"Primeval" is another one of those movies where you can have fun working out the movie equation where you name the films that were cannibalized to come up with the formula for this one. What if "Jaws" came out of the water? Okay, yes, you would have one scene in "Deep Blue Sea," but you would also have "Primeval." The nature guy in this film even claims it is the crocodile that is the most perfect killing machine on each, so take that, Matt Hooper. What if the expedition in "King Kong" was really trying to bring back a giant crocodile alive? You would also have "Primeval." What if you sent a news crew concerned with ratings like in "Broadcast News"? What if you use a goat for bait just like in "Jurassic Park"? What if you just took "Lake Placid" and moved it to Africa so that you can play it against the backdrop of civil war like in "Hotel Rwanda?" Add up all of these films and what you get is "Primeval." Do not be surprised as you watch this movie that time and time again you mind wanders to those other, much better films. Even the characters in this one acknowledge they are trapped in "Jaws," although they are way off base on the "Godzilla" analogy and I must note with pleasure that the natives are not willing to start singing a song in English like they did in "Congo."
The opening scene is somewhat interesting. A United Nations group is checking out what they think is another mass grave in Africa when it turns out to be something different namely a giant killer crocodile named Gustave (Really. He is supposedly still out there dinning up and down the Rusizi River that is his home: this film is inspired by true events as opposed to being a true story). This 2007 film is ill-served by the gaudy post-modern opening credits because the whole point is that somewhere out there is a real monster eating hundreds of people and this looks like it is setting up "Se7en" or something grittier like "Hostel."
Using the "Jaws" typology, news producer Tim Manfrey (Dominic Purcell) is the Chief Brody character who does not want to be there when he is sent to Africa to bring the monster back alive, Mathew Collins (Gideon Emery) is the Matt Hooper science geek with the gadgets, and Jacob Krieg (Jurgen Prochnow) is the Quint character who everybody should be listening to before people start dying. Instead of town fathers concerned about taking the "summer dinks" for everything they can on the 4th of July, we have soldiers going around lopping off heads and killing civilians for essentially the same reason. Where Manfrey is different is that he brings his romantic interest, Aviva Masters (Brooke Langton) along for the ride, and has a wisecracking cameraman, Steven Johnson (Orlando Jones) who always has something to say on every subject from halitosis to Darfur. But you worry about him because the funny guy is usually one of the first to go in a monster movie.
There is an interesting sub-text to this film that would have been well worth exploring, because Gustav has eaten literally hundreds of natives and it is not until a white woman become the entree that the "world" takes an interest and decides to go do something about it. But instead the film puts the characters between a rock, in the form of the giant croc, and a hard place, namely the Brundi-Rhwandi border, where every thug has a gun. The dynamic is that if you are worried about the croc, the guys with the guns show up, and when things get ugly with the thugs, expect Gustave to save the day. To put it another way, every time you forget the other half of the movie, it comes back into play. Eventually the idea of capturing Gustave is forgotten as the survivors try to avoid both the croc and the thugs, and I swear I was going to round up on this film until Manfrey articulates a link between the genocide and the monster that might be true, but ironically made it all seem unreal just because it was given such dramatic weight it capsized the moment. The ending is fairly predictable once you understand the three sides involved, but let us not pretend that the irony is a divine solution to the situation.
The movie was filmed in South Africa and all I can say is that things sure have changed since John Huston took Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn to Africa to shoot "The African Queen." You travel thousands of miles to make THIS movie? I did think that drirector Michael Katleman and especially film editor Gabriel Wrye did above average work here, much better than I would have expected and probably better than the production deserved. However, ultimately, there simply is not enough of the croc in this film and when it does show up the special effects are not up to the challenge. I just watched "Jaws" again earlier this week and, yes, the shark is suggested rather than seen for the first half of the film, but once we finally see Bruce he is an integral part of the action. For me the special effects are problematic because Gustave moves so damn fast, in or out of the water, that I have trouble buying it. After all, this is supposed to be the biggest croc in the world. The lower your expectations, the more you can enjoy watching "Primeval," and it really is a beter "Jaws" rip-off than all of the actual "Jaws" sequeles combined.