THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Do you have a particular channel you turn to when nothing else is on? MTV is one of those channels for me, but so is Animal Planet. There's almost always something on there that will capture my attention. Like most fans of the channel, my favorite show is "The Crocodile Hunter." Its host - the inimitable Steve Irwin - is such a character that he almost (but not quite) overshadows the amazing animals he showcases. Despite my enthusiasm for his show, I was admittedly a bit skeptical when I heard Irwin was getting his own movie. The appeal of the show is learning about exotic animals while watching him interact with them. How was this ever going to be transferred to the form of a fictional big screen story? Well, The Crocodile Hunter: Collision Course is one of the most unusual movies I've ever seen, but it remains faithful to Irwin's appeal, and therefore it works.

The plot is really incidental. An important piece of a spy satellite falls to Earth and is swallowed by a crocodile Down Under. The government dispatches a couple of agents to Australia to locate it. There, they encounter a woman whose cattle are constantly getting eaten by the same croc. She's not too keen on the agents, and she makes sure her dogs (about a dozen of them) keep tabs on them. Our hero Steve and wife Terri, meanwhile, engage in their day-to-day business of saving animals. They encounter the crocodile and, believing the government agents are poachers, try to take it to safer waters. As their voyage continues, they also stumble across a couple of snakes, a spider, and a kangaroo baby.

Steve Irwin comes face-to-face with an angry croc in The Crocodile Hunter: Collision Course
What makes the film different is that it clearly distinguishes between "Steve's World" and the rest of the film. Aside from one scene, Irwin doesn't share the screen with the actors. His adventures are kept separate, tied to the plot only through little comments or explanations he makes. For instance, he and Terri capture the crocodile and refer to the fact that they are going to "save" it from the poachers. The movie then jumps back to the plot involving the agents chasing the croc. In some ways, it's almost like they went out and shot Irwin's segments, then tried to build a movie around them. Another difference is that Irwin, unlike the others, gets to address the camera directly. His scenes are very similar to his TV show, with him showing us various animals and explaining all about them. ("There's enough venom in there to kill me and a thousand other blokes," he says referring to a fierce-looking spider.)

Perhaps the most notable distinction is that director John Stainton uses two different aspect ratios for the film. All the scenes with Irwin are shot in the standard "flat" ratio of 1.85:1. Scenes featuring everyone else are filmed in the "widescreen" 2.40:1 ratio. At first, I found this kind of distracting, but eventually it adds something to the movie. They were obviously trying to allow Irwin to do what he does best while still maintaining the form of a motion picture.

To be perfectly honest, I didn't care much about the story anyway. What I wanted to see were the animals dealing with The Crocodile Hunter himself. I'd say about 75% of the movie involves Irwin doing all the things he is famous for. He shows us the fangs on a venomous spider, the deadly bite of a snake, and - of course - he wrestles with an alligator. Seeing all these creatures on the big screen is really exciting; it allows for a closer examination of them than you get on television. The message about conservation is much appreciated, too.

As for the star, he's as appealing as ever. Steve Irwin is so entertaining on his own that he doesn't need a plot, or a script, or any co-stars. He just needs someone to turn a camera on him and let him go. The Crocodile Hunter: Collision Course pretty much does that. Crikey, did I have a good time!

( out of four)

The Crocodile Hunter: Collision Course is rated PG for action violence/peril and mild language. The running time is 1 hour and 30 minutes.

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