The Crocodile Hunter
Collision Course
review by Gregory Avery, 26 July 2002

"Crikey!" says Steve Irwin as he shows us what appears to be a standard-issue tarantula alighted on a piece of bark. Not so: this spider is capable of leaping out of the hole it makes its home and attacking its prey with a pair of fangs which are about the same size as those of a rattlesnake, and which Irwin gently coaxes the spider into showing for us. It's the kind of spider which most well-trained experts would probably want to steer clear of. Irwin, however, is not just anyone. Before the end of the day, he will also handle two type of venomous snakes -- with his bare hands. And that's even before he gets to wrestling with a crocodile bigger than he is.

Irwin knows what he's doing, though, and he isn't afraid to let us know that even he gets a little nervous sometimes ("Take a look at that, will ya? Sweatin' bullets!"). But when he shows us the fangs on the "bird-catching spider", it's because he's genuinely amazed at how this insect has been equipped to survive in the wild. Irwin's enthusiasm could, I imagine, be off-putting to some people (he seems to turn every second or third word into an exclamation), but I found myself both disarmed and entertained by him in The Crocodile Hunter: Collision Course, which follows Irwin, his (Oregon-born) wife Terri, and their dog Susie as they spend a day driving through the Queensland, Australia outback (which is where they operate the Australian Zoo wildlife preserve), picking up snakes so they can be relocated and not come into "conflict" with other humans, rescuing an orphaned kangaroo "joey", and, later, having to deal with a very large crocodile which is annoying some of the locals. Actually, in relocating the crocodile, you get the notion that Irwin thinks it's the humans who are annoying the animals, but Irwin's enthusiasm is also combined with what appears to be a deep and abiding streak of anti-cruelty. Irwin relies on rope, a knife, and his own abilities to subdue a crocodile so that it can be restrained and then safely moved without any harm, and the knife comes into use only to cut the lashes holding the animal when Irwin gets ready to release it -- the Irwins appear to carry no firearms or tranquilizing guns, and about the strongest language Steve ever uses is "Holy smoke!" (And, no kidding, that really IS a crocodile Irwin is shown engaged with in several scenes in the movie: no animatronics, here.)

Crocodile Hunter is actually two movies, one with the Irwins which is shot in standard screen ratio and has them directly addressing the camera, just like on one of Steve's Animal Planet television programs; the other, filmed in widescreen, is some malarkey about a satellite component which falls to Earth and winds up in a crocodile's gullet (guess which crocodile), and some U.S. intelligence operatives who are out to retrieve it. There is also a crusty old rancher (Magda Szubanski, who delivers all of her dialogue out of the corner of her mouth) who wants to shoot same said crocodile (well, it's been bothering her dogs, as well as some livestock), and a game warden (the talented actor David Wenham) who tries to tell her she can't. You keep wishing the movie would cut back to the Irwins before it's too late; luckily, it does.

There are some deconstructivist moments when the characters seen in the widescreen movie start traveling into the scenes in the smaller-screen movie. Irwin mistakes them for poachers -- guys who are only out for "boots, bags, and belts" -- but his priority is to get the crocodile in his care moved to its new residing place, then "come back and give 'em some Steve-o education". It was probably a good idea to let Irwin just play himself if he was going to appear in a motion picture. Irwin not only comes off as having a healthy, all-around appreciation for wildlife in all its many aspects, but he's life-affirming, as well, because he's able to inspire in others the same kind of enthusiasm, fascination, and appreciation he feels, feelings which Irwin manifests in ways that are honorable and admirable. I can't think of any person who could better serve as a positive role model, for kids or otherwise.

Directed by:
John Stainton

Starring:
Steve Irwin
Terri Irwin
Magda Szubanski
David Wenham

Written by:
Holly Goldberg Sloan
John Stainton

Rated:
PG - Parential
Guidance Suggested.
Some material may
not be suitable
for children.

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