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The Crocodile Hunter: Collision Course

(John Stainton, Australia, 2002)


 


What is the best way to introduce a television star into his first feature film? The safe, reassuring path is to let this star does exactly what he does on the box.

So this is how The Crocodile Hunter: Collision Course begins, with Steve Irwin (an Australian who struck it big in America) pouncing on a lizard, mugging furiously into the camera and yelling "crikey!" with monotonous regularity.

Thirty minutes pass, and the viewer wonders if this introduction to Steve and his standard TV antics will ever end. He catches a snake, a spider, another snake. He describes deadly creatures as "beautiful sheilas" and extols the mateship he shares with his old dog, while ordering his wife Terri to get out of the way and let him do all the front-and-centre heroics.

Sixty minutes pass. The collision course in the title refers to three plot threads, but their collision is an awfully long time coming. Steve's meandering is intercut with an elaborate piece of action-adventure-espionage fluff concerning a fragment of satellite technology swallowed by a crocodile, as well as the tale of a crusty, histrionic rancher (Magda Szubanski) who fights with a gentle, local cop (David Wenham) over the right to protect her land.

This is a very odd big-screen vehicle for Irwin. He doesn't stretch himself or extend his TV persona in any way. (And his usual TV director, John Stainton, is also along for the easy ride.) He doesn't interact with the rest of the cast. In one of the very few moments when his actions bear upon the central storyline, the film inadvertently suggests that he is not above casually murdering any 'poachers' who stand in the way of his righteous, environmental cause. (Irresistible PS: In the year following this movie, Irwin disgraced himself in an incident where he appeared to dangle his own small child in front of dangerous animals.)

Of course, nothing serious is intended by this movie. Since the large pieces of plot that surround Steve are so completely bereft of wit or intrigue, the star's schtick is the only spectacle going. And there is no denying that Irwin's reserves of energy and displays of childlike wonder before all manner of flora and fauna are infectious. (PS 2: Irwin died gruesomely whilst filming a TV segment with a stingray in 2006, prompting an international outpouring of mediatised grief surpassing that garnered by most Heads of State.)

Taken from another angle, this is the most authentically surreal film made in Australia since Sky Pirates (1984). Irwin's outback trek supposedly unfolds in 'real time' while the other plot threads gather momentum elsewhere. But, since every glimpse of Steve at work is obviously a staged, edited and narrated TV segment, shouldn't there at least be a crew and a van trailing along behind him?

The contemporary French-Chilean surrealist Raúl Ruiz could not have invented a more bizarre montage of parallel plots occurring in (seemingly) parallel universes. And there is a particular aspect of this mosaic that diverts the eye even when everything else in the movie threatens to send the brain asleep.

Whenever Steve appears, the sides of the screen are suddenly cropped to suggest a TV frame. When his scenes end, the screen springs back to normal size. This occurs perhaps fifty times in total. It is like a war staged between cinema and television.

The sad news is that television wins.

© Adrian Martin September 2002


Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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