Saturday, August 23, 2008

Movies: Don't be taken in by his evil grin.

In the interest of full-disclosure, Screamers and Screamettes, there's something I need to confess before we get to the review of Rogue, Greg Mclean's 2007 follow-up to his Dundee-ate-my-slasher-flick Wolf Creek. The confession goes like this: If you want a good review from ANTSS, then put a man-eatin' alligator or crocodile in your flick. That's all it takes.

Shameful really.

I'd like to tell you I demand innovative visuals, solid and involving story-telling, and a deft directorial hand.

But that would be a lie. Sure, I dig all that stuff. But if you want to guarantee a five-star, two thumbs up, whoopjamboreehoo wonder review, then all you need to do is put a big toothy amphibious lizard in your flick.

Why? I don't know. Why does anybody like anything? The heart wants what the heart wants.

Anyway, so publicly recognizing that I may have no critical distance on Rogue whatsoever, let's get on with the review.

Rogue represents the third flick ANTSS has reviewed from that most wonderful of croco-gator-centric film subgenres: the crocodile horror film loosely based on actual events. The first, Primeval, involved a fictional new crew's efforts to capture Gustave, a real-life giant African killer croc. The second, Black Water, was loosely based on the story of an Austrailan man who was chased up a tree by a couple of saltwater crocs. Rogue comes with its very own real world inspiration (though it is more Primeval than Black Water in its relationship to its source). Rogue was inspired by a saltwater croc named, of all things, Sweetheart. Back in the late 70s, Sweetheart, a 5-meter long beastie who weighed in at a ton and some change, got territorial about a popular fishing hole. Though crocs don't tend to attack boats, Sweetheart put the chomp on several fishing boats, actually sinking more than one. From that humble tale, the mighty beast of Rogue sprang forth.

The plot is simple. A sampler box of Euro and American tourists load on to a river tour boat. After some nicely shot nature footage and some efficient characterization, the tour group turns to head home. But before the group can get back to civilization, the group spots a signal flare and goes to in search of the distressed boat. What they find, of course, is a sunken boat and one really big freakin' crocodile. The boat is sunk, the tourists find themselves on a slowly shrinking tidal river island, and the chomp-chomp-chomp ensues.

In contrast to Wolf Creek, which exploited the gritty feel of digital to harken back to the low-fi aesthetics of '70s flicks, Rogue is shoots for high-gloss, effect heavy, big blockbuster, epic feel. This isn't another Aussie Chainsaw Massacre; this flick wants to be Oz's Jaws. Despite the new, slick packaging, some of Mclean's visual touches carry over. Most notably, Rogue is served up with a heaping side of the lyrical natural Romanticism that seems to be a sort of shared national trademark among Australian horror filmmakers. Thematically, Mclean also lightly revisits the urban versus rural man thing that was the core of Wolf Creek, though here it plays out as a series of fairly harmless bit of character development. Mclean also backs up from the gore factor. Though the body count is actually higher in this film, much of the violence is of a chomp-and-vanish nature.

The cast is willing and able; though, after some initial interaction, they're not given a whole lot to do other than play out a handful of classic crisis-film archetypes (he's the doubter, she's the crying one, he's the one who hopes to make up for past failure) and scream a lot.

Like the shark in Jaws, Mclean keeps his croc off screen for as long as he can. This is, by now, standard operating procedure for any monster-in-water flick. When the beast finally does appear, it looks fine. It is much better looking than, say, a Sci-Fi Channel original, but it still looks rather odd next to the actual crocs used in Black Water.

So, where does Rogue fall in the croc-flick spectrum? Rogue is a polished, expertly handled creature feature. Like a solid pop song, its pleasures are satisfying, if somewhat narrow in scope. I'm going to slide it under the grim and haunting Black Water, but above the uneven and politically awkward Primeval.


"A Moment for the Bloggers" is an irregularly regular feature on ANTSS where I, your humble horror host, tries to share a little nugget of wisdom about bloggin'.

Here's today's helpful hint. When you don't like a flick, don't give into to your impulse to prove you're smarter than the filmmakers by questioning the "realism" of their flick. You know what I mean: questioning how a flick's spaceships would work or whether it makes any sense that zombies would walk a certain way or whatever. This isn't because filmmakers aren't capable of committing howlingly stupid blunders. Believe me, they are. It's because the moment you do this, you inevitably say something that reveals you own ignorance. It can't be avoided. It is, like the speed of light or the coolness of Mexican wrestlers' masks, one of the constants that form the infrastructure of the universe.

Let's talk cases. While looking for images of Rogue's poster, I came across a review that hated, hated, hated Rogue. But instead of simply saying that they found the CGI croc unconvincing, they had to start ranting on about how filmmakers use crocs because they can always "fudge a meter here or there" and make their crocs unrealistically large and threatening. In fact, the beastie in Rogue measures a consistent 7.5 meters. While large – the average is about 5 meters – it isn't unheard of. It's even a whole meter smaller than the largest on record. According to National Geographic, the biggest saltwater croc ever caught was slightly more than 8.5 meters long. So, while Mr. Can't-Be-Bothered-to-Google ranted about the intellectual laziness of Mclean et al, he really just revealed that, unlike the filmmakers who labored months and months to get their flick in the can, he couldn't be bothered to do even the minimal amount of research needed to write a blog post that was free of grotesquely smug stupidity.

Take away: Be careful when disparaging the work of others. You don't want to sound like a pompous and ignorant jackass.


kindertrauma said...

I enjoyed this one too, It's perfect late night viewing. Thanks for the heads up on Black Water. I'll have to watch that next. unk

Antaeus Feldspar said...

I completely agree with your "A Moment for the Bloggers" sentiment. I'll never forget when a movie review site attempted to demonstrate how scientifically ignorant the makers of The Core by announcing that they'd ignored the most obvious side-effect of the Earth's core stopping its rotation, which was that Earth's gravity would fail.

Something failed, all right.