The Crocodile Hunter: Collision Course

Starring:
  • Steve Irwin Mucking With Wildlife
  • A Glimpse of Terri's Cleavage
  • That's My Bush!

 

Directed by John Stainton, Though Partial Credit Should Go to Wes Mannion

"You're alright, mate! Terri really likes it when I dangle these big snakes in front of her!"

Like Nothing Else in the History of Cinema

Or

My Love Letter to Steve Irwin

On the surface, it seems innocent enough: Steve Irwin, a real-life Crocodile Dundee, travels around the world, grabbing nature by the tail and showing it to kids for fun and profit. He offers his animals to the camera for our affection—he's talking directly to us, challenging us to love nature as much he does. And when the audience feels the rush he gets from wrangling a King Cobra, it's as if he's challenging us to love life as much as he does. To put a finer point on it, there's an erotic charge in each episode of "The Crocodile Hunter." Steve Irwin genuinely gets off on what he's doing. He walks over to a snake or a spider or a whatever, pokes it with a stick, arouses it, grabs it, and dances with it as they tease each other. The concentration of his face builds the tension, and where lesser daredevils like Jeff Corwin let go when things get too dangerous, Steve hangs on until he's done telling us everything he knows about its habitat, coloration, eating habits, and whatnot. My favorite part is when Steve releases the animal back into the wild, glowing with excitement, and raises his arms over his head in ecstasy, "Whoo-Hoo! The Black Mamba! Isn't She A Beauty!" Anyone who has ever had to get up off the couch and walk it off during a Croc Hunter commercial break knows exactly what I'm talking about.

Sometimes, this erotic undercurrent rises to the surface of the show, resulting in some genuinely bizarre, disconcerting images. Many of these come from Terri Irwin, Steve's American wife who came to Australia Zoo as a tourist and fell in love. As she explained on "Oprah," she saw this "incredibly sexy" guy explaining crocodile foreplay ("It goes on for hours," she said), and just decided to leave her home and head for the bush when Steve proposed to her. On the surface, Terri seems like Steve's dopey sidekick who's there to shine the flashlight or carry the koalas, but it only takes a couple of shows to see that Terri's ambition really is the driving force behind the Croc Hunter media blitz. And when Terri's sexuality manages to work itself into the show, the result is the most bizarre television imaginable: My favorite being the episode in which Terri spreads peanut butter on her face and lets a giant bear lick it off, as she carries on like an Herbal Essences commercial.

As their celebrity has grown, I've sensed a growing tension in Steve and Terri's marriage. Terri had to have known that this guy was going to be rich and famous. Yes, of course, she was turned on by Steve, but I've always sensed ambition in Terri. I point to the episode of "The Crocodile Hunter" in which Steve first ventures to the wild outback of the American talk-show circuit. There's palpable resentment in Terri's voice when she describes her sadness when her pet cougar doesn't even recognize her, just a few years after she left Oregon for Australia. It got worse when the Irwins landed in New York to be on "The Conan O'Brien Show": "Steve's not quite sure how to handle himself in the city. All these years I've been totally dependent on Steve to survive in the Australian Outback, now he's totally dependent on me just to get around." Later at some Hollywood dinner party, Terri shows up in an elegant black dress, while Steve is making the rounds in his usual khaki shorts and shirt. All these black-tied, drunken screenwriters converge on Steve while he goes on about wrestling crocs and whatnot. Terri is pissed: "Steve doesn't understand that in America, sometimes it's appropriate to dress up and look nice." The very next scene is the Irwins on the sidewalks of New York, Steve wearing slacks and a nice sweater.

Interestingly, John Stainton, director of The Crocodile Hunter: Collision Course, never filmed Steve until his wedding ceremony, at the behest of Terri. From then on, the camera has virtually been an Irwin family member—Steve even invited the crew along to film Terri giving birth to Bindi Sue. It's like Steve had an imaginary playmate as a child and he's finally found that friend again. Steve tells us constantly that the stars of his show are the animals, and we know that's not true, but I don't sense false modesty in Steve Irwin. You cannot act the pain in his eyes when he finds a beached sea turtle or a kangaroo smashed on the side of the road. You cannot act the glee in his voice when he releases a crocodile back into the wild. Yes, Steve Irwin's act has made him very rich and famous, but he's also given millions to wildlife charities and saved thousands of animals because of that celebrity.

That celebrity has brought Steve Irwin under fire some environmental groups, but such scrutiny seems a might cynical, if not jealous. If there's one thing the environmental lobby lacks, it's an image to sell to the public—perhaps if the Left were a little more media savvy, they would win more battles against loggers and oil companies. Environmental groups come across as a bit disingenuous when predicting catastrophes (whether they are actually impending or not); the words of Armani-clad Green warriors (Al Gore) and soft, "Kum-ba-ya"-singing tree huggers lack flesh and, hence, drama. Part of Steve Irwin's appeal, and his ability to have a voice, comes from his natural ability to create his own drama from the subject matter itself. Said another way, when the Left attacks big business, it lacks the balls of Steve Irwin wrangling a bird-eating spider.

Another part of the drama of "The Crocodile Hunter" is, of course, Steve Irwin's one-on-one running dialogue with the camera—as if he's a self-contained, live-action stream-of-conscious adventure. In short: Steve Irwin's method is a happy-go-lucky Ernest Hemmingway at accelerated speed and volume. He's also an embodiment of the inherent irony of the righteous crusader in the mass media age. He has to sell to save, exploit to help, and do enough off-camera to persuade us when he's on. Only the cynical would question Steve Irwin's devotion to his cause after viewing the episode in which he rescued a crocodile mired in a concrete pit in India, requiring three shoulder surgeries in its wake. In this way, Steve Irwin reminds me of Bono, who also takes criticism from outsiders who don't know how to play the game. Of course he stands perilously close to the precipice of hypocrisy—to me, the defining image of the Crocodile Hunter phenomena is Monty the Croc chomping a remote camera in his habitat at Australia Zoo. My rebuttal is this: How can you question a man's conviction who wrestles a sixteen foot crocodile with his bare hands?

You get to see all that and much more in The Crocodile Hunter: Collision Course, a must-see for the most casual Steve Irwin fan, or for any movie-goer curious to see a movie like no other. Steve battles the most poisonous snake in Australia, a bird-eating spider, the largest croc he's ever tackled (sixteen feet, for the record)—all stuff we've more-or-less seen before. The movie, however, wraps the Steve Irwin method around a plot that's a crazy as anything I've ever seen. The film opens with ominous talk of United States intelligence capabilities; next, a spy satellite explodes and a "top-secret US satellite spy beacon" goes crashing into the Australian Outback, where's it's promptly swallowed by, of course, a crocodile. The mom from Babe has had enough of this croc, so she tries to take the shotgun to it. Steve and Terri are dispatched to save the croc, but not before the CIA(!) dispatches two agents and a hot blonde to recover the beacon.

It sounds like the film is going to make the CIA agents into Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern in Home Alone, but that's far from the case. The scenes at CIA headquarters are played straight-faced, and the agents aren't bumbling buffoons. This is serious work, when in any other movie it would be played for cheap gags—no one winks at the camera. I admire John Stainton's willingness to take the concept all the way: Apparently, Steve Irwin has been present at every major world coup of the last decade, requiring the President of the United States (Timothy Bottoms from "That's My Bush") to issue a unilateral strike against Steve Irwin himself. This is the most bizarre plot of any film since Saddam met Satan in South Park.

Even more bizarre is the general method of the movie. Steve never read the script—he was merely given a broad outline and told to get from Point A to Point B. In an inspired decision, Stainton doesn't try to make Irwin into an actor; Steve tackles the movie like his show. This makes sense when he's chasing lizards through the desert, but Steve talks to the camera even while wrangling CIA agents on top of his truck. The internal logic of the film is that Steve is the only one who knows that the camera's on. And like the show, Steve's speeches aren't the sort of Ferris Bueller or Rob Gordon soliloquy, he's talking right to us in the theater, like a first person narrator in the stream of consciousness. This sort of bizarre method, which I've never seen on film, draws us into the sort of intimate relationship he naturally has with his audience.

The movie enters a whole other plane when the erotic undercurrent rises to the surface. In perhaps the most shocking scene in film in the last five years (I'm not kidding), Steve finds an abandoned joey kangaroo on the side of the road. Terri rips off her shirt, and we get a close-up cleavage shot as she prepares to breast feed it right there, as if she's giving it first aid. Later, Steve is handling a deadly snake that nearly bites his leg: We get a close-up of his inner-thigh; then the camera pans back, but stays focused on Steve's crotch, all the while he tells us that the venom would make "things rot off the human body." There's even a good fart joke: the fat woman gets caught with butt stuck out a window; she farts, and simultaneously the CIA blows up her barn with dynamite.

I'm not sure what else to say about Collision Course other than it's simply one of the best times I've had at the theater. It rewarded my faith in Steve Irwin by taking things farther than I anticipated. I should say that a Snobby For Special Merit in Direction should go to Wes Mannion for, even though he didn't direct the movie, not letting anyone get killed on the set. Longtime Croc Hunter fans will know Wes as Steve's best mate whom he drags out of the pub when he wants to go do something really stupid. Wes pretty much set up all these scenes with the animals, which I can honestly say are as compelling as anything I've seen on the show. There's something genuinely enrapturing about Steve Irwin poking a poisonous spider with a stick, and if it earns him the ability to go on "Oprah" and name a koala after her, then so be it. If a few Croc Hunter fans decide to join the Sierra Club, or support their local Greenways or animal shelters because of his show, then the end justifies the means.

The Pitch:
2 Crocodile Dundee
Plus
2 Carthage, Missouri Native Marlin Perkins
Equals
4 Crocodile Hunter: Collision Course
See It For:
The ATF putting an end to Steve's "Rattlesnakes of Waco" special.
Or See It For:
After being commissioned by US intelligence, Steve prepares to unleash the bird-eating spider into the caves outside of Tora-Bora.
Or See It For:
Steve's bare-knuckle negotiations with the executives from Animal Planet.