I distinctly remember seeing the original theatrical trailer for 'Primeval' in 2006 -- it was tantalizing with its quick flashes of an off-camera serial killer that had supposedly killed hundreds of people without ever being caught. Despite the fact that I'm a rabid horror junkie, I avoided the flick's release like the plague because I assumed it was another modern attempt to resurrect the glory days of Freddy and Jason -- a feat that has yet to be accomplished. When 'Primeval' finally hit theaters, critics hated it, audiences avoided it, and the film disappeared as quickly as it had come.
Fast-forward to June 2007. My copy of 'Primeval' arrived in the mail and I had a genuine moment of confusion when the case featured a crocodile on the cover. Much to my surprise, this serial-killer-thriller is actually a creature-feature that's loosely based on a documented croc of enormous size (more than six meters long) that has apparently killed more than a hundred people in Africa.
The story follows an American television reporter named Tim (Dominic Purcell) who bolsters a report on a political scandal with false information. Nearly blacklisted, he takes the only assignment his producers will give him -- an investigative report on a crocodile that has terrorized the local population of Burundi for decades. Assigned a production crew of misfits, including an up-and-coming newswoman (Brooke Langton), a wisecracking cameraman (Orlando Jones), and a smarmy reptilian expert (Gideon Emery), Tim and team arrive in the midst of a heated civil war and unexpectedly have to deal with a tyrannical warlord (whose identity is kept secret for most of the film). Working hard to both capture the monster and elude the madman, the news crew must survive the inevitable chaos and death that erupts around their expedition.
'Primeval' is the sort of movie I used to label as entertaining crap, but I'm growing tired of excusing a horror film's inadequacies just because it still provides a few moments of tense fun. More accurately, what we have here is another clichéd romp that jumps from death scene to death scene, getting by on nothing but cheap scares and mind numbing dialogue. The story itself, meanwhile is simply serviceable enough to get characters from point A to point B where they can meet a suitably grisly end.
The film liberally borrows elements from various horror classics and is as subtle in doing so as a rushed cut-and-paste job can be. The characters are shallow, their development is non-existent, and the situations they find themselves in are so ludicrous that at time I couldn't keep from burying my face in my hands. Even the laughs and the attempts at self-satirization fall flat -- the filmmakers are clearly aware that they're playing with a gimmick, but they never attempt to inject anything fresh into their concept.
Worst of all, 'Primeval' tries to add layers of political commentary into the story by infusing it with elements of more substantial cinema like 'Hotel Rawanda.' The end result is a film that has real difficulty its identity -- it's honestly hard to tell at times whether the filmmakers were trying to make a horror flick, a comedy, or a dramatic expose. Creature-feature flicks work best when they establish a consistent tone, which allows the audience to invest in the characters while sharing their fear of an inhuman threat. However, because 'Primeval' can't decide what it wants an audience to feel, viewers don't end up feeling anything.
Having said all that, I'm sure 'Primeval' will find an audience on Blu-ray -- some are sure to find it entertaining in spite of its cheesy plotting and cookie cutter characters. And to be fair, it is slightly better than other recent reptilian horror flicks like 'Lake Placid.'. For me, however, the allure of shallow films like this has worn thin and I've grown impatient with horror flicks that doesn't in any way evolve the genre -- it seems like I've seen this flick a million times before and I know I'll see it a million times again.
At least the Blu-ray edition of 'Primeval' looks good. Presented in 1080p using the AVC MPEG-4 codec, this single-layer Blu-ray transfer boasts vibrant colors and deep shadows. Primaries pop throughout the film and blood has a particularly convincing wetness. Fine object detail is great -- the underbrush of the African jungles is crisp, water ripples are sharply defined, and tiny floating debris is well-rendered. Skin and hair are impressive and a high level of texture detail makes every piece of clothing seem three dimensional. In a direct compare, the standard DVD definitely looks good, but the Blu-ray version of 'Primeval' dwarfs its DVD counterpart.
Having said that, this transfer of 'Primeval' does take a few small missteps with some random bursts of high contrast, a few instances of oversaturated skintones, and a picture that feels slightly artificial. I doubt this artificiality was the director's intention because it seems counterproductive to the story itself (a grittier picture would've been more complimentary). To top things off, the quality of this high-def presentation separates CG elements from background elements -- the CG seems more disjointed on this Blu-ray version than it does on the standard DVD. None of these issues are necessarily distracting, but they do keep this transfer just shy of perfection.
'Primeval' features a boisterous PCM 5.1 surround track (uncompressed 48kHz/24-Bit), as well as a noticeably duller Dolby Digital 5.1 mix (640kbps). In both cases, the soundfield is satisfying and surrounds the listener with a convincing auditory world. The dynamic range is especially worth noting -- gunshots and roars shake the room, while the lightest ambient detail is present in the jungles. Treble tones never battle bass booms for dominance and the entire soundscape is perfectly prioritized.
The biggest (and most pleasant) surprise is that this sound mix introduces a variety of environmental acoustics into the natural settings. I always listen to see if different rooms affect sound and vocal tones on a mix, but this is one of the few times that I noticed a definitive difference in scenes set in wide expanses, as well. Grassy fields have a more rounded treble range, while areas surrounded by forestry have less of an echo.
Any complaints I may have are minor. Dialogue on the PCM mix seems more crisp than usual -- I would normally call that a good thing, but vocal ranges in this case feel sharp and end with an unnatural absence of resonance. Likewise, channel movement is bold and accurate, but has clearly been boosted for effect. The result is an unnaturally loud channel presence that occasionally relies on volume rather than finesse.
'Primeval' includes a short list of supplements, all ported over from the standard-def DVD. The included video supplements are all presented in 1080i, but they all appear to have been obviously upscaled from a lower definition.
First up is a commentary track with director Michael Katleman and Visual Effects Supervisor Paul Linden. Katleman provides a lot of interesting information about the real crocodile and the events that inspired the movie, but fails to successfully justify the reasoning for embellishing the story even further (he added an extra meter to the croc's length and tripled the deaths attributed to the beast). Beyond these tidbits, he tends to spend the majority of the track talking about how wonderful the cast and crew are. Linden is overly technical and often marvels at his own work -- unfortunately he often dominates the conversation, even though Katleman has more to bring to the table.
Next up is a -- sigh -- "Croc-umentary" (9 minutes) that takes a quick look at the CG and practical effects used to create the giant crocodile. This one's a fairly dry and typical affair that doesn't reveal anything that hasn't been covered in better featurettes in the past.
Finally, a trio of deleted scenes (4 minutes) are included with optional comments from Katleman. It's clear why the scenes were cut and the brief commentaries are obvious and chatty.
'Primeval' just isn't my kind of horror flick -- it's bumbling, predictable, and tries to be too many other (better) films all at once. The slim supplemental package doesn't help matters, but at least the video quality and the audio package are both very good. I personally wish I'd avoided the film altogether, but if you can't resist B-level creature-features, I recommend renting this one before dropping any significant cash.