Director – Michael Katleman, Screenplay – John Brancato & Michael Ferris, Producer – Gavin Polone, Photography – Edward J. Pei, Music – John Frizzell, Visual Effects Supervisor – Paul Linden, Visual Effects – Luma Pictures (Supervisor – Vincent Cirelli), Special Effects Supervisor – Roly Jansen, Makeup Effects – K.N.B. EFX Group, Inc. (Supervisors – Howard Berger & Greg Nicotero), Production Design – Johnny Breedt. Production Company – Pariah Productions.
Dominic Purcell (Tim Manfrey), Brooke Langton (Aviva Masters), Orlando Jones (Steven Johnson), Jurgen Prochnow (Jacob Krieg), Gideon Emery (Mathew Collins), Gabriel Malema (Jojo), Duminsani Mbebe (Harry), Patrick Lyster (Roger Sharpe)
TV producer Tim Manfrey is in disgrace after one of his exposes is revealed to have been based on sources that were proven untrue. In reprimand, the network sends him to Burundi to accompany Aviva Masters, the host of a tv animal show, and do a piece about a giant crocodile that has just killed a UN inspector. The network wants them to organise the capture of the crocodile, which has been nicknamed Gustave by locals, and film the process. Travelling into Burundi with a cameraman Steven, a local tracker and a tv ‘crocodile hunter’, the group find themselves precariously positioned between rebel factions in the midst of a ceasefire, as well as having to deal with the strong-arm tactics of local warlords. Once at the Rasizi River, they set about trying to capture Gustave. However, as the crocodile starts massacring members of the group, they realise it is far bigger and more cunning than any of them imagined. Steven then captures video evidence of the warlords killing innocent villagers. When this becomes known by the warlords, the group find themselves not only having to deal with a giant killer crocodile but also the warlords who are determined to eliminate them and all incriminating evidence.
Primeval – not to be confused with Primeval (2007-11), the British tv series about dinosaurs emerging out of time warps, which premiered the same year as this – was one of a handful of killer crocodile/alligator films that came out in 2007. It was followed by Greg McLean’s excellent Rogue (2007) and other efforts like the extremely good but underrated Black Water (2007) and the cheaper likes of Croc (2007), Lake Placid 2 (2007) and Supercroc (2007).
Of all of these, Primeval was the biggest budgeted and one of the few to create its crocodile using CGI effects. There are a number of similarities between Primeval and Rogue – both feature a group of city slickers as heroes. Both films contain a long preamble taken up by a journey into beautiful wilderness territory, where in both films we are left with the sense that the white middle-class principal characters clearly do not belong there and that this is the crocodile’s domain. The bulk of either film has the protagonists reduced to having to fight the crocodile with their bare hands.
Primeval comes from Michael Katleman – this is Katleman’s first feature film, although he has been directing and producing television since the start of the 1990s. The script comes from the writing team of John Brancato and Michael Ferris who have also written the likes of The Net (1995), The Game (1997), Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003), Catwoman (2004), Surrogates (2009) and Terminator Salvation (2009).
Michael Katleman does a passable but unremarkable job with the film. Though the film’s advertising pays some lip service to being based on a true story, Primeval is a generic monster movie – and one that seems even more so when one contrasts it to either Greg McLean’s excellent treatment of fairly much the exact same material in Rogue or the powerfully raw Black Water. It is written to the cliches of the monster movie – Jurgen Prochnow plays the half-crazed big game hunter who has been all but outrightly modelled on Robert Shaw’s Quint in Jaws (1975); Orlando Jones plays the bad cliche of the urban Black man out of his comfort zone; and you can predict the attraction between hero and heroine from the moment of their introduction.
Primeval does come to life when the CGI and animatronics people are allowed to do their thing. They create a series of dramatically charged sequences with the crocodile trapped in the metal cage, rolling it over and over into the water and trying to batter its way out; its giant body erupting out of the river to run along a tiny wooden pier; it jumping out of the water several metres up into the air to snatch Jurgen Prochnow in its jaws; the scenes with it attacking Duminsani Mbebe and cracking his head like an eggshell; and the climactic scenes with it battering its way into the back of an SUV. Michael Katleman certainly gives the film a kick when he is in the midst of the ragged-edge scenes with people being shot at by mercenaries or Dominic Purcell fighting in shallow water with a warlord. Yet whenever the crocodile and action set-pieces are over, Primeval falls back to the utterly generic.
There is also a subtle degree of racism to the film. The Africans only ever seem to be characterised in terms of being ignorant but decent natives or else evil corrupt warlords and their henchmen. On the other hand, the film does make a modest attempt to deal with the political instability of the region (if one that is entirely lacking in depth), with digs being made at one point how nobody would be interested in the news special if it hadn’t happened to white people. On the other hand, what you can see on another level is that Primeval would never have gained any funding if it been about African natives defending their territories and hadn’t feature white heroes either.