Saturday, May 17, 2014

CROCODILE DUNDEE/CROCODILE DUNDEE II: Blu-ray (Paramount 1986/88) Paramount Home Video

Paul Hogan’s singular ambition for Crocodile Dundee (1986) was to make Australia’s first “proper movie”; by this, he meant mainstream and marketable around the world. The success of the picture in America – and thus, worldwide – bears out Hogan’s desire; also, it reflects the unfettered purity of its single-minded objective, cobbled together in producer, John Cornell, Ken Shadie, and, Paul Hogan’s screenplay, playing to the archetypal ‘fish out of water’ tall tale of a rugged individualist, grappling to comprehend everything from bong hits to bidets. Hogan, already a well-established personality in his native Australia and something of a minor celebrity in South Africa (his good-natured, laddish ocker humor exercised on his own syndicated TV program) was a virtual unknown to American audiences. In retrospect, Hogan’s autonomy proves part – if not all - of the film’s success. For, Crocodile Dundee plays to this nation’s thorny misperceptions about Aussie adventurists from the land ‘down under’. So, we’re all in on the joke it takes our hero a full 98 minutes to figure out for himself.
Hogan’s idea was to mirror – rather than dispel – the myths and clichés; his contemporary Tarzan of the outback something of walking anachronism to the modern steel and concrete counterculture subbing in for Manhattan; again – represented within the context of the movie as more of a truism than a real place; complete with masculinized power-broker women, horny transvestites, naughty – but nice – hookers, and, the prerequisite uppity and affluent WASP-types. In retrospect, Crocodile Dundee doesn’t hold up nearly as well as it did within the context of the go-go/spend-spend 1980’s; a decade proliferated by a goodly number of implausibly fantastic romantic/comedies (Mannequin 1987, Weird Science 1985, Splash 1985, and, Big 1984, among them).  
Crocodile Dundee isn’t quite as escapist as some of the others; its narrative footing grounded in some fairly believable – if utterly silly – scenarios.  Alas, the story’s kernel of truth is enveloped by a mere trifle; shockingly shallow and slightly perverse. There’s joy to be had – but it comes at the expense of character development and tightly scripted plot. Paul Hogan acknowledged as much after the picture had already become a runaway success, referring to his alter ego as that “mythical outback Australian…who walks through the bush, picking up snakes and throwing them aside, living off the land, who can ride horses and chop down trees and has that simple, friendly, laid-back philosophy. It's the image Americans have of us, so why not give them one?”
For a brief wrinkle in time, Hogan tapped into our perennial fascination for the underdog – particularly an affable one. Mick Dundee (Paul Hogan) makes the best of a curious situation and (stop me if you’ve heard this one before) wins the heart of the girl who doesn’t yet know she has already begun to fall in love with him. Such featherweight plotting is, of course, puffed out with some memorable set pieces. Who can forget the “now that’s a knife!” scene; Mick and his paramour, newspaper ‘Sheila’, Sue Charlton (Linda Kozlowski), accosted by a trio of would-be subway muggers packing switchblades, only to be subdued and frightened off by Mick and his barong? Or perhaps, the movie’s most iconic moment; Mick – having already goosed a barroom transvestite (to confirm for himself that it’s a man) performing the same deliberate ‘inspection’ of a decidedly mannish, middle-age society maven, who – predictably – finds the experience enjoyable.
If Crocodile Dundee has a flaw, it’s that the movie never takes anything seriously – not even its’ escalating ‘love affair’ between Mick and Sue. There is, to be sure, an impediment to overcome; Sue’s engagement to her editor-in-chief, Richard Mason (Mark Blum); a character so inconsistently rendered throughout this story he proves a minor embarrassment to the overall dramatic arc. Richard starts off as Sue’s adoring suitor, before devolving into a chestnut of the arrogant prick (so insecure, he cannot help but try and humiliate the competition with pithy retorts and remedial putdowns, designed to expose Mick’s awkward assimilation, but instead revealing much more about his own egotistical inadequacies). Richard’s last act settles him firmly as the movie’s dandified fop, destined to lose the girl. 
By comparison, Mick Dundee emerges as the level-headed idealist for Sue’s aching and conflicted heart. Yet, Mick is briefly portrayed in the Australian prologue as a fairly randy sod and something of a shameless self-promoter, who can hold his liquor – a lot of it. Perhaps it’s this untamed ‘danger factor’ that Sue finds so sexually appealing. And, indeed, placed within the context of Australia’s rugged outback and the movie’s own mythologized world view of it, Mick exhibits certain inalienable virtues any ‘Sheila’ could certainly admire; predictably - gallantry, as Mick’s rough-around-the-edges ‘knight’ comes to the rescue of Sue’s ‘cosmopolitan damsel in distress’ more than once; though most nobly during her confrontation with a rather large man-eating crocodile.
Six weeks shoot in Jaja, inside Kakadu National Park and Cloncurry gives Crocodile Dundee its rich patina of naturalist verisimilitude. This looks like Australia – or, at least, a foreigners’ impression of it; far removed from the white sail-like arches of the Sidney opera house, or even the basic comforts of ‘civilized society’; a landscape rough-hewn and unkempt by all but the hands of God and Mother Nature. In this context, we can totally buy into the idea of Mick Dundee; a sinewy and tanned bushman, raised by aborigines to hunt wild beasts, snap the heads off poisonous snakes with his bare hands and anesthetize a wild buffalo simply by staring it down. And Mick can appreciate the reputation he’s built amongst the locals in his native habitat of Walkabout Creek; also, not above playing to his own mythology for Sue’s benefit (pretending to shave with his barong instead of a Bick razor, also telling time by the position of the sun – when he actually owns a wrist watch). Sue’s come to Walkabout to cover the story of how Mick survived a crocodile attack, rumored to have torn half his leg off.  In actuality, the croc only took a slight nibble from his lower calf; the wound impressively superficial.
Sue’s introduction to Mick is no less spectacular; taken to the only viable pub and hotel in town by Walter Reilly (John Meillon); the co-owner/operator of a small safari business whose motto is “If you don’t go out with us, you probably won’t come back.” After patiently awaiting Mick’s arrival, Sue is given her first real opportunity to witness the legend in all his faux and self-aggrandizing glory; wrestling with a stuffed croc and indulging in some drinking games with his pals. She finds him brash – which, of course, he is – but nevertheless, feels there is more to Mick than meets the eye. He promises to take her to the spot where his near fatal encounter with the croc occurred. Sue’s fascinated by Mick. The contradictions in his personality tantalize her. He’s merely perplexed by this Newsday reporter out for a scoop, looking far too good to have her head stuck in a word processor.
During their three day sojourn in the outback, Sue comes to admire Mick more and more – particularly after he lives up to his namesake by slewing a croc out to make her its noonday snack. Sue also meets Mick’s dear friend, Neville Bell (David Gulpilil); an Oxford-educated tribesman, come home for a ceremonial festival.  Sue skulks around, taking pictures and making her notes, witnessing poachers killing kangaroos (an act thwarted by Mick’s quick thinking for wily revenge). Alas, for Sue, Mick has already become more than a good story. Hence, her invitation to show Mick New York is more than a friendly gesture. She’s already begun to harbor feelings for him. Sue’s dad, retired editor and newspaper magnet, Sam Charlton (Michael Lombard) is intrigued by Mick’s refreshing disconnect with the outside world. But Sue’s editor and fiancée, Richard is territorial about their relationship; endeavoring to discredit Mick at every possible moment as just a backwoods hick who ought to go home at the earliest possible convenience.
Indeed, Mick doesn’t seem to fit in; or rather – does – just not with the ‘right people’ as far as Richard is concerned. Within the movie’s pro-proletariat stance, Mick befriends the Charlton’s chauffeur, Gus (Reginald VelJohnson), the doorman at his hotel (Irving Metzman), room service maid, Rosita (Christine Totos) and Manhattan cabbie, Danny (Rik Colitti); the latter taking him on a wild night of bar-hopping hilarity, culminating in Mick’s minor skirmish with a benign greaser/pimp (John Snyder). Sue exposes Mick to the finer points of the city’s culture; her artsy-fartsy friends painted with even broader brushstrokes as cocaine snorting milquetoasts and lovers of thoroughly vacuous modern art. The seedy ‘criminal’ element periodically crop up to provide Mick with the impetus to be chivalrous and thus, melt Sue’s heart.
It doesn’t take long for Sue to realize she and Richard will never make a start in life. However, she and Mick just might be able to make things click – if only he hadn’t already checked out of his hotel and decided to go walkabout; the Aussie terminology for ‘exploring’ one’s surroundings. Alas, in America, such an endeavor could take decades. Okay, let’s set aside the fact Mick’s probably only in town for a short while on a visitor’s Visa; also, that he has virtually no funds to sustain himself in this cash-mad culture. It’s a movie – remember – and a fantastic one at that. Sue takes off running – literally – ditching her high heels and ducking into a subway station to prevent her man from getting away. Their penultimate reunion is diffused by some awkward silliness; communicating with one another via a daisy-chain of strangers who ultimately become invested in the outcome of their romantic story.
Consider Crocodile Dundee as Australia’s response to Davy Crockett; the coonskin cap traded in for a weather-beaten, leathery fedora and snakeskin boots; the tale of this butch loner from the land time seemingly forgot, finding love with a woman of the world from the Big Apple. It’s pure confection, but sold as plausibly engaging entertainment. The movie still works, though not as obviously shielded by its all too evaporative ‘feel good’. In 1986, none of this – of course – mattered, the movie’s worldwide gross of $360,000,000 (on a relatively miniscule $8 million budget) all but ensuring a sequel was immediately in the works).
Alas, Crocodile Dundee II (1988) is a wafer-thin successor; morbidly transparent in its attempt to revisit the same well twice; Paul and Brett Hogan’s screenplay a mere retread, with an ever so slight variation on the first movie’s central theme. Critics of their day were quick to point out that the novelty of a woodsman in New York had worn out its welcome. Yet, this did not stop the sequel from becoming another sizable hit for Paramount. The plot of Crocodile Dundee II isn’t much to go on. A year has passed. Sue and Mick are happily marrieds in Manhattan; he, still ignorant of the subtler nuances of city life; she, pursuing a career that has transformed her husband’s media reputation into something of an A-list celebrity Aussie knockoff of Paul Bunyan. 
The movie’s plot embroils Mick and Sue in a ridiculous bit of cloak and dagger after Sue's ex-husband, Bob, takes some incriminating photographs of a Columbian drug cartel leader’s murder – sending the prints to Sue before being murdered himself by sentries loyal to the drug lord, Luis Rico (Hechter Ubarry), and his brother, Miguel (Juan Fernández) who come to Manhattan to retrieve the evidence of their complicity in these crimes. The gangsters take Sue hostage, forcing Mick to engage his boss, Leroy Brown (Charles S. Dutton) – an ex-gang banger cum successful businessman – into calling in some reinforcements from the good ole days. In short order, Mick and his cohorts rescue Sue; the pair fleeing to Walkabout Creek – presumably, because Mick knows how to fight the bad guys on his own turf; also, to reintroduce us to the roster of lovable reprobates we first – and very briefly – met in the original movie.
The plot becomes even more fanciful when Mick takes Sue to his private refuge – Belonga Mick – a vast expanse of territory he actually owns, containing a gold mine. So, Sue didn’t marry a roughneck pauper after all!  Alas, and predictably, Rico and his men have tracked the pair down, taking Walter hostage to snuff Mick out of hiding. Walter agrees to lead Luis and his men to Mick’s hideaway, but instead takes them on a walkabout wild goose chase, affording Mick the opportunity – with the aid of his Aboriginal friends – to pick off his opponents one by one. Tired of their pursuit, Rico sets a bushfire to flush Mick out. Instead, Mick captures Rico, using his clothes to impersonate the drug lord, luring Miguel into his entrapment. Now, we move into the film’s mistaken identity scenario; Walter – believing Mick is Rico – superficially wounds him by mistake; Miguel shooting his own brother, who plummets off a steep ravine as a result, and Sue killing Miguel. Asked by her husband, whether she is ready to go home Sue replies, “I am home.”
Crocodile Dundee II is a fairly abysmal affair from start to finish; its screenplay giving these beloved characters more story than they’re capable of handling. There isn’t enough mileage in these cardboard cutouts to sustain the plot. And the movie suffers from a general lack of romantic chemistry. Having Sue and Mick married seems to have blunted the electricity generated by their relationship in the first movie.  Despite these shortcomings, Crocodile Dundee II was Paramount’s second highest grossing movie of the year. Only Eddie Murphy’s Coming to America (a superior comedy in all respects) outperformed it. And Crocodile Dundee II was also the sixth highest grossing film of the year. It isn’t surprising for sequels to surpass in box office; the reputation of the original movie spawning a lucrative franchise, effectively carrying over and pre-selling the follow-up to the audience. But Crocodile Dundee II isn’t a valiant successor in this franchise that still had one more movie to go; 2001’s Crocodile Dundee in Los Angeles.
Paramount Home Video has finally come around to releasing the first two movies to Blu-ray and in fairly spiffy looking transfers with minor caveats. Crocodile Dundee’s 1080p transfer begins with an establishing long shot of the Manhattan skyline at night. But the shimmering lights appear to suffer from some undue image sharpening. This shot is followed by a fairly nondescript and overly soft establishing shot of ‘Newsday’s’ exterior; looking dull and very flat. Mercifully, the overall quality of the image begins to snap together as it should immediately thereafter; sporting robust colors; a lot of vibrant greens, burnt oranges, lemon yellows and blistering reds. Fine detail really pops, Australia’s rural splendor exquisitely rendered. New York’s gritty streetscapes also come to life. However, there seems to be a curious fuzziness around the peripheries of the image that I do not believe are indigenous to Russell Boyd’s original cinematography. Black levels also tend to crush during darker scenes, but flesh tones are very accurately rendered throughout. Minor age-related artifacts are also present, though hardly noticeable on smaller displays and, even when blown up to projection, not altogether distracting.
Crocodile Dundee II’s 1080p transfer sports an overall sharper image. Colors seem just a tad less refined and, in spots, teetering on the bland side by comparison.  Grain borders on becoming digitized; though it never quite crosses this threshold. The sequel was also photographed by Boyd, but his technique seems to have slightly changed over the course of the two movies. Crocodile Dundee II is a more brightly lit movie. Fine details pops. We see intricacies in clothing and hair, also in background information that truly adds something to this presentation. Alas, there’s also quite a bit of age-related debris scattered throughout. Honestly, Paramount ought to have run this negative through a blue wash to fill in some of the cracks. Aside: I never cease to be astonished by a movie not even thirty years old yet having sustained so much visible damage. Exactly where have these elements been archived?!? 
The audio on the first movie is 2.0 DTS. The sequel is a 5.1 DTS upgrade. Crocodile Dundee’s audio is fairly frontal sounding, with music and effects providing limited ambiance in the side channels. Nothing to complain about: adequate volume and clarity, though predictably lacking nuance and punch. Crocodile Dundee II’s audio bests the original marginally; adding a sense of dimension. Again, you won’t be blown away, but this is a very competent 5.1 presentation, amply represented with crispness in support of the visuals. Curiously, Paramount has given us nothing in the way of extras for the first movie, but a brief featurette for the second, plus a trailers presented in HD. Bottom line: Crocodile Dundee – the first one – is a ‘feel good’ fluff pieces from the 1980’s. Its premise has dated considerably since, but it still has its charm and appeal. Paramount’s 2-disc Blu-ray looks great, though not spectacular. Recommended.
FILM RATING (out of 5 – 5 being the best)
Crocodile Dundee – 3.5
Crocodile Dundee II – 2.5


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