Monday, October 9, 2017

DARK AGE (1987) (Blu-ray Review)

DARK AGE (1987)
Ozploitation Classics Blu-ray 

Label: Umbrella Entertainment
Rating: MA 15+
Region Code: Region-FREE
Duration: 90 Minutes 
Audio: English Dolby Digital 2.0 Mon, 2.0 Stereo with Optional English Subtitles 
Video: 1080P HD Widescreen (1.77:1)
Director: Arch Nicholson
Cast: John Jarratt, Nikki Coghill, Max Phipps, Burnham Burnham, David Gulpilil, Ray Meagher, Jeff Ashby, Paul Bertram, Ron Blanchard

Synopsis: A classic tale of terror from the golden age of Aussie exploitation, Dark Age features outback stalwart John Jarratt (Wolf Creek) as Northern Territory wildlife ranger Steve Harris, a stoic survivor charged with conserving the ever diminishing crocodile population from encroaching hunters, hell-bent on destruction of the species. Faced with formidable opposition from gung-ho hunter John Besser (Max Phipps, Mad Max 2), Steve is joined by girlfriend Cathy (Nikki Coghill, The Time Guardian) and sets out to relocate a giant crocodile to a breeding ground sanctuary, well out of harm's way. Aided by expert tracker Oondabund (Burnam Burnam, Ground Zero) and Adjaral (David Gulpilil, The Tracker) the intrepid foursome risk life and limb in a terrifying journey that will test their nerves and transform the tranquil Territory waters into a raging red torrent of death.

It was director Mark Hartley's insanely fun Ozploitation documentary Not Quite Hollywood (2009) where I first caught a glimpse of the killer croc flick Dark Age (1987) with it's 20 foot plastic man-eating crocodile, I knew then that I needed this movie in my life! John Jarratt (Wold Creek) portrays Northern Territory wildlife ranger Steve Harris, a real eco-friendly kinda guy with aims to conserve the land down under's dwindling crocodile population from the threat of poachers. One poacher in particular proves to be a thorn in Steve's arse, a local named John Besser (Max Phipps, Mad Max 2), who along with his fellow poachers fail to heed warnings of aboriginal (David Gulpilil, The Last Wave) of a large croc in the area, and thus the hunters become the hunted, attacked by the fearsome reptile, only Besser survives. With the threat of a killer croc in the area Steve sets out to relocate the man-eating croc despite public outcry to exterminate the beast. Steve is aided on his mission by two Aboriginees; the mystic Oondabund (Burnam Burnam, Howling III: The Marsupials) and tracker Adjaral (David Gulpilil, The Last Wave), whom view the creature as a mystical keystone to their people's past.

Throughout the film the giant croc, or Numunwari as it's known to the Aboriginees, savages the poacher Besser again, apparently not having learned his lesson the first time around, this time the bloke loses half his arm for his troubles. The injury spurs an Ahab-styled obsession against the creature making it all the more difficult for the trio to recover the croc without incident, add to that Steve's superior further laying on the pressure to kill the creature. Mixed into the carnage is a ham-fisted love story  wherein Steve is reunited with his former girlfriend Cathy (Nikki Coghill, The Time Guadrian), it's a pointless exercise but does result in the film's lone instance of nudity so it ain't all that bad, Coghill is easy on the eyes. Jarratt's conservationist Steve is far removed from his sadistic character Mick from the later-day Ozploitation classic Wolf Creek (2005). As usual David Gulpilil steals every frame of film, he's just so magnetic on screen, the camera loves this guys face, definitely the most recognizable Aboriginal actor of all time in my opinion.

The glimpse I caught of the croc in Not Quite Hollywood was actually pretty terrible, it appeared quite the hideous construct. So how's the giant saltwater croc stack-up now that I've had a good look at it? Not too shabby for the most part, all things considered, with some notable exceptions. There's definitely a Spielbergian less is more approach to the film, and that's just one of many Jaws-esque ideas and themes floating around this flick; from the decision not to kill the creature, the boat being pulled along by the force of the creature, etc - it's just expected and not at all alarming in my opinion, pretty much every creature feature riffs on Jaws. The creature effects are decent when kept to a minimum, once the croc gets on dry land during the final few minutes it's get pretty bad pretty damn fast, but it's only momentarily awful. The kills are  fun if not particularly amazing, when poachers and fisherman run afoul of the menace it's usually a bloody affair, not too much gore though.  I will say that when a toddler gets snatched from the end of a dock it was surprising, I didn't expect that one to go full-on kill-the-kid.

Director Arch Nicholson keeps the thrills coming at a pretty good clip with good production value. The Northern territories of Australia make for a gorgeous backdrop and the film really showcases the land's beauty, which is wonderfully captured by cinematographer Andrew Lesnie who would later go onto great acclaim and Oscars after lensing Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy. I've always had a fondness for the look and aesthetic of Aussie films and this proves no different, love the lighting of the night shots, the fog covered swamps are moody and atmospheric.

Keep in mind that this is an ozploitation film and as such their some fair amount of lunacy to be found, such as a car full of punks menacing an old man and a car chase featuring a car full of angry redneck poachers chasing a semi rig with the croc strapped to it's trailer through the outback, it's pure craziness but awesome just the same. All in all a pretty fun watch, perhaps not a great film but definitely a great watch!

Audio/Video: Dark Age (1987) arrives on Blu-ray from Umbrella Entertainment with a new HD scan framed in 1.77;1 widescreen. This is a nice improvement over their previous DVD release, the grain is present but less chunky looking, but it does get a bit grainy, particularly at night, but it is better resolvedhere. There's some minor print damage and white speckling from time to time, but nothing too offensive. Skin tones and colors look accurate, the night scenes are at times a bit murky, but fine detail is decent during brighter scenes and in close-ups.  

There are two audio options, and sadly both lossy Dolby Digital, Umbrella have chosen not to take full advantage what the HD format offers. We get 2.0 Mono and 2.0 stereo, for my money I liked the mono audio track. Dialogue, score and special effects come through clean, it's not overly dynamic or crisp, and there's not much separation, but it is quite serviceable. Optional English subtitles are provided. 

Onto the extras Umbrella carry-over the audio commentary with star John Jarratt and ozploitation producer extraordinaire Antony I.Ginnane (Patrick, Thirst), which is pretty relaxed and not really alive with energy but enjoyable as Ginnane recalls why the film never received Australian distribution prior to this DVD release and Jarratt recalls working with the cast and filming a few scenes specifically. Would have loved at least a few trailers but the commentary certainly sweetens the deal.

Umbrella upgrade the extras n the Blu-ray too with a host of new stuff for fans to dig through, beginning with Uncut Not Quite Hollywood Interviews with John Jarratt and Antony I. Ginnane, running about 17-minutes. Jarratt speaks about the making of the film, how he felt during filming it should have been a comedy, how the croc didn't work so great, and warning actors not to get stuck in a two-shot scene with Gulpilil because no one will even see you!

There's also a panel discussions with film historians Lee Gambin, Alexandra Heller-Nicholas, Emma Westwood and Sally Christie running 24-minutes long, none of these folks had anything to do with the film, but offer their interpretations and take aways from the movie. There's also a 59-min vintage doc about protecting crocodiles in Australia  - which has nothing to do with the film other than Grahame Webb, seen in the doc, is the author of 'Numunwari', the book which inspired  the movie. There's also a selection of trailers and a gallery of images, including production notes, key art, home video releases,, selections from shooting script, and stills. 

The single-disc Blu-ray release comes housed in the usual over-sized Blu-ray keepcase with a sleeve of reversible artwork featuring the original key-art, the reverse side features a variant of the same key artwork minus the rating label. Also, good news, this release is region-free! 

Special Features: 
-Audio Commentary with Actor John Jarratt and Executive Producer Antony I. Ginnane
-A Bicentenary with Bite: Revisiting “Dark Age”
- Panel discussion with film historians Lee Gambin, Alexandra Heller-Nicholas, Emma Westwood and Sally Christie (24 min) HD 
-Uncut Not Quite Hollywood Interviews with John Jarratt and Antony I. Ginnane (17 min) 
-Living With Crocodiles: 1986 documentary with Grahame Webb, author of 'Numunwari', the book which inspired Dark Age (49 min) HD 
- Theatrical Trailer (2 min) HD 
- US Home Video Trailer #1 (2 min) HD 
- US Home Video Trailer #2
- Image Gallery including rare press and promotional material

Dark Age (1987) is a fun ozploitation creature feature that's perfect for a Saturday night on the couch with some frosty beers and a few good friends. It's definitely worth seeking out, particularly if you crave ozploitation cinema and have a predilection for giant killer croc and gator flicks like Rogue, Black Water and Lake Placid, it's a fun Jaws riff and a good watch!

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