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Creature features have made something of a comeback in recent years, whether it be the surprisingly solid alligator tale Crawl, or the outrageous, but admittedly entertaining Jason Statham blockbuster The Meg, swimming to the sum of $US530 million at the worldwide box office. These films certainly aren’t masterpieces by any stretch of the imagination, but they deliver on what they promise – well executed thrills starring their selected animals.
Australian cinema is no stranger to the creature feature (after all, the Australian outback has no shortage of critters to draw inspiration from), but there is one animal that is positively ingrained in Australian cinema and that’s the saltwater crocodile.
Greg McLean’s follow-up to his breakout hit Wolf Creek, didn’t launch at the box office in the way many were hoping it would and as a result isn’t talked about anywhere near as much as that first Mick Taylor romp. Rogue is film that certainly deserved better when it was first released back in 2007, somehow lost in a swarm of tentpoles and other crocodile themed horror flicks released that year, including Australia’s own Black Water.
The film managed to maintain the visceral brutality that we’d come to expect of Greg McLean’s direction albeit with some welcome restraint and added campy popcorn flair to make, what I believe is a far more entertaining flick than Wolf Creek.
A group of unwitting tourists accidentally stumble into a massive killer croc’s lair, what’s not to love?
Now that being said, the film doesn’t offer any human characters that are even remotely as memorable as John Jarratt’s terrifying creation, and if you’re going into Rogue hoping to be blown away by a pre-Avatar Sam Worthington then you may be disappointed. But as with any solid creature feature, McLean well and truly makes sure that his crocodile is the star.
Rogue posed an interesting challenge for McLean, going from the shoestring budget of Wolf Creek to the $AU26.9 million spent to put Rogue together, with a lot of the funds used for some gorgeous aerial shots of the Northern Territory, and of course to help bring the terrifying CGI croc to life. McLean makes sure that every frame with the croc is used appropriately and to the potential of the budget, (although the movie isn’t too kind to you if you’re a dog-lover).
Thankfully the decision to keep the creature active during night scenes or in the watery shadows, has paid off remarkably when revisiting the film all these years later. The Jaws–inspired choice of building up to the reveal of the animal, does the film a lot of favours too, making the claustrophobic third act with the croc on full display feel completely satisfying.
Rogue excels whenever the film is restricted to one location and the focus is placed purely on the croc, even when it isn’t necessarily visible. The second act sees the ensemble stranded on a small island, with a rising tide limiting how long they have left to find safety. Every moment spent by the characters bickering about survival is overshadowed by the looming presence of the croc, with brief shots and effective sound design used to remind us of the threat at hand. The main theme for the croc from Frank Tetaz is also appropriately haunting.
The structure and pacing of the film can occasionally be at odds with itself though. The first act has a bit of a slow burn introducing us to our American protagonist Pete (Michael Vartan), who is a travel writer… and that’s about it. He quickly gets forgotten about in favour of the ensemble, and understandably, the ever ramping tension surrounding the croc. The focus only really shifts to Pete when the ensemble is conveniently absent in the third act. This can leave Rogue feeling disjointed, but whatever, after all, this is a movie where Stephen Curry calls a crocodile a “steam train with teeth.”
There are some welcome surprises with the cast of Rogue if it’s your first time viewing the film or even if you’re returning to it after many years. A pre-Alice in Wonderland Mia Wasikowska is certainly a highlight as Sherry, offering some dramatic weight with her character, although Sherry and Sam Worthington’s Neil are criminally underused.
John Jarratt reunites with McLean as the widower Russell (in a nod to Jarratt’s cult croc flick Dark Age) whose character feels the most well-rounded out of the entire ensemble. Ultimately the cast of human characters exist to be of service to the true star of the film, and in a schlocky crocodile movie do you really need much more than that?
Rogue is a film that unabashedly loves what it is – a fun, 100-minute creature feature that isn’t afraid to be campy. McLean delivers on entertaining reptilian thrills, that still hold up thanks to clever staging and use of CGI. If you’re caught up in the recent crop of creature features like Crawl or The Meg, but you want something a little more homegrown, then consider Rogue, best served on your next lazy Saturday afternoon.
Director: Greg McLean
Cast: Radha Mitchell, Michael Vartan, Sam Worthington
Writer: Greg McLean
It’s been forty years since the brainchild of director George Miller burst onto cinema screens, with a baby-faced and leather-clad Mel Gibson hunting bikers in a lawless Australia. Mad Max is a landmark in Australian film history, helping expand the Australian New Wave movement to international markets and in turn becoming one of the most profitable films in history. When discussing his 1979 debut, George Miller is often cited as having wanted to create a B-grade exploitation film with the aspirations of an A-grade Hollywood film, and that couldn’t be truer when revisiting the film today.
Mad Max has the kinetic energy and spectacle that you would expect of a blockbuster film from an era that was entranced in the excitement of Jaws and Star Wars. As a result, an Australian film icon was born, one that would eventually be accepted universally by the time of its sequels. Even with a shoe-string budget (involving editing the film in an old apartment), George Miller proved to the world that Australian filmmakers could stand tall in the blockbuster landscape that has since engulfed the cinema world.
Now I’ll be the first to tell you that despite my appreciation for the original Mad Max film, George Miller and Max Rockatansky have well and truly surpassed the aspirations of that film. Mad Max 2 (better known as The Road Warrior in the United States) helped redefine post-apocalyptic fiction, with imagery that has since been replicated and revised over countless film, television and video game properties.
The same can be said about the seminal Mad Max: Fury Road, a film which offered a revisionist take on the Mad Max property, that honed in the absurdity, goofiness and insanity that were unique to George Miller’s world, and cranked that dial up to eleven. The practical effects focused Mad Max: Fury Road managed to thrive in a world where the CGI-heavy blockbuster is king.
As for George Miller well, when you have two films under your belt that many consider to be among the best action films of all time, then rest assured you’ve earned your title as an Australian film icon.
That being said, a lot of the story beats and elements that you see in the original Mad Max have since been transformed or refined in the Mad Max sequels. The Ford Falcons, the goofy haircuts, the simple yet effective dialogue, the high-speed car chases and stunts, the hyper-kinetic camera zooms – it’s all here. All these elements exist in their foundational form, and it’s fascinating to go back and see how the property has evolved.
What makes Mad Max unique is that it unapologetically knows what it is. Within the opening moments of the film, Miller manages to strike a tonal balance in being serious and goofy without compromise. That choice of never being too outlandish, helps ground the film somewhat despite essentially being a comic-book. The Hitchcock inspired soundtrack by Brian May doesn’t hurt either.
Max is a very different character here compared to his later adventures. He isn’t the scrounging, selfish, Clint Eastwood-inspired silent type that he is typically remembered as. Instead we get to see him as a family man, and a mate you could get a beer with, still embodying the qualities of your true-blue Aussie with Mel Gibson, despite his inexperience at the time, managing to bring all those qualities to life in Max. So, when we get to experience Max’s gradual downfall into insanity, watching his world get torn away from him, the result is genuinely impactful, making his acts of revenge satisfying. Call it the John Wick-effect if you will.
The execution of Max’s character arc doesn’t always land however, where scenes involving his wife Jessie (Joanne Samuel) can feel like padding, as Miller works up to the next car stunt. Jessie being underwritten certainly attributes to this. As a result, Mad Max can occasionally feel a little slow, despite coming in at a brisk 93 minutes. Outside of those instances of padding, the script is relatively focused. Giving us the necessary story beats where Max is with his family or Goose (Steve Bisley) to eventually justify his revenge and status as a tragic anti-hero. Again, these are all elements that are refined in the later Mad Max films, where action and spectacle are used to keep those films lean and focused.
Toecutter and his gang in particular, certainly act as a precursor to what we’d see in Mad Max: Fury Road with Hugh Keays-Byrne’s other Mad Max cult leader Immortan Joe. What’s fascinating about Toecutter’s gang is Miller’s choice to deromanticize the bikie counter culture. Whereas Easy Rider enticed a glorified freedom, to which subsequent bikie films such as Australia’s own Stone, revelled in that freedom; Mad Max chooses to make Toecutter’s gang a group of insane hooligans, which only helps make the film feel more unique.
Mad Max will forever be an icon of Australian cinema, not only proving to the world that a successful blockbuster can be put together on a shoestring budget, but that Australia had blockbuster directors of the calibre of George Miller that could appeal to a worldwide audience. Yes, the original has since be surpassed by vastly superior sequels, however there is certainly a degree of respect and appreciation for the film that established the mould for future Mad Max films and ingrained Australian films at the worldwide box office.
I am the Knight Rider!
Director: George Miller
Cast: Mel Gibson, Hugh Keays-Byrne, Steve Bisley
Writers: James McCausland, George Miller, (based on a story by George Miller and Byron Kennedy)