As befits a German film about a German heroine "Anita" is filled with classic Germanic motifs. There is the Nietschean superwoman Anita who turns the tables on her audience: revealing her naked body, it is SHE who leeringly objectifies THEM, joyfully savoring their reactions to her defiant poses. The film is also filled with Doeppelgangers. There is the beautiful, sharp-as-a-tack Anita whose double is her raddled, cocaine-crazed dancing partner Droste; there is also the doubling effect of the terrifyingly seductive young Anita in her dancing days juxtaposed with the comical old fat woman who "channels" Anita's soul, articulating the meanings behind the dance. Naturally, the subject of Hitler comes up, with Anita explicitly embodying the anarchic life force that flourished between the two world wars--and that we would do well to recognize and respect in our own time, uncomfortable as it may make us.
The film version hangs on to the Hemingwayesque flourishes (replicated in its prettily photographed vistas of mountains and rivers and a tendency to hit overcrank when something significant is happening at the end of one of the fly fishermen's lines) but regrettably jettisons the honesty. The story's setting is changed from 1937 (in the depths of the Depression, when an ability to catch good fish for supper had a very different connotation) to sometime in the twenties, and the brothers are correspondingly in their early twenties, which gives their bawdy, irresponsible antics a much different connotation than it did when the same characters in the book pulled them well into their thirties. Refocusing the story line from the brothers' inarticulate love for one another to a standard "meet cute" romance between Norman and his future wife Jess was probably good for box office, but all I could think of watching Brad Pitt with his strawberry blond dye job and Emily Lloyd slinking around in her blonde finger-wave wig and fragile linen dresses was that Redford was reliving some fixation that originated twenty years previously during the filming of "The Great Gatsby."
I think this is a bad film, and I found myself horribly impatient with it. But I can also see why so many people enjoy it. The romance, the Sierra Club cinematography and cheap thrill gags like the pop-up scare after the whitewater boating adventure and the ride through a train tunnel in a tin lizzie are all calculated audience pleasers. And it's nice that Maclean's heirs got the royalties for the use of the old man's title.
Along the line however Moore has either matured as an artist and polemicist, or more likely has learned how to collaborate with artists and polemicists as good as or better than he is (which is really the secret of all good film directors) and has made a fantastic film that is both entertaining and genuinely moving. I was expecting a shallow screed against gun nuts, but this film is so much more complex and open-minded than that. It locates the horrors of American gun culture not in guns themselves (though it does carry a strong argument against non-sporting weaponry) but in the paranoid American attitude towards our fellow human beings that causes us to turn our backs on each other and hide behind locked doors with our guns cocked rather than pooling our resources to build a civil society (Canada is offered as an example of how gun-nuttery and positive interpersonal relations can be effectively reconciled.)
I am wondering now about the coincidence of Charlton Heston announcing he has Alzheimer's just as "Bowling for Columbine" hit the theaters. Heston comes across as such a cold, lying man in this film that he and his handlers may well have felt they had to dredge up some excuse for it.
Having devised a plotline that keeps most of the members of Possum Lodge offscreen for most of the film and requires virtually everyone concerned to be despicably mean to the loveable Harold (who's the hero of the film, the usually affably crusty Red being relegated in this incarnation to nothing more than the role of head Harold abuser), the only performers who really get to shine are Patrick McKenna and Peter Keleghan as Harold and Ranger Gord, who deliver satisfyingly large-screen versions of their small-screen characters.
The through-line is a semifictional depiction of a day in the life of the Croc Hunter and company, illustrating the various things that they actually do for a living. This includes on-camera animal demonstrations (Steve chasing a gowana and pointing out what its "poo" tells about the animal's habits and status in the ecosystem), wildlife rescue (scooping a fear snake off the road so it won't get squished, saving an orphaned kangaroo joey), providing specimens for science and medicine (snagging a bird-eating spider to milk for antivenom), and providing humane solutions to human-animal conflicts (capturing and relocating a crocodile who's been attacking a rancher's calves.) The wholly fictional subplot, with its absolutely dead-on parody of an American action-technothriller (this is a film with a wryly Australian viewpoint--the top American agent is a humorless, oversexed nerd obsessed with his gun) provides the title's "collision course" with the Irwin's mission to save endangered wildlife, which is anything but inconsequential to the film's overall message. No synthetic "adventure" that Hollywood can dream up is more exciting than the truly fun and absorbing spectacle of Stevo capturing, admiring and saving his beloved animals. It's a message all Croc Hunter fans can agree with--it really is a thrill to see Steve interacting with a big spider or croc or snake on the big screen, something that wouldn't come through on the little screen.
On the other hand, the fact that it is nothing more than another extremely costly Hollywood comic book come to life makes it infuriating viewing for anyone watching with a brain not on idle. Seldom has a contemporary film dared to present such a blatantly retro-Hollywood misogynist worldview, with its musclebound, power-obsessed male protagonists demonstrating only the most primitive interests in the only two female characters, a deferential old lady (ROSEMARY HARRIS???? isn't this a little like casting Laurence Olivier as Grandpa Walton?) who mainly exists to serve food and a young woman (Kirsten Dunst, augmented breasts jutting awkwardly from anorectic ribcage) whose purpose is to totter on high heels between encounters with males bent on raping/murdering/courting/protecting her. Watching pretty Toby Macguire ecstatically shooting through the air on threads of spermlike "silk" and stolidly rejecting the woman he "loves" because he has more important things to do than actually stick around and have a relationship with her--like zipping around in the night chasing other muscular fellows in tight suits with his sperm-thrower--tells you all you need to know about subtext here. Yeah, just keep telling yourself, it's only a movie.
It's one of those so-corny-it's-hep 1940s comedy-horror farces that came into fashion with "The Ghost Breakers" and reached its full flowering with "Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein." Here, Kay Kyser and his Kollege provide rather more palatable comedy relief than Bob Hope or Bud and Lou, as well as some first-class musical interludes. Horror fans may regret that Lugosi and Karloff are not given quite as much screen time as Ish Kabibble, but will be pleased to find they are both handled with warmth, delicacy and a certain gravitas befitting such grand gentlemen of the cinema. As for the top-billed "bad humor man" Peter Lorre, in no other film has his exotic decadence been showcased so deliciously.