• Dark Age

    Released by: Umbrella Entertainment
    Released on: September 6th, 2017.
    Director: Arch Nicholson
    Cast: John Jarratt, Nikki Coghill, Max Phipps, Burnham Burnham, David Gulpilil, Ray Meagher
    Year: 1987
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    The Movie:

    Arch Nicholson’s 1987 killer crocodile feature Dark Age was notoriously difficult to see in its native Australia (though it did get VHS releases in the United States and parts of Europe) due to the fact that its distributor got out of the film distribution game shortly after it was finished and the rights got tied up in a legal mess. It wasn’t until 2011 that it was given a release in its homeland by way of Umbrella Entertainment’s DVD – and now, six years later, the film makes its worldwide Blu-ray debut.

    Clearly influenced by Jaws, with maybe a bit of Moby Dick thrown in for good measure, the story opens when a group of poachers in the Australian outback comes across a massive salt water crocodile – it doesn’t end well. One of them makes it back alive and makes a stink – which means that ranger Steve Harris (Jack Jarratt) is going to have to do something about it, even if the poachers got what they were asking for.

    With some help from his girlfriend Cathy (Nikki Coghill), a wise Aborigine named Oondabund (Burnam Burnam) and his son Adjaral (David Gulpilil) Harris sets out to capture the killer croc before it can do more harm. Soon enough, it’s making short work of drunken poachers and little kids alike, which means that Harris’ boss is putting even more pressure on him than before to take care of this. Their plan is to relocate the giant maneater to a wildlife sanctuary where it will be far away from the local human population – but if they’re going to do that they’ll need to hurry up, because poacher John Besser (Max Phipps) and his posse are out for vengeance!

    Director Archi Nicholson, who passed away in 2009 at the young age of 49, did mostly TV work in Australia but in addition to this he also helmed a few other theatrical features like Fortress and Buddies and notably did some second unit work on the mighty Razorback in 1984. He does a fine job behind the camera on this one, keeping the pacing tight and the suspense high, particularly in the last third of the film when it all hits the fan for Harris and Cathy.

    What makes this more interesting than your average ‘nature run amok’ film, however, are the cultural quirks that the script works into the narrative. Harris isn’t out to kill the crocodile, even if that’s what his superiors would prefer. Instead, he respects the wishes of the Aborigine people (who are treated quite poorly by said superiors) and hopes to relocate it, Oondabund refers to the crocodile as “Numunwari” and notes that even if it killed a small boy from his tribe, that boy was sick and not long for this world – it was predetermined this should happen. Rather than dismiss this world view, Harris works alongside Oondabund and Adjaral to do what is fair for the animal. This headier, more ‘spiritual’ take on the subject matter helps to elevate Dark Age a bit over many similar movies (or more modern croc-attack films like Lake Placid or Rogue).

    Production values are typically very good. There are times where the animatronic crocodile built for the film does look more rubbery than you want, but more often than not this is handled quite well. It’s only really noticeable in a few shots that linger just a little longer than they probably should have. The movie isn’t a gore-fest but the attack sequences get a bit bloody, and these set pieces are also well done and very tense. The cinematography from the late Andrew Lesnie is as impressive as you’d expect from the man who would go on to shoot Peter Jackson’s Lord Of The Rings films.

    The performances are decent. Jack Jarratt is a likeable leading man here, a far cry from the character he played in Wolf Creek (the role he’s probably best known for outside of Australia). His character is noble, genuinely trying to do the right thing, and as such we want him to win the day. Nikki Coghill is okay as his partner/ love interest, though her character is shoehorned into the story at times without really adding much depth to anything. Burnam Burnam and David Gulpilil play the two main Aboriginal characters well, speaking in broken English as characters like this tended to be portrayed in movies from the eighties, but crafting sincerely likeable characters. They’re clearly operating on a more enlightened plain than the rowdy, drunken hunters out for blood. Speaking of which, Max Phipps, who played The Toadie in The Road Warrior and who also popped up in Thirst and Stage Fight (a.k.a. Nightmares) is a blast in this picture. He chews through the scenery faster than the croc chews through his cronies, and while he goes way over the top at times, he really adds to the movie’s entertainment value in a big way.


    Dark Age arrives on Blu-ray from Umbrella Entertainment on a 50GB disc framed at 1.78.1 widescreen in AVC encoded 1080p high definition. Oddly enough, the movie only takes up about 17GBs of space on the disc but even with the lower bit rate compression artifacts are thankfully pretty sparse. The image is generally quite clean, save for some obvious print damage that is noticeably more prevalent during the opening credits. Once we get past that, it’s just minor white specks here and there, nothing too serious or distracting. Typically the picture shows nice detail and good texture, though understandably this does vary a bit from scene to scene. Grain can sometimes be more intrusive and even mildly chunky looking in some of the darker scenes, but at least the image wasn’t sand blasted with digital noise reduction. Edge enhancement is never a problem. Daylight scenes, particularly those that take place outside, look excellent. It’s here that the improved detail and clarity that HD can offer really shines. Understandably the darker scenes aren’t as impressive, but they still offer a noticeable upgrade over what DVD could have provided. All in all, this is a pretty solid picture, offering a nice film-like viewing experience.

    The only audio option provided is an English language Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo track. In a perfect world we’d have at least been given a lossless option, but that didn’t happen (which is odd, as there’s definitely room left over on the disc to accommodate this). Regardless, the track that is here is fine. Dialogue is clean, clear and easy to understand the levels are nicely balanced. The score and effects sound good and there are no noticeable issues with any hiss or distortion. Optional subtitles (there are a few typos noticeable in the subtitle track but they’re occasional rather than constant) are provided in English only.

    Extras on the disc are plentiful, starting with an audio commentary with actor John Jarratt and producer Antony I. Ginnane. This is a fairly scene specific talk with the two recounting stories from the set, discussing the locations used, the different actors that Jarratt was cast alongside, some of the more exploitative content in the film like the croc-attack scenes and the love scene, and more. Ginnane also discusses the film’s complicated release history and Quentin Tarantino’s part in getting that at least somewhat resolved. All in all, this is pretty interesting – well paced and informative, like a good commentary track should be.

    Up next is sixteen minutes of ‘uncut’ Not Quite Hollywood Interviews featuring Jarrat and Ginnane. These are pretty interesting and while they do, understandably, cover some of the same ground as the commentary track, there’s a fair bit of exclusive info here too. Jarrat talks about the Jaws influence on the film, issues with the crocodile affects during the shoot, his original thoughts on the script and a fair bit more. Ginnane covers, again, the film’s rocky distribution particularly in its native Australia as well as a few other behind the scenes/production related issues.

    After that we get a twenty-four minute long piece entitled A Bicentenary With Bite: Revisiting Dark Age which is essentially a collection of talking head interviews/sound bites recorded with a selection of film critics, fans and genre experts discussing what they appreciate about the feature. It’s a fairly clip heavy affair (the clips look pretty rough and were obviously pulled from a different source than what was used for the feature presentation) but there’s some interesting insight here into why the film remains the cult favorite that it is. Living With Crocodiles is more interesting. It’s a forty-nine minute talk with Grahame Webb, the man who wrote the novel Numunwari that served as the film’s inspiration. Here he speaks at length about salt water crocodiles and what makes them as fascinating and frightening as they are. The source material used for this was in pretty rough shape, it looks like an old tape master of some sort, but for those who appreciate this type of documentary, it proves to be a pretty interesting watch.

    Rounding out the extras is a theatrical trailer for the feature, two U.S. home video trailers, a still gallery, menus and chapter selection.

    The Final Word:

    Dark Age is a really solid slice of Australian adventure/horror. It makes good use of a great cast, features some pretty memorable set pieces and tells an interesting story. Umbrella’s Blu-ray release isn’t quite a reference quality release, but it’s damn good considering the film’s rocky history and it’s pretty much loaded with extras too. Fans of Ozploitation pictures or animal attack films should definitely appreciate this one – recommended!

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!