The opening credits are a frantic run of images that is pretty hard to actually watch. The segment is made worse by the constantly changing images and strobe light f/x. At first you get the idea you’re in for just another horror film made in the modern deluge of images style. Fortunately this is not a portent of things to come. With a little patience, you’re safely beyond these trappings and find yourself in a rather good film. If you’re able to follow this montage, you’ll be introduced to the bloody history of Gus…ave, a 25 foot crocodile. You’ll discover this killer is claiming a mounting number of human victims, most recently an acclaimed UN naturalist. Once the film actually begins, it will be some time before you are introduced directly to Gustave.
Three American journalists are sent to the heart of Africa on a mission to find and actually capture Gustave. The journey is no less treacherous than Gustave himself. A local dictator intent on genocide now calls himself Little Gustave, after the killer croc, and his hit squads don’t take too kindly to boats entering his domain. Some machine gun fire welcomes our intrepid Americans into the jungles. The reptile is worshipped as a god by many of the locals, as evidenced by a ritual the travelers must participate in to gain their trust. Top this off with a guide who has revenge on his mind and intends to go Ahab on Gustave. Before long we find that peril comes in many sizes on this trip.
When cameraman Steven Johnson (Jones) inadvertently films a death squad massacring a local family, this assassination team becomes far more of a threat than Gustave. Here is where the film might contain its greatest flaw. The genocide and local political scene is certainly well played and quite compelling, but I began to question what this film was really about. The intrigue would have made a better separate film. It is Gustave we all came here to see.
So what about this amazing crocodile? The CGI rendering here is very nicely done most of the time. Sure, there are a few rather cheesy scenes and corresponding f/x, but most of the crocodile work is exceptional. I’m talking Jurassic Park realism here. His movements are fluid and blend in with the surrounding environment flawlessly. Hey, he even comes to the rescue of the damsel in distress here. One of the factors that made the classics so good was that the monsters weren’t necessarily just mindless evil. Gustave fits that mold. It is the genocide that fed him his first humans and gave him an insatiable thirst for people. He is after all, just an animal acting on his instincts.
We also get a pretty good cast in this film to complement the extraordinary f/x. While no one stands out, everyone pulls their share of the weight. Orlando Jones often supplies the comic relief and is best when he’s not trying to sound ghetto. In a scene where he stands up to the death squad leader, he shows us he can be quite the heroic type. Dominic Purcell, recently from Prison Break, is a fine enough lead. He is often a bit too subdued, but he brings us into this world in a more everyman kind of way that likely adds to all of this realism. Brook Langton has the unenviable task of being the female lead in a vastly male dominated cast. To her credit, she doesn’t work too hard to be sexy, rather plays it pretty straight without a lot of screaming. Gabriel Malema steals the show as the native JoJo who desperately wants to go to America. The bad guys look like NFL linebackers and are far more evil than Gustave. With the genocide plot going so strong, Gustave is neglected somewhat in the film. He is relegated to a tool used to dish out some jungle justice by the end of the film.
Primeval is presented in its original theatrical aspect ratio of 2.35:1. This film is quite beautifully shot. The transfer is always crisp and sharp. Colors are bright when called for, but often dark while remaining vivid. Contrast is near perfect. Black levels are superb, offering a huge level of detail on even the darkest scenes. Some of this detail is lost on heavy CGI scenes, but overall this is a solid presentation. No artifacts of any kind exist.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio is another example of an excellent presentation. Surrounds are aggressive when necessary and equally subtle when called for. There are several good jump moments made more effective by this crystal clear sound. The score works in all of the right areas. Dialogue is placed precisely where it needs to be and is always perfectly clear.
There is a commentary track with director Michael Katelman and f/x supervisor Paul Lindan. This is a great mix of information from the filming process and the CGI work. The two are obviously buddies and share a great dynamic and excitement for the film. There’s plenty of joking around to keep the track interesting.
“Deleted Scenes” There are 3 scenes that total a little over 5 minutes. You can watch them alone or in a play all option. Unfortunately you have no choice but to get the audio commentary. I would have liked a chance to watch them without it. None are all that compelling and would have added nothing to the film. A more drawn out alternative ending was wisely shelved for the one in the film.
“Croco-Mentory: Bringing Gustave To Life” This is a short 9 minute feature on the work involved to create the croc. The cleverly titled feature gives you a look at all of the levels of rendering required to create Gustave. In today’s world we’ve come to take good CGI f/x for granted. There’s a ton of work involved to do it right, and you can see some of it here..
Believe it or not, there are dinosaurs alive today. Crocodilians remain very much as they were when guys like the T-Rex ruled the Earth. So, while this might not be Jurassic Park, it is a bit more frightening, because reptiles like Gustave could and do exist. I’m not trying to say this is a great or even a good film. Still, an average film done well can be a great viewing experience, and that’s exactly what Primeval is. I think Disney dropped the ball in the marketing for this film. All of the taglines and ads talked about this “serial killer”, which was confusing because we were also hearing about the giant crocodile. Then, of course, you see the film and discover it’s more about African Death Squads. This was an easy one to pass up at the box office, and most of us did just that. Now we have a second chance. Face it. You get to see a 25-foot croc tear stuff up. “You gotta be at least a little excited about that.”
Special Features List
- Deleted Scenes
- Croco-Mentory: Bringing Gustave To Life