Dark Age – Australia, 1987 – overview and reviews

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‘Just when you thought it was safe down under…’

Dark Age is a 1987 Australian eco-horror film concerning not just the battle between humans and a giant killer crocodile but conservationists and Aboriginal people versus the local authorities who just want the beast shot and everyone to be quiet.

The film was directed by Arch Nicholson (second unit director on Razorback) from a screenplay by Sonia Borg, based on the novel Numunwari by Grahame Webb.

It stars John Jarrett (Wolf Creek films and TV series), Ray Meagher, Nikki Coghill and Burnham Burnham (The Marsupials: The Howling III).

The stunning cinematography was provided by Andrew Lesnie who worked on all six of Peter Jackson’s Hobbit and Lord of the Rings films.

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In the Northern Territory, Australia, a huge saltwater crocodile is patrolling the river system and, though held in almost God-like regard by the Native Australians, attracts less flattering comments when its journeys lead it near a remote town.

More forgiving is a park ranger, Steve (a youthful Jarrett), who represents the white man with a heart, determined to protect the local fauna but he finds himself fighting a losing battle as locals start to become meals for the hungry reptile.

Obliged by the majority of the local populous, as well as his permanently angry boss, Rex (Meagher), to slay the beast to protect the dwindling locals as well as save their tourist industry, Steve opts for a safe middle ground, aiming to catch the crocodile and re-locate it somewhere less provocative.

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Thrown into the stew are a glut of beer-swilling hunters, led by John (Max Phipps; Thirst; The Cars That Ate Paris) who, in the quest to find it, shoot any living thing in or near the water, as well as the Aboriginal people who recognise the reptile as a ‘Dreaming Crocodile’, a spirit which has existed long before Man. Less integral is Steve’s ex-girlfriend (Coghill) who returns to help in a manner not usually common in former partners.

Tensions between the gung-ho, racist, drunk poachers and the crocodile’s protectors reach fever-pitch when even more humans go missing, not least a small child.

It takes the son of indigenous leader Oondabund (Burnham Burham), Adjaral (played by David Gulpill, Hollywood’s go-to Aborigine; Crocodile Dundee, The Proposition), to join forces with Steve to try for one last time to save the creature.

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Australia’s fascination with its own wildlife and Man’s uneasy relationship with it can be seen in many films, from Long Weekend to Razorback and more recent efforts like Black Water. Here, the element of Native beliefs is also considered, though the monotone, pidgin soothsaying, and ancient wisdom become rather cloying, to the extent that your sympathies are tempted to wander.

A perfect companion piece to Razorback, the film is refreshing in its treatment of the huge, scaly threat, the crocodile gave no redeeming qualities as such, the scene in which devours a small child both matter-of-fact and unnervingly realistic.

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Equally eye-popping are the poachers’ culling of other reptiles, chunks of croc meat flying across the screen as their bullets hit, a surprise to those who assumed, as with most other films, the animals simply sink or gently flip over when shot. The boorish, sweating hunters are a perfect villain, their disdain for anything moving or less than 8% proof adding a certain claustrophobia to proceedings, the air of ultimate futility quite heady. The shooting locations of Alice Springs and Cairns are beautifully shot and their alien appearance, certainly lend a believability to a huge monster living in the waterways – you wouldn’t blink if a dinosaur came crashing through the undergrowth.

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Though generally appearing only fleetingly, the crocodile is certainly realistic, especially as shots of the real thing are mixed into some shots. Less comfortable are some of the actors, the spirituality, and violence leaving little middle ground; the hunters too obviously ‘evil’; the Aboriginal beliefs too thickly laid on; the heroic conservationist too earnest. You’re left rooting for the crocodile to eat everyone, not necessarily a failure in the filmmaking but presumably not the aim.

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The film was denied a release in its native land for many years due to the collapse of the Australian distributor, Avco Embassy. The executive producer was Antony I. Ginnane, a champion of Australian horror and genre films – of note are Patrick and Dead Kids. The American financier was RKO Pictures, one of their last projects before the company was (yet again) rejigged and sold on to new owners. The film finally received a public screening in Australia in 2011.

Daz Lawrence, moviesandmania

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