Directed by Michael Katleman
Primeval is “inspired by true events,” a phrase that is really nothing more than modern Hollywood double-speak for “the basic concept behind the movie is based in reality but we’ve fictionalized everything else.” Frankly, most modern movies that claim to be inspired by true events are even less fact oriented than your typical “ripped from the headlines” episode of “Law & Order.” In the case of Primeval there really is an impoverished African nation named Burundi that has been involved in a long-standing civil war, and somewhere in this nation’s waterways lurks a monster crocodile that’s eaten a whole lot of people. Everything else presented is pure bunk – in more ways than one.
As the trailers and commercial spots for Primeval have done an excellent job telling us, Gustave is the world’s most prolific serial killer with over 300 kills to his name. The same trailers and commercial spots have gone out of their way to avoid letting us know that Gustave is, in fact, an enormous man-eating crocodile. One has to wonder whether or not the choice to try and keep Gustave’s true nature a secret was a brilliant stroke of marketing or evidence that the studio had little or no faith in getting audiences into theaters to watch a movie about a killer crocodile, even one that’s “inspired by true events,” or that they just knew the film was lousy and decided to unload it into the cinematic dumping ground that is January. The way Hollywood Pictures pulled up stakes and abruptly (and unceremoniously) changed Primeval‘s release date from April 13th to January 12th with less than two weeks’ notice kind of gave me the vibe that the latter was probably more accurate. Now that I’ve seen the film for myself, I’m positive it had to have been the latter.
But first things first. Just who is Gustave? Having done my own research into the subject matter, I can tell you that Gustave is indeed a killer crocodile that has been terrorizing the riverbanks around Lake Tanganyika in Burundi, Africa. Gustave, who got his name from a French resident of Burundi, is one of the largest crocodiles ever reported at twenty feet in length and weighing around one ton. It’s believed that the three times larger than the average croc Gustave became too big to sustain itself on a typical crocodile diet and thus began eating people. An unconfirmed number claims that Gustave has consumed in excess of 300 fishermen and bathers. Some have tried to capture or kill Gustave only to lose their lives in the process or come away missing a few limbs. And since many of the commercials have gone on the record telling us that Gustave is “still at large,” they’ve already done the audience a disservice by more or less telling us how the movie won’t end. Now that part of the marketing was unquestionably asinine.
Well, guess what, everyone; turns out that the movie’s marketers got us with a double whammy. This movie about a killer crocodile that’s been deceptively marketed as a serial killer flick turns out to not even really be a movie about a killer crocodile. Primeval is really more of a liberal guilt trip thriller about African genocide and how the rest of the world, especially we affluent American honkies, just don’t give a damn about poor black people killing other poor black people. Gustave is more or less the catalyst to get the characters to Africa and only cameos briefly throughout the film. Right when the kill or be killed by Gustave part of the movie should be kicking in, the croc suddenly takes a backseat to the protagonists’ thoroughly lame life or death struggle with the ruthless henchmen of an African warlord. Imagine a really poor man’s Blood Diamond that just happens to also feature an enormous man-eating crocodile; that’s what Primeval really is. We’ll even be browbeaten at one point with an insipid monologue about how we’re all responsible for the creation of Gustave by not doing anything about the civil wars in Africa. Give me a break!
Dominic Purcell of “Prison Break” fame plays a Network News Channel (I guess calling it the Network News Network would have just been too hokey for the filmmakers) producer in hot water after a scandalous story he broke regarding a powerful Senator’s corruption turns out to have been erroneous. The NNC honcho decides to get him out of the country for a while by assigning him to a story about a killer crocodile in Burundi, Africa that just killed a humanitarian aide worker (as seen in the film’s effective opening sequence). His boss doesn’t just want him to fly to Africa and produce the story; he wants the croc captured alive in time for sweeps. Purcell is unhappy and thinks this fluff piece is beneath him. Right off the bat we got a major miscasting problem as Dominic Purcell’s physical scruffiness and often surly demeanor make him look and sound more appropriate for the role of a guy competing in the UFC Octagon than a character that is supposed to be a Peabody Award winning television news producer.
Anchoring the segment will be the network’s go-to reporter for animal related news items played by The Replacement‘s Brooke Langton. Her sole contribution to the film is to provide an easy on the eyes female. I’m sure it will come as no shock to you to hear that Primeval is yet another one of those movies where the two actors in the group with the least amount of personality get to be the two main characters almost entirely due to their being the most photogenic. Say what I may about the other characters I’m about to describe, none are as one-dimensionally shallow as those played by Purcell and Langton.
Of course, where would we be without the wisecracking black cameraman played by Orlando Jones? Ugh. Damn near every line of dialogue that comes out of his mouth is meant to be funny, and I’d reckon that the ratio of stuff he says that actually is humorous is about 20-to-1 against. He gets off about three or four that actually elicit a chuckle and one that is legitimately laugh out loud funny, but mostly he’s just obnoxious as the stereotypical wisecracking black sidekick who rarely takes anything seriously, even when face-to-snout with a giant crocodile. When Jones goes off on a comedic tirade about how much he hates Africa, he even tosses out a few lines about how in retrospect slavery wasn’t a bad thing after all because it got his people out of Africa. It’s embarrassing. As a matter of fact, one especially insulting scene has Jones trying to teach some African bushmen how to do a hip-hop beat with their native drums with no success, prompting his character to utter the line, “This is embarrassing.” Ten bucks says that was an ad lib.
Jones’ cameraman also gets to befriend a young African youth in a Nike shirt who speaks English and longs to travel to America. This young man will play a key role in their impending confrontation with armed thugs to the point of factoring into the plot almost more than the giant crocodile does.
The NNC trio joins up with the other two more members of their croc hunt upon arriving in Africa. One is an Aussie crocodile hunter clearly based on the late Steve Irwin. The other is Jurgen Prochnow playing one of those roles he can sleepwalk his way through. In this case he’s a local hunter who’ll serve as their tour guide and translator. But mostly he get into arguments with the crocodile hunter because the croc hunter wants to capture Gustave alive in this giant cage they brought, arguing that he wants to protect it from people like Prochnow, and, naturally, Prochnow insists that capture is impossible and the bulletproof (literally!) crocodile must be killed. Guess which one will prove to be correct?
They’ve all got bigger problems though. Burundi is in the midst of a civil war, although their NNC boss assured them they’ll be okay because there’s currently a cease-fire. They’d never know it since their boat is immediately shot at and they are given dire warning that where they are headed is in the vicinity of the local warlord known as “Little Gustave.” He’s such a heartless butcher that he nicknamed himself after the killer croc. He’s also the real villain of the movie – well, mostly his henchmen are.
Orlando Jones will go for a solo walk through the African brush to get some footage of the local scenery and stumble upon some of Little Gustave’s henchmen executing a family. Of course, he gets it on film and, of course, Little Gustave’s men will want that footage back and are willing to kill for it. The group will debate whether or not this footage is the real story they need to cover, not the crocodile, leading to a big discussion about world apathy towards African genocide. I hate to sound apathetic in my own right toward African genocide, but wasn’t this supposed to be a “nature gone amok” horror flick about a killer crocodile? Forget the giant, cunning, man-eating crocodile; Primeval suddenly decides it wants to be a socially conscientious thriller with sporadic appearances by a giant, cunning, man-eating crocodile. The script will devolve to the point that Gustave is just popping up in time to chomp one of the bad guys at just the right moment. Heck, Little Gustave’s thugs even generate more carnage than “the world’s most prolific serial killer” does.
But even the few and far between “nature gone amok” moments when Gustave does show up are almost guaranteed to disappoint, not just because the computer generated crocodile often appears obviously so, but because director Michael Katleman and editor Gabriel Wrye have co-conspired to make nearly all the croc attack scenes virtually incomprehensible to watch thanks to the one-two punch of jittery camera work and rapid-fire editing. It’s kind of hard to generate suspense or thrills when you hardly have any idea what is actually happening on the screen. The only moment in the entire movie where you get a really good look at Gustave in action that isn’t in any way obscured by either darkness, bad camerawork, or split second editing is near the end when it engages in a foot race in pursuit of Orlando Jones (despite real-life reports of Gustave being rather slow-moving due to its enormity). This was the most suspenseful moment of the movie for me as I was on the edge of my seat hoping that croc would catch Orlando Jones and chomp the hell out of him. Other than that, there’s only one genuine jump scare in the whole film.
Now I generally frown on people talking back at the screen in movie theaters, that sort of behavior being a pet peeve of mine that I myself have rarely ever given into. However, I couldn’t help myself with Primeval. When the little doggie that Brooke Langton had rescued from being used as croc bait early in the film, the same little doggie that we hadn’t see hide nor hair of for the last 40 minutes, came from completely out of nowhere at the end of the movie to jump into her loving arms, I openly began booing the movie. I don’t think any of the five other people in the screening would object to my having done so since I overheard all of them on the way out afterwards commenting on what a terrible movie Primeval was.
This film marks the first of two killer crocodile movies hitting theaters this year, assuming Dimension Films doesn’t just sit on the currently unscheduled for a release date Rogue. How Rogue will turn out remains to be seen, but I can safely say right now that if you only see one killer crocodile movie in theaters this year, make sure it’s not Primeval.
1 out of 5
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