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Primeval DVD Review

Primeval (2007) movie poster Primeval

Theatrical Release: January 12, 2007 / Running Time: 94 Minutes / Rating: R

Director: Michael Katleman

Cast: Dominic Purcell (Tim Manfrey), Brooke Langton (Aviva Masters), Orlando Jones (Steven Johnson), Jόrgen Prochnow (Jacob Krieg), Gideon Emery (Matthew Collins), Gabriel Malema (Jojo), Linda Mpondo (Gold Tooth), Lehlohonolo Makoko (Beanpole), Dumisani Mbebe (Harry), Eddy Bekombo (Ato), Chris April (Captain)

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After five years of dormancy, Disney reawakened its Hollywood Pictures banner last spring, reserving the label -- a staple of the company's 1990s output
-- for "genre" fare ΰ la its Weinstein-taken Dimension Films. Three works later, the brand's latest output can be unified not only by suspense/horror designation but also as critical and financial duds.

Primeval, the second post-resurrection production, is a film that was so unsure of its African-crocodile-attacks-people premise that its marketing campaign told only of the world's greatest at-large serial killer with no mention of its reptilian nature. Pushed up at the last minute from an April release, the movie appropriately opened in January, a month from which critics and audiences have come to expect bad movies. The former class was not treated to the traditional complimentary advance screenings, in an uncommon move typically made to minimize negative press, or at least delay it a day.

TV journalists Tim ("Prison Break" star Dominic Purcell) and Steven (Orlando Johnson) fly to their assigned location, Burundi, the world's poorest country. Brooke Langton plays "animal reporter" Aviva Masters, smiling like a movie's obligatory attractive female ought to.

In the film, three American television journalists travel to war-torn Burundi, the world's poorest country, to report on and capture what the locals call "Gustave", a mammoth crocodile believed to be responsible for hundreds of deaths. The central trio -- consisting of career-driven but opposite (and therefore seemingly destined for romance) Tim (Dominic Purcell, "Prison Break") and Aviva (Brooke Langton) plus comic relief black guy cameraman Steven (Orlando Jones) -- joins forces with a "Crocodile Hunter" type (Gideon Emery), a no-nonsense tour guide (Jόrgen Prochnow), and two silent militants.

It nearly goes without saying that this group becomes threatened, not only by the bloodthirsty crocodile but by political siege. As you'd expect and like many of its kind, the movie devolves into a question of who's going to die, with when and how being of interest. Impressively, it puts off this expected destination for nearly two-thirds of its lean runtime.

Primeval claims it is inspired by a true story, which is to say that there really is a Gustave who continues to terrorize travelers on the Ruzizi River and is believed to be over sixty years old. The rest of the screenplay, by John D. Brancato and Michael Ferris (Terminator 3, The Game), is pure conventional fiction, though elaborate capture attempts involving cage traps and infrared cameras reportedly have been made and proved unsuccessful. The plot struggles to keep the cast in or near the dangerous waters, with banter that almost qualifies as witty occupying our interest between attacks.

Tim and Aviva get an up close look at some local nuttiness thanks to this wacky shaman. Orlando Jones shows he's more than comic relief black guy as he gets to record a dramatic event.

While it's played completely straight-faced, it's tough to take the movie seriously, even when it addresses legitimate issues like third-world poverty, civil war, and Western media biases. Yet it's not bad enough to provide camp chuckles.
With its contrived turns and strategically-placed jump-out-of-your-seat moments, Primeval is doubtlessly a trashy thriller. Still, it does a passable job of sustaining interest even as nothing more than a forgettable copy of other group-versus-insatiable-creature flicks infinitely inferior to Jaws.

Perhaps it's because, bucking the trend for horror movies, Primeval comes to DVD in its theatrical cut rather than a unrated extended presentation or perhaps it's because I reviewed Apocalypto last week, but this film didn't seem overly gory the way many of its modern kin do. Its R rating is definitely justified due to expletive-laced language and the occasional splattering, but most occurrences of torn limbs and gunshot wounds are seen in relatively tame aftermath shots following cut-aways. Of course, it's still not appropriate for pre-teens, but it's not too far off from the PG-13-rated Anaconda in terms of content (and design).

Buy Primeval on DVD from Amazon.com DVD Details

2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Dolby Digital 5.1 (English, Spanish)
Subtitles: English, Spanish, French
Closed Captioned
Release Date: June 12, 2007
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (DVD-9)
Suggested Retail Price: $19.99 (Reduced from $29.99)
Black Keepcase with Embossed, Holographic Cardboard Slipcover
Also available on Blu-ray Disc

VIDEO and AUDIO

Fullscreen fans are out of luck, as Primeval comes to DVD and Blu-ray exclusively in its theatrical aspect ratio of 2.35:1 widescreen, enhanced for 16x9 displays. Picture quality leaves nothing to be desired. The transfer handles the inevitable wet, dark imagery that the "killer crocodile" premise entails. It also excels at presenting sunnier scenery, some of which is surprisingly well-shot by cinematographer Edward J. Pei, who, like director Michael Katleman, makes one of his first big screen leaps from a television-based background.

Two visual curiosities pertain to the film rather than the DVD: we're repeatedly reminded that some of the events are being filmed by the characters with a viewfinder border onscreen and we're also regularly informed which part of Burundi we're in (as if it matters). Both gimmicks eventually go away, but not soon enough to avoid mentioning.

The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack also merits praise, for its effective use of the surround sound field. There are some jarring peaks in volume, but you'd be hard-pressed to find a horror film that avoids the practice. There are a few climactic scenes where suspense is enhanced by the distribution of sound effects, from rain and wind to the threat of Gustave movement.

Before lighting and shading, Gustave is a bright green that's easy to see, as glimpsed at in the "Crocumentary." Brooke Langton in a bra is something Internet surfers might search for and Primeval DVD viewers find in this deleted shower scene. The world's most visually boring DVD main menu screen? Primeval is a prime contender.

BONUS FEATURES and MENUS

Most substantial of the three standard supplements offered is a feature-length audio commentary by director Michael Katleman and visual effects supervisor Paul Linden. They have plenty of experiences to share regarding filming and embellishing the movie. While they think a little too much of their film, they're pretty easy to listen to, as they mention script and scene revisions, deleted scenes that weren't included, and assorted challenges of filming in South Africa.

A featurette labeled "Crocumentary: Bringing Gustave to Life" (9:35) touches briefly upon the real-life inspiration before moving to a discussion of how the crocodile was visually created. This perfunctory piece includes reference footage, animatics, and CGI composites. Oddly, there's no title screen and none of the crew members interviewed are identified.

Lastly, three deleted scenes prove that the phrase "optional audio commentary" doesn't necessarily go without saying. These brief, excised sequences are presented with no sound but Katleman and Linden talking over them. We learn why the scenes were cut, but are unable to watch them as if they weren't. Thus, it's a bit of a challenge to recognize or care what of the 5½ minutes is extended, though a gratuitous (nudity-free) shower scene and alternate death (with unfinished croc animation) are provided.

Previews for Ratatouille, Renaissance, and The Lookout, and that lame anti-piracy spot launch the disc. All but the piracy promo are also found on the Sneak Peeks menu, where they're joined by ads for Mel Gibson's Apocalypto and the Roger Corman Collection. Unsurprisingly, there are no trailers, TV spots, or posters from Primeval's misleading "serial killer" theatrical ad campaign, which has been abandoned for this DVD, as made abundantly clear by the cover.

The menus unexcitingly opt for yellowed, bloody water visuals set to haunting score excerpts, making them reusable for any other water-beast movie including the Weinsteins' man-eating croc flick Rogue, opening this fall.

Yes, the movie is about a killer crocodile, but that doesn't mean we get many clear looks at it. Dominic Purcell makes his best "There's a bloodthirsty crocodile out there" pose.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Would Primeval have been better-received by audiences were it not advertised with a pile of skeletons and the tagline "Inspired by the true story of the most prolific serial killer in history"? Probably. Its $10.6 million gross was quite low for genre standards and its near-record disappearance from theaters had to be affected by the deceptive marketing campaign. Even so, this horror film is nothing special and critics were right to roast it. Once accepted as a killer croc creature feature with a nonsensical title, the movie is not terrible. It's just fairly by-the-numbers; holding one's attention for 90 minutes but being forgotten soon after.

The DVD delivers terrific picture and sound, but falters in the extras department with only an okay commentary, a featurette that leaves its speakers anonymous, and deleted scenes you can't hear. More could easily have been included, like the commentary-referenced deleted scenes and those interestingly vague trailers. Alas, only Primeval's very few fans should mind.

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Reviewed May 31, 2007.