Primeval, as it states on its cover, is “Inspired by the true story of the most bloodthirsty crocodile ever.” That is awesome. Every movie should be about that. In the middle of The Hours, just as Meryl Streep is about to launch into another subtle bout of weeping, the most bloodthirsty crocodile ever should come in and open her up like a soda can. Jennifer Hudson should have belted her rendition of “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going” right to “Gustave,” the insatiably carnivorous croc, then waited a few breathless moments for his response. This “Inspired by…” line, being so wonderfully written as it is, basically constitutes a contract between the viewer and the filmmaker - one that states that no characters or plotlines shall interfere with the giant reptile as it offs more secondary characters than Rambo. If some justice needs to be done to the “true story,” then it will be done quickly, because only one thing really matters to the audience: people getting eaten.
The first twenty minutes of Primeval sets us up nicely for some kickass biting. A recently disgraced T.V. news producer (Dominic Purcell) is forced by his boss to escort an attractive nature reporter (Brooke Langton) to the swamplands of war-torn Burundi to investigate a series of disappearances, all attributed to cult-hero Gustave. Gustave, as was previously mentioned, is the real-life crocodile who is insanely large and just as angry, and has been devouring human flesh since before the invention of air travel. Along with a cameraman (Orlando Jones - I’ll discuss him later) and a Steve Irwin-type reptile-ologist (Gideon Emery), the two newspeople go out to Africa to cover the story of Gustave’s reign of terror, and hopefully his capture. A tank-sized steel cage has been rigged by the team to safely trap the beast for study and for the benefit of all Africans. Once granted passage into socially unstable Burundi, the group meets up with a guide (Jurgen Prochnow), whose poaching past causes friction with the Aussie reptile man. Quick note: Jurgen Prochnow is always the guy you need if you’re looking for “grizzled and weird.”
So far we are treated to classic “man vs. beast” horror-movie fare. We have characters that nobody gives a crap about, a hubris-filled plan that is sure to fail, and Jurgen Prochnow pointing a gun at a kindly Australian because he is acting like too much of a pansy. Because we know that Gustave is going to be the main attraction throughout the remainder of the film, we don’t care that the dialogue is reminiscent of an employee training video. At this point, viewers should find themselves giddily pointing to the screen at people as they talk, saying things like: “Of course you think there’s something out there. There’s a big fucking crocodile out there.”
The second twenty minutes of Primeval is like being told there’s no Christmas. Instead of a few suspicious deaths that leave the crew wondering what the hell's going on, we are treated to an in-depth lesson about the ongoing civil war between the Hutu and the Tutsi. No, I am not joking. When the affable municipal leader “Harry” assigns the reporters a couple of armed National Guardsmen, you think they’re probably there to prove that Gustave’s skin is impervious to bullets (it is) before becoming meat for the beast. Nope. They actually use most of their bullets on insurgent soldiers out in the woods. The movie is unclear about which side of the Hutu/Tutsi rivalry anyone is on, but the human villain we are made aware of is a genocidal child-warrior-leader named “Little Gustave.”
Seriously, the whole second part of the film tries to be another Blood Diamond. After being told about the conflict, cameraman Orlando Jones goes out filming and stumbles upon the execution of a defiant and honorable shaman by warlords. He tapes the whole scene, and suddenly Little Gustave’s guys want them all dead. There is no part of the second act that is played for the sake of irony; it is all straight-up about the violence in Africa. It is quite serious in tone, and for the time being, we are not in any way focused on Gustave. This development may seem disturbing at first, but you might think to yourself, as I did: “Okay. I can deal with this. Not all beast-horror movies have to be dumb. This one’s a little smarter and more meaningful. This could be really good.”
Then the rape scene comes. I don’t see this as a spoiler, because it is so bad it can’t spoil any worse, but someone might. So, SPOILER ALERT. The female reporter is in the tent as the others prime to trap the croc. With a tracking device on him, they can detect that he is coming closer. However, a young African boy named (for real) “Jojo,” who is working for the team, accidentally trips the cage and is locked inside. Gustave gets away and goes on the prowl. Back at the tent, the young lady is alerted to the ensuing mayhem. One of the African Guardsmen comes into the tent, seemingly to protect her. Nope. He is there to take advantage of everyone’s scattering about in fear by forcing himself on an innocent white girl. She struggles, but he is big and has a gun. Just as he tears her shirt open, the 9-meter reptile flies in and rips the rapist-to-be in half. Then he scurries off.
This is the point where you’ll realize it. At first, it seems like standard mindless fun, en route to a delicious gorefest. Then it seems like there might be some high-minded drama in there that, while odd for a movie about a crocodile, might be a welcome change. The above scene makes it perfectly clear: This film was made by a complete idiot. It’s hard to notice at first, but it’s all there. The characters in most horror films are meant to be hollow and two-dimensional, while in this film they struggle imbecilically to be more. The Africa stuff is so stupidly portrayed, it is like a sixth-grader’s current events essay. At a point when we are supposed to care about one African trapped in a cage (the cage of systemic oppression, perhaps?) we see another raping a white woman for the hell of it by someone who then gets eaten by a crocodile.
The rest of Primeval is just like that. We toggle disgustingly between slo-mo chase scenes and Gustave’s CGI maulings (no animatronics here) to “why can there be no peace in Africa?” Not twenty minutes after Jurgen Prochnow is giving a classic B-movie speech about how “Gustav killed my wife,” Dominic Purcell’s character is giving one about how “we created Gustav, with this civil war.” By the way, he’s totally serious. The ending, which has a twist in it, is one of the worst ever. To give you all an idea about the true, non-ironic shittiness of this movie, I need only give one fact: In this film about “the most bloodthirsty crocodile ever,” most of the characters are actually shot to death by other characters.
And then, there’s the racism. Orlando Jones must have gone to the Cedric the Entertainer School, because he is quite adept in the many ways of setting back his people. Aside from the urban linguistics and the awful race jokes (“he went after that like Queen Latifah on the last pork chop”), he also openly insults Africa to favor Americanized, pro-white interests. Jones’s character plays the “I’m from Brooklyn, jack” card when faced with the African people, and at one point even comes out and says what he (and all Republican senators) are thinking: “Slavery was a good thing… anything to get us the fuck outta Africa is all right with me.” He really says it. Jojo (played by Gabriel Malame), the other insulting character, wants nothing more than for the white reporting team to take him back to America with them. Apparently, it is way better than his dumb ol’ home. “Please save me, white masters,” he might have said, in some long-ago-deleted scene.
The promise that comes from that brilliant line on the cover of Primeval is completely and brutally dashed by the film’s end. It seems like it would be a no-brainer to make a film about a humongous, man-eating crocodile into something either fun or scary. It would be only the act of a true moron to screw such a premise up. Well, apparently director Michael Katleman is the type of person who could trip over a cordless phone or get hit by a parked car. Through sheer force of stupidity, he has made the impossible possible. I still don’t know how it happened, but the greatest idea in movie history somehow became one of the worst films of all time.
When you have a movie as bad as Primeval, you wonder why everyone even went through the trouble of adding special features and extras to the disc. The DVD is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 audio, and has a variety of language options, including French, Spanish, and English subtitles for the hearing impaired. There is also a complete Spanish language track, meaning a few Hispanic voice actors had to sit in a room and convert the film’s dialogue into their native tongue. At some point, I’m sure one of the men covered his microphone, looked at the others and said: “Esta es mierda.”
There are three deleted scenes, which are actually just mislabeled extended scenes. One of these actually comes right before the godawful rape scene, and features the female lead in the tent taking a shower before the big failed-trapping episode. Since all the deleted scenes come rigged with director’s commentary (you can’t see them without it), we get the opportunity to hear why they were cut. According to Katleman, the shower scene was done away with because it didn’t make any sense in the midst of all that was going on. But everything after it supposedly did.
The director’s commentary track allows us to peer briefly into the mind of a fevered madman. He talks earnestly about the film, giving insight into his choices (like the removal of a “Gustave-Vision” POV sequence) and joking about on-set mishaps. It is as though he can’t see how catastrophic his deed actually is. Hearing this director talk about his film is like hearing Charles Manson’s prison tapes or a deposition from the Nuremberg Trials. They manage to make evil sound so mundane.
The last, and seemingly most important of the extras is a twenty-minute featurette entitled “Croc-umentary: Bringing Gustave To Life.” Besides director and script, the choice to create the largest, most vicious crocodile ever born in complete CGI was undoubtedly the worst. The crocumentary goes through all the stages of creating a computerized Gustave, and the visual effects guys (one of which shares time on the commentary track) boast about how well they captured a crocodile’s movements and skin tones while not compromising the actor’s performances. The sad fact is that Gustave looks terrible. Especially at night, when the moon is supposed to light his horrible visage but instead makes him look like a giant silverfish. Not once is he scary, and most of this is due to his cartoonish, TMNT-like appearance. This is a case where CGI failed, and a little animatronic dummy action would have been much cooler. This is a crocodile movie, people. It shouldn’t be hard.
This DVD cannot be mistaken for a fun or thrilling movie by anyone. The sickening failure of such pure, beautiful subject matter is a crime against cinema. In the days after Armageddon, when God comes down to right all the wrongs of mankind, He will be sure to pay special attention to rewriting and re-shooting Primeval. As a mere mortal, I cannot fathom what the Divine Hand might turn the film into, but I can guarantee this: It will be all about the friggin’ crocodile.