation clip fest and had it super-sized to fill the big screen. After all, the CIA/FBI/BFD material is all wrong, being neither engaging or realistic. Irwin's outback animal battles only confirm that the men threatening him are mere actors, while Steve is more than happy to battle the badass beasties and come back for more. Not that Irwin interacts for more than three and a half seconds with any of the other cast members aside from his ever faithful and fearless wife. Stainton has helmed Irwin's cable exploits for years, and he understands the inherent drama and suspense in diddling with deadly snakes and toothy reptiles. But to constantly throw the conspiracy theory trash at an audience who only wants to see more of Irwin taunting Tasmanian devils means that The Crocodile Hunter: Collision Course will have too little Steve and Terri for fans, too little action for the die hard testosterone addict.
Just call Steve Irwin the last inadvertent action hero. Here is a guy just doing his job, which happens to be wrestling with the majority of the world's wildlife, and living to tell about it. The work he does for preservation and rehabilitation of misunderstood members of the Australian animal population is commendable, even noble. But the guy is just completely unsane! No normal, full witted individual would be caught within the same area code as some of the angry aggressive monsters that Steve climbs aboard for breakfast. But maybe it's all right that he is as beyond the Black Stump when it comes to mental stability and rational common sense. Where else in this whole wide world would you find another human being willing to place his life and livelihood on the line for his fellow cold blooded nature neighbors. His passion for the planet is unquestioned. It's his method that causes concerns for raging interpersonal madness. The Crocodile Hunter: Collision Course is an entertaining, lightweight starring vehicle for this Australian activist. While not always cohesive or compelling, Irwin's exploits in and around the dangers of the outback will make for unsettling, suspense filled fun. But understand this. The guy is, without a doubt completely and totally nuts. But in a good way.
Steve Irwin and his wife Terri are acquitted of all charges by the court. The Crocodile Hunter: Collision Course is found not guilty of being a total disaster, but is placed on six months probation for the lesser/included charge of being a bi-polar, never successfully coalescing movie.
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