« on: May 27, 2008, 08:10:15 AM »
Moderate spoilers ahead, by all means see this movie without reading it if you get a chance.
Its been slim pickings for giant animal on the rampage movies lately. As a kid growing up one of my favorite movies was King Kong (Despite the psychological trauma of seeing my favorite dinosaur horribly killed on screen.). And I always loved catching a classic embiggened animal flick on a lazy weekend.
Lately the boxoffice for these movies has stunk. The few well budgeted wide release movies have either flopped (8 legged freaks) or just flat out stunk (Anaconda) or both (Anaconda 2). There was a time when I hoped that the expanding international market would enable well budgeted monster movies to succeed financially. Surely with 10 times the potential market there is enough room for a few good old fashioned monster flicks with traditional B movie values but better budgets, maybe even fresh perspectives. Alas, that really hasnít panned out (Yeah, I saw The Host, It was okÖand still a exception to the rule). Iím a capitalist, and honestly canít blame movie makers from shying away from genres that donít make money when boiler plate garbage like Prom Night makes $40 million dollars a pop. So I was surprised when Australian Greg Mclean (Wolf Creek) took a shot at a giant Crocodile rampage flick. It just got a limited release in 10 US cities, fortunately one of them was Denver, so I managed to catch it.
Rogue starts out well, with spectacular footage of various Australian vistas. The cinematography is a consistent high point throughout the movie. It reminded me of a IMAX Australian film I just saw. The production values, editing etc leave nothing to be desired. We are introduced to our characters, jaded American travel writer Pete, (Michael Vartan.) looking to take a tour of the local river, tour guide Kate (Radha Mitchell, looking fine if I may so pigishly say.), and various cannon fodder characters, or so we assume at first. None of the performances are grating, and there is just enough background information to distinguish the characters. The heavy from Wolf Creek plays a grieving widow, there is a Hank Hill character who sticks up for the tour guide when she is getting crap from her ex and his friend. A mother dying of cancer, her husband and daughter. A refreshingly spunky middle aged woman. Cleric, Ranger, Paladin, we got them all. While the background info on each character is sparse, all are played competently and they are all distinctive.
Iíll take a moment to point out there is a extremely gratifying lack of teenage models in this movie. The actors playing the two leads are 40 and 35, there is only one kid who remarkably you really donít want to see die.
While looking at the gorgeous Australian scenery, the tour boat is interrupted by Niel and Colin, two local yahoos who harass Kate (Niel and Kate have a history.) This is a interesting scene considering what comes later, Niel is being a jerk, is being set up as a jerk, and ordinarily would be the designated dead jerk. Nevertheless the confrontation here is not handled well by either side (realistically enough), Pete deliberately provokes Niel while Kate pulls a stunt that that while satisfying to the audience was actually pretty reckless.
After turning back for home someone notices a distress flare, and after some discussion they decide to detour to try and help. They find a destroyed boat, no survivors and a grumpy Crocodile that would give Deinosuchus a run for its money, size wise. Soon they wind up stranded on a island about 50 feet from shore, night is closing in, and to make things perfect the island will be submerged from the tide within hours. Hijinks ensue.
Rogue is a straightforward movie. There is no real comic relief (Some black humor, nothing unnatural to the situation.) The tension is gradually ratcheted up, and in a grateful change from most of todayís horror movies, there is almost no use of shaky cam. The scenes are fairly clear, even the night scenes, (So much that I began to wonder where all the light was coming from.). For most of the movie safety is literally just a few feet away.
The Characters in Rogue are a cut above what we expect in horror movies nowadays. While we really only get to know 3 of them much, they are still a bit more complicated then usual. They show a range of reactions to despair, altruism, and pure selfishness. More importantly its clear that anyone can be killed, jerks, heroes, a little of bothÖ While the body count is low, much of the movie is spent worrying if the kid will get et, or even <gasp> the dog. The movies general indifference to the moral qualities of its victims pays off in a big way later in the movie. In particular, the character of Niel defies convention, and his interaction with Kate and Pete rings true. Other characters have thier moments, sometimes proving to be a little more resourceful then expected, sometimes less...
The crocodile itself is a mixed bag. The special effects are excellent, this may be the most realistically portrayed giant reptile ever, (Including all the Jurassic Park movies) largely because the filmmakers decided to give the creature a sense of mass, i.e. the giant crocodile doesnít move around like a hyperactive squirrel. It can strike quickly, but fast movement is limited to the water. The CGI is so good I had difficultly spotting any transitions between it and real props they used. On the other hand, the size of this Croc is ludicrous, I like embiggened animals, but this is pushing it. There is a snippet at the end of the movie suggesting its 7m long. This is the largest 7m crocodile the world has ever seen (This may also be the only time a giant crocodiles size is underestimated rather then over, Iíd say 9m and twice the weight of a 7m, at least 3 tonnes or more.) Honestly I donít think a 3 tonne crocodile is much more scary then a 1 ton critter, at least in a sense meaningful to a 150lb croc appetizer. (On the other hand, the exposition delivered by Kate regarding Salties while still on the tour is actually fairly reasonable, by movie standards anyway.) But this is a personal gripe, and the biggest real complaint I have is that we donít see much of the crocs attacks (A distinction shared with the much lower budgeted Black Water.) There are only a few on screen deaths, and while I understand the intent was to follow Jaw's ďLess is moreĒ ideal I think they may have gone a bit too far. Particularly when you try to digest the movies ending.
Iíll try to avoid excessive spoilers here, but basically the movie sets up its premise, increases the tension, has its two major set pieces which finally culminate in the desperate swim by the survivors for land. There is an excellent, shocking payoff here, and the movie had delivered on all my expectations, despite a low body count and very little gore. But then the final act kind of undercuts the effectiveness of the payoff. Itís still well done, but an awful lot of the movie rests on that shocking scene. The ending could have worked, if it had a something to fall back on, but it really doesnít.
Having said that, Rogue is a good movie. Depressingly, it was a complete box office failure in Australia, failing to recoup more then 10% of its budget. Its US distributor tried to sneak it into the US in just 10 locations and succeeded, as it made only ~$7000 in its first week (I account for almost a quarter of a percent of that.) This really could be the worst things about the entire situation. Releasing a awful horror movie that tanks is one thing, but a competent, professionally made quality release that makes almost nothing, that can be a genre killer. I hope it does well on DVD (Region 1 in the US comes out in August I think.) I would suggest catching this when it comes out.