It’s time for the second installment in what I swear to Tabaldak is going to be a weekly series of articles about man-eating crocodile movies, no matter how unenthusiastic the reader response!
This week’s picture: Primeval (2007)
Very loosely based on the true story of Gustave, a huge killer crocodile still living (oops, spoiler) in Burundi, this film also packs a dopey, facile “political” message, inspiring the Onion’s AV Club to call it “the Blood Diamond of 25-foot-killer-crocodile movies”…
The posters and trailer for Primeval were deliberately misleading, selling it as a movie about “the most terrifying serial killer in history,” and “the most prolific serial killer in history.” And OK, I guess you can call an animal a “serial killer,” if it’s a habitual man-eater (and you’re more interested in being cute than being clear). And obviously someone at Hollywood Pictures thought it was a clever ploy. But why? Maybe they thought they’d trick all those serial killer buffs out there into seeing their crocodile movie?
Two things about that strategy: First, I admit I may overestimate the appeal of killer crocodile pictures because I personally love them so much. But if I was a studio executive, and I had a giant crocodile movie on my hands, I would sure want audiences to know about it. Heck, I’m a dedicated giant crocodile moviegoer, and I could easily have missed this one!
Second, if there’s a demographic group I wouldn’t want annoyed at me, it’s serial killer buffs.
The three main characters are television journalists played by a guy from “Prison Break,” a woman from “Melrose Place,” and the 7-Up guy from “MADtv.” Watching Primeval, you will feel nothing but contempt for this whole gang of unsympathetic idiots.
Try not to roll your eyes as they quibble amongst each other about their roles as journalists, which demand a certain objectivity, or wait, maybe they have a responsibility to personally intervene to try to make a difference when they see wrongdoing, or some such crap.
Real, seasoned professionals would have had all this stuff hashed out for them back when they took their first jobs at their hometown newspapers; these schmucks sound like undeclared underclassmen who are only now thinking for the first time about majoring in journalism. It’s sooo tedious, and you desperately wish a monster croc would just attack them already and make them shut up, which, fortunately, happens.
Incidentally, aren’t giant crocodile movies great this way? By contrast, in, say, Waking Life, no crocodile attack ever comes, so the idiotic conversations are free to just sputter along for what seems like 12 or 14 hours.
Wildlife expert Matt Collins butts heads with the party’s bush guide Jacob Krieg, who turns out to have a completely different set of sportsmanly ethics. Ha-hah, more dumb intramural conflict! Jürgen Prochnow plays Krieg. He’s like the German Michael Caine, constitutionally incapable of turning down a role, so while his resume boasts some “serious” flicks like Das Boot and The English Patient, he can also be seen slumming in pictures like Beerfest (and, yeah, Primeval) on the regular.
For a CGI movie monster, Gustave looks reasonably OK. His fat battleship shape and the gnarled texture of his hide are reminiscent of the biggest croc I’ve ever seen in real life: “Crocasaurus,” at Jungle Island in Miami, supposedly the world’s largest in captivity. Maybe the visual effects team visited the same theme park as part of their research process.
The less this fat beast has to move, though, the better. These shots of a gallopin’ Gustave chasing his quarry across the marshlands might be the worst he looks in the whole movie. Besides, it doesn’t make sense that a gigantic predator would expend this kind of energy trying to run down a snack as meager as 7-Up guy. Crocodile monster movie directors should probably just try harder to keep their killer creatures in the water, because this careening terrestrial chase just looks silly.
Oh, there’s also some business with a GPS locator that beeps with a variable frequency depending on its proximity to a transmitter dart lodged in Gustave. As our heroes are trepidatiously wading around the rainy marsh by night, the beeping gets faster and faster, and it’s impossible not to think of that clock that scared Captain Hook.
Primeval casts Gustave’s killing spree as a case of natural predation gone awry in the context of human-on-human violence, as it turns out that maybe he first got his taste for manmeat by feeding on the casualties of Burundi’s civil war, so when you think about it that way, maybe the real monster is actually us. Pretty deep, right? (Deep something, anyway.)
Who cares, though? It’s not like I rented Primeval as my second choice after discovering the library had lent out its last copy of We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed with Our Families. I’m watching this flick because I want to see some people get et. The human-on-human violence is a whole lot less fun.
One scene stands out: Some thugs are after the main characters on behalf of a local warlord, and one of the them breaks out a rocket launcher. That’s right, he uses some kind of RPG thing—to shoot at four people running away on foot. I suppose a director’s entitled to an on-screen explosion or two, but I couldn’t help wondering how much it would cost a back-country militia just to fire this thing once. They’re going to lose their civil war if they go around wasting armaments like that.
People like to criticize Hollywood for relying on the same old formulaic dreck and never trying any new ideas. Well, here’s a new idea: Bake up a tasty monster crocodile movie pie, but sneak in a wholesome, healthy filling of moral outrage over bloodshed in Africa!
Yeah, but the thing is that some new ideas are super dumb. Still, it’s always a treat to get to see a killer crocodile movie with reasonably high production values. I give Primeval one and one half ‘gator grunts out of a possible five.