crocodile hunter: collision course (2002)


director: john stainton

steve irwin, terri irwin, magda szubanski

There's something a little bit clever in John Stainton's otherwise unremarkable direction of Crocodile Hunter: Collision Course, a feature film starring Discovery Channel wildlife star Steve Irwin, but it's packed deep in the bowels of a truly mediocre bit of filmmaking.

An offshoot (or rather byproduct) of the hit cable nature show starring Irwin and his wife Terri, wildlife rescuers and naturalists based in Australia, the movie originally started out as a standard issue comedy action flick, but Stainton - longtime producer and director of the Irwins' hit show - realized quickly that whatever appeal the movie might have lay directly in Steve Irwin's hyper personality and aggressive rapport with the camera. And so, for the whole length of the film, Irwin does his schtick: chatting excitedly directly at the audience while either wielding a hissing poisonous snake or spider inches from the lens, or wrestling a giant lizard into a tiny tin boat.

The interesting thing is that, when Irwin is onscreen, the frame shrinks to standard t.v. dimensions, but when the adjacent action of the film - a really dismal farrago of nonsense involving a lost satellite, comically inept CIA agents and an irate cattle rancher with a hate-on for crocodiles - unfolds, the screen expands to standard widescreen dimensions. It's a potentially witty exploration on cinema versus television, or documentary style versus fiction, and our subtle but varied responses to both, but that will have to wait for another movie.

Fans of the Irwins' show will be happy to know that Steve doesn't depart from his manic, self-parody persona for the film; as a result his performance is by far the best in the movie, next to that of the animals. The actors playing the CIA heavies in particular are the essence of cardboard, and not by accident, either. Director Stainton conceived of and directed these roles with precisely this intended effect, a remarkable act of directorial self-sabotage that should, in our litigious society, be liable for lawsuits. The more subversively inclined might detect something like an attack on governments and technology, in favor of the Irwins' near-luddite embrace of nature in Crocodile Hunter, but that would smack of wishful thinking in a movie where the best action sequence is basically a fart gag.