I am by no means an expert on Ozploitation or Australian cinema. I love the films dearly and Ozploitation icon Brian Trenchard-Smith is firmly cemented in my top five favorite directors but my overall knowledge is rather limited. Much like the country that is home to this renegade cinema, Ozploitation is a vast oasis that will take me years to fully explore. The great thing about that is it leaves plenty of “new” films for me to discover. By new of course, I mean new to me. My newest Australian discovery is 1987’s Dark Age.
The wonderful John Jarratt stars as Steve Harris, an Australian park ranger tasked with maintaining Australia’s crocodile population. Basically he’s a wildlife conservationist and he’s specifically looking out for the crocodiles. They’re magnificent creatures that have been around centuries dating back to the dinosaurs, hence the film’s title, but in just 200 years man has pushed them to the brink of extinction. Steve wants to see to it that crocodiles are protected and continue thrive and live for countless centuries to come.
One evening a trio of poachers are out hunting crocodiles when they come across a massive 25 foot beast unlike anything they’ve ever seen before. Being that they are gross poachers they are determined to kill the croc and take its head as a trophy. Unfortunately for them this croc is no pushover and kills two of them. The surviving poacher, an awful man named John Besser (Max Phipps), wants the crocodile dead and city officials, including Steve’s boss, are in agreement that the giant croc must die.
Steve doesn’t want to kill the crocodile, which makes sense because as mentioned he is an animal conservationist, so he sets out to find the crocodile. Unfortunately Steve isn’t able to find the crocodile before it kills again. This time the prey is a small little boy and the crocodile eats him in a scene that is shockingly gruesome. Now three people have been killed and government officials aren’t messing around — this killer croc must be stopped! A price is put on the croc’s head in an effort to have it killed before it kills again. With a number of shady poachers now hoping to claim a quick buck, Steve must race to save the crocodile and move it to a safe sanctuary.
There are a couple of reasons why Steve doesn’t want to kill the animal. Crocodiles have been around for thousands of years, long before people arrived, so it’s the responsibility of humans to learn to live with crocs, not the other way around. Plus the croc only killed the first time in defense. The child’s death is hard to overcome, but Steve is informed by Oondabund (Burnam Burnam), an Aboriginal Australian, that the crocodile only killed the small child because he was very sick. Oondabund also informs Steve that this particular crocodile is very important to the Aboriginals because it contains the spirit of their past. Steve, with the help of Oondabund and Oondabund’s son Adjaral (David Gulpilil), must find the croc before the poachers do.
Dark Age is fascinating for a lot of reasons. On the surface it’s basically Jaws but with a crocodile, which is a pretty good premise. It’s a violent, gory and sometimes shocking B-movie. All of that is just at the surface level. Once you dig deeper you find the film has a lot of layers. This is something I’ve found to be true of a lot of Ozploitation over the years. These films aren’t just gory genre cinema, they’re often times a social commentary and Dark Age is no different.
A couple of things I picked up on right away. The film touches on man’s relationship with the environment. We treat animals like they’re a problem when we encroached on them. Of course animals are going to fight back, we’ve taken their homes. Steve talks about this very point when asked by his boss why he wants to save the crocodiles. It’s important to respect nature because if we don’t nature will bite back.
The film also touches on the relationship between the Aboriginal Australians and the white settlers who have now taken over. The Aboriginals respect the animals and nature and this is a big theme throughout the entire movie. Oondabund talks about how the crocodile won’t hurt Aboriginals because they have learned to live with one another and have developed a mutual respect. The crocodile doesn’t know have that same respect for the white man. Oondabund does point out that Steve is the exception. At one point Oondabund states that the crocodile will not hurt Steve because Steve is good to the Aboriginals.
There is this wonderful moment in the film where Steve is arguing with his boss about why they can’t kill the croc. One of Steve’s main points is that it means too much to the Aboriginals. Steve’s boss responds to this by saying you can’t go anywhere without “some black” saying you’re on sacred ground. It’s such a casually delivered but highly important line. Not only is it extremely racist, just hearing the phrasing “some black” strikes a chord, but it let’s you know how little respect the white men have for Aboriginals.
The special features get into the social aspects of the film a lot more. There is a great panel discussion between four Australian film critics and they really get into the heart of the matter. One of the things they discuss that I didn’t know is this film was released around the time Australia was celebrating its bicentennial. According to these critics there was a lot of talk during that time about how Aboriginals wouldn’t be around much longer so their culture and tradition wasn’t viewed as important. It’s really fascinating as an outsider that doesn’t know a lot about Australia and wasn’t aware of any of this. It’s amazing how a movie about a giant crocodile can be so socially aware and teach you something.
The Blu-ray has a number of other great special features to go with the panel discussion. There is an extended interview from Not Quite Hollywood with Jarratt discussing Dark Age. Jarratt gets into the film quite a bit and talks about how during filming he kept begging the director to do the film as a comedy because he thought the whole thing was absurd and figured the movie would be terrible. There is also an audio commentary with Jarratt, a little documentary on crocodiles, various trailers and more.
Dark Age is a wonderful film that has a bit of everything. It’s an adventure movie inside a creature feature — with an animatronic crocodile by the way — that is also very socially aware. Now the film is finally available on a great Blu-ray thanks to Umbrella Entertainment. It’s loaded with special features and the picture quality is superb. I love the movie and the Blu-ray is one of the year’s best. I cannot recommend this one enough.
Dark Age is available on region free Blu-ray from Umbrella Entertainment.