Director: Michael Katleman
Cast: Dominic Purcell, Brooke Langton, Orlando Jones, Jürgen Prochnow, Gideon Emery, Gabriel Malema, Dumisani Mbebe
MPAA Rating: (for strong graphic violence, brutality, terror and language)
Running Time: 1:33
Release Date: 1/12/07
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Review by Mark Dujsik
Primeval is a silly, silly movie that takes itself way too seriously. There've been a good number of recent mainstream movies dealing with the atrocities going on basically ignored in Africa, and that mass exposure is a good thing. Here, though, is the downside—a movie that diminishes the subject to pulp entertainment. I don't know if the filmmakers of Primeval should be commended or condemned for somehow managing to fit the horrors man can do to each other within the confines of a creature feature. Because when I think of the misery in Africa, my mind immediately veers to big, killer crocodiles. The movie boasts that it is inspired by a true story. Yes, there is a giant, man-eating crocodile named Gustave that reportedly still prowls Lake Tanganyika in Burundi, and yes, there was a civil war in that country. The promotional material for the movie also says that it is the story of "the most prolific serial killer in history," and that's misleading anthropomorphizing if I ever heard it. It's a giant crocodile. It's a predator; it eats. Semantics aside, the tone of Primeval is too somber; it's almost as if they forgot this is a movie about an oversized crocodile.
A researcher working with the UN in Burundi discovers one mass grave, thinks she's found another one, but ends up chow for Gustave. In the States, Tim Manfrey (Dominic Purcell), a TV journalist, has become headline news himself when it turns out a scathing report about a US Senator was made using cooked evidence. His boss uses the incident as leverage to get him to accompany Aviva (Brooke Langton), a reporter looking to make a name for herself, to Burundi to capture Gustave—and not just on film. Joining the two is Steven (Orlando Jones), Tim's cameraman, and upon arriving, they are further joined by hunter Jacob Krieg (Jürgen Prochnow, who sadly appears to do just about anything for a paycheck these days) and television conservationist/crocodile hunter Matthew Collins (Gideon Emery). The team's contact in Burundi, who likes to be known to Westerners as Harry (Dumisani Mbebe), assigns a couple of army guards to accompany them, as their path to the croc takes them through a war zone where rebels under the leadership of the mysterious "Little Gustave" kill indiscriminately in spite of a cease fire agreement.
In a very problematic, very odd movie, perhaps the most problematic and oddest material revolves around the portrayal of African conflict. Here's a movie with a pair of morals, both flat-out stated by characters on screen and ruined by the movie's end. One lesson tells us that Gustave's attacks are the result of the killing in the area—the blood by the river attracts the crocodile. "We make our own monsters," Tim solemnly intones, and while it's an interesting theory, do we really need the characters here waxing philosophical? And what's the point of making the argument when the coda at the end tells us Gustave continues his rampage even after a more official cease fire? The other message is one we've heard many times before in films with better intentions than this one. Basically, people ignore the trouble in Africa. The hypocrisy of that moral in the context of the movie is that screenwriters John D. Brancato and Michael Ferris and director Michael Katleman are exploiting the tragedy for derivative means. Take the portrayal of the execution of a local shaman by Hutu rebels. The man is beheaded, and there's a cut to the severed head followed by the open wound left dropping into the background.
It's a completely unnecessary shot, but the movie as a whole would have benefited by eliminating the questionable—and self-righteous—pandering of the secondary story. The plot and action involving the crocodile peculiarly plays second fiddle most of the time, but even it is lacking. The creature itself is poorly rendered, meaning most of its scenes take place at night, preferably in the rain, and even more troubling is the lack of giddy guilty pleasure to accompany these scenes. Gustave saves Aviva from an attempted rape (More exploitation? You bet.), Krieg reveals a personal vendetta against the croc for killing his wife, and Steven is chased in unintentionally hilarious slow motion by the giant. One scene comes close to campy fun, as the croc hunter runs across a wooden pier, Gustave skipping over the boards just behind him, but this is one of the many dark, rainy moments. The screenplay gets a lot wrong, but there's one infuriating detail that sucks the little logic completely out of the movie. Early on, an electronic tracking device is shot on Gustave, but despite the fact that the device emits a more frequent beeping whenever it gets closer, the crocodile still manages to sneak up on them—repeatedly.
In the process of taking notes, I tried to mark down the occasions in which this lazy oversight happens, but it just got redundant. The movie does, too, and by the time the movie reveals why that incredibly useful but rarely used tracking device was placed on the croc and someone's head pops in its jaws, Primeval has clumsily transitioned from a silly movie to a downright weird one.
Copyright © 2007 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.