Rogue first published by Little White Lies
Love it or loathe it, Paul Hogan’s Crocodile Dundee (1986), coupled with a series of commercials that Hogan made for the Australian Tourist Commission at roughly the same time, helped put Australia on the international map – and also helped define the future filmmaking career of one Greg McLean. For if Dundee reduced the national character to the exportable mythology of the ‘jolly bushman’, creating an image that the country has been trying to live down ever since, then McLean took revenge in his debut feature Wolf Creek (2005) by having his own, somewhat less jolly bushman utter Dundee’s catchphrase “that’s not a knife” while slashing, torturing and raping his way through the Hogan stereotype.
By setting his second feature, Rogue, in the crocodile-(and tourist-)infested estuaries of the Northern Territory, McLean is once again entering Dundee’s old stamping grounds and trying to put paid to Hogan’s cosy iconography. Rogue is a slick, serviceable nature’s revenge flick in which a boat full of pleasure-seekers trespasses into ‘sacred land’ and comes under relentless attack from a giant ‘saltie’. The menacing double-bass that accompanies the croc’s approach expressly acknowledges the debt to Steven Spielberg’s Jaws (1975), while the up-river location and plot recall Luis Llosa’s Anaconda (1995) – although the hysterical high camp of the latter film is here replaced by a deadly seriousness, underscored by some impressively credible performances.
Rogue is not without its flaws. First up, there is its very mixed message, on the one hand trying to make tourists think twice about venturing down under, while on the other seducing them both with beautiful panoramas of virgin territory, and with a plot in which the intruding outsiders eventually triumph over the savagery of their hostile environment. Coming from a director who in his first film let even the ‘final girl’ die, and coming from the land that brought us arguably the greatest and grimmest nature’s revenger of all, Colin Egglestone’s Long Weekend (1978), such conventional (and fruitful) heroics seem tame and toothless – and one can almost feel the clashing instincts of McLean and his Hollywood executive producers the Weinsteins, with the hokey spirit of Crocodile Dundee winning out in the end.
The film’s other problem was bad timing. Films about big-jawed reptiles are, like the creatures themselves, strongly territorial, and part of the reason for the success of Tobe Hooper’s Eaten Alive (1977), Lewis Teague’s Alligator (1980) and Steve Miner’s Lake Placid (1999) was that they had no competition in the feeding chain. When Tobe Hooper’s Crocodile (2000) and James D.R. Hickox’s Krockodylus (2000) both came out in the same year, however, neither was able to survive their imposed co-existence – and Rogue too suffered the misfortune of being released more or less simultaneously with David Nerlich & Andrew Traucki’s similar Black Water (2007), whose clever digital compositing of real croc footage with actors and locations trumped McLean’s high-spec CGI in the popular imagination. This is essentially why Rogue never made it to cinemas in the UK and is only now being released on DVD. Still, this late arrival will in no way dampen the heart-stopping impact of the climax, in which our dragon-slaying hero literally snatches victory from the jaws of defeat.
© Anton Bitel