Dark Age (Blu-ray) (1987)
|Category||Horror / Thriller||
Audio Commentary-with John Jarratt and Antony I. Ginnane
Featurette-A Bicentenary with Bite: Revisiting ďDark AgeĒ
Interviews-Cast & Crew-with John Jarratt and Antony I. Ginnane
Featurette-Living With Crocodiles
|Year Of Production||1987|
|RSDL / Flipper||Dual Layered||Cast & Crew|
|Region Coding||1,2,3,4,5,6||Directed By||Arch Nicholson|
|Pan & Scan/Full Frame||None||
English Dolby Digital 2.0
English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0
|Widescreen Aspect Ratio||1.78:1|
|Original Aspect Ratio||1.85:1||Miscellaneous|
|Annoying Product Placement||No|
|Action In or After Credits||No|
†††† Before Greg McLeanís 2007 crocodile picture Rogue - and even before the likes of Lake Placid and Killer Crocodile - there was 1987ís Dark Age, which is more or less Australiaís answer to Jaws since itís a monster movie featuring a giant saltwater crocodile as opposed to a great white shark. An ďOzploitationĒ classic, this is a fun B-movie in the same vein as 1984ís Razorback, and it certainly works well enough on its own terms to earn a recommendation, especially for Ozploitation fans or horror enthusiasts who enjoy these sorts of productions.
†††† When a large saltwater crocodile begins attacking the inhabitants of the Northern Territory town of Malparinga, wildlife ranger Steve Harris (John Jarratt) is ordered to take care of the problem, despite seeking to protect the endangered crocodile population. The primary concern of local government official Rex Garret (Ray Meagher; known more commonly as Alf Stewart in Home & Away) is the tourism aspect, with Japanese investors in town who may be scared away by the recent attacks. However, local Aboriginal elder Oonabund (Burnam Burnam) explains that the crocodile - known as Numunwari - is a sacred dreaming croc, and it will be impossible for white men to kill it. Harris and his girlfriend Cathy (Nikki Coghill) find themselves siding with the Aboriginals, hoping to simply move Numunwari to a sanctuary out of harmís way and prevent a crew of shotgun-toting hunters led by Besser (Max Phipps) from destroying the ancient reptile.
†††† Dark Age is based on the novel ďNumunwariĒ by Grahame Webb, with the script credited to Sonia Borg (Storm Boy). Comparisons with Jaws are obvious in a number of areas, but only go so far - despite a few similarities, the movie plots its own path and is uniquely Australian in terms of the on-screen culture. Indeed, itís particularly refreshing that Steve does not simply seek to kill the croc, and actually does his best to protect it. In addition, Aboriginal culture is deeply engrained in the narrative, and Dark Age carries a subtle but evident anti-colonial subtext - after all, town officials are more concerned with modernisation and money, showing little regard for the Aboriginal culture and history to which Numunwari is connected. Indeed, itís the mythological aspect of the crocodile which is most fascinating, and the killing isnít mindless - he mostly devours hunters, and Oonabund rationalises that a small child eaten by the croc was simply put out of his misery due to crippling health problems. This sort of thematic density distinguishes the movie from more run-of-the-mill monster offerings, and itís utterly refreshing in a world of less imaginative Z-grade productions like Sharknado or f***ing 3-Headed Shark Attack.
†††† Produced for a rather considerable (at the time) sum of AUD $4.8 million (which is still more than most contemporary Australian films, even before adjusting for inflation), Dark Age is not as cheap or nasty as some might expect, though it does look dated in some aspects. The croc itself is for the most part convincing enough, though more cynical viewers will probably be less impressed. Certainly, it does look rubbery at times, but the camera never lingers on the mechanical croc for too long. Attack scenes are tautly-edited and violent, not to mention quite unnerving, benefitting from terrific editing courtesy of Adrian Carr, who also makes use of real crocodile footage in certain scenes (much like Jaws) to heighten the realism. Late director Arch Nicholson cut his teeth on a number of Australian productions, and actually carried out second unit duties on the aforementioned Razorback. Dark Age was lensed by late great cinematographer Andrew Lesnie (The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit), and the movie makes great use of the outback locations and bodies of water. However, pacing can be a bit slow from time to time and Nicholsonís style is overly basic, not to mention the synth score is often distractingly dated and doesnít come close to the intensity of John Williamsí work on Jaws. Acting is on the wooden side as well, and Meagher is cartoonish in his outright villainy, but these are minor shortcomings on the whole.
†††† The Australian distributor for Dark Age went broke during the movieís post-production, and it subsequently remained unreleased in Australia for a staggering twenty-four years before at long last debuting on DVD in 2011. Filmmaker Quentin Tarantino is a self-professed fan of the film, and possesses his own 35mm print which was actually supplied for the long-delayed Australian premiere. Dark Age is silly and a bit dated, but itís nevertheless an eminently charming and rewatchable Australian horror movie that stands up much better than its obscurity might imply. Indeed, itís a real shame that it wasnít released here back in 1987 as planned, but with the movie now available on both DVD and Blu-ray it deserves to find a second life.
†††† Dark Age makes its long-awaited worldwide high definition debut on Blu-ray courtesy of Umbrella Entertainment, and the resultant AVC-encoded 1080p presentation is ultimately pretty good on the whole, but not great. Umbrella make use of a dual-layered BD-50, with the movie taking up a rather scant 17GB of space on the disc and maintaining a so-so bitrate. According to the back cover, the movie is presented at 1.77:1, but I didn't detect any tiny slivers of black bars - it looks to be framed at 1.78:1, though I could be mistaken. IMDb's technical data states that the movie was shot at 1.85:1, but I cannot be certain if this is accurate, nor can I be certain if the movie was slightly cropped or opened up for this Blu-ray presentation. What matters is that the Blu-ray looks fine from an aspect ratio point of view, with no awkward-looking framing. And it's pleasant to see a movie which takes up an entire 16x9 screen.
†††† Print damage is very noticeable and prominent at the beginning of the movie - telecine wobble plagues the opening titles and the opening shots, while specks of dirt and hairs are also noticeable. Print damage is not as severe for the remainder of the movie, but white specks, dirt and other minor blemishes do frequently dot the transfer. Whether or not this is a deal-breaker or a bother remains in the eyes of the beholder - if anything, the print damage makes you feel as if you're watching a film print in a cinema back in the 1980s. Grain is heavy throughout, but it does tend to look quite blocky and lacking in refinement - it should be tighter and better-resolved. At least Umbrella didn't scrub away the grain with digital noise reduction, as that would have taken away much of the presentation's fine detail and texture. Again, though, your mileage with the grain may vary.
†††† When the transfer is on, it's really on, appearing as good as most other '80s catalogue releases of a similar budget. For instance, close-ups of Jarratt at the 71-minute mark reveal sufficient fine detail, and you can often make out textures on both clothing and the crocodiles. (Admittedly, the HD presentation doesn't do the animatronic croc many favours.) The transfer fares best in daylight, where textures are most palpable and clarity is best. It's at night when the presentation tends to struggle - grain/noise is heavy and blocky, and certain shots look very rough. Clarity isn't the best, and blacks aren't as deep or as inky as perhaps they should be. Nevertheless, there's no evidence of distracting black crush, nor are there encoding issues like aliasing, macroblocking or banding - I just feel that the encode could have better handled the grain.
†††† Sharpness is a huge improvement compared to the DVD, and thankfully there's no evidence of edge enhancement. Indeed, this is an organic-looking transfer, and it's all the better for it. Fortunately, colours are true to the source, and look more natural compared to the Road Games Blu-ray release which had major contrast issues. Although the palette does lack the vibrancy of a new release movie on 4K Blu-ray with High Dynamic Range, it's certainly good enough, faithfully maintaining the look of Andrew Lesnie's cinematography with nice saturation and realistic skin tones for the most part, even if colours in certain shots are on the muted side.
†††† According to the Blu-ray's production manager at Umbrella Entertainment, the HD master was sourced directly from RKO in the United States - the remaster was not performed in-house at Umbrella. Therefore, the limitations of the transfer are likely attributable to the source. However, I cannot be certain if the blocky grain is the result of the encode or the scan/remaster itself. At the end of the day, Dark Age looks perfectly respectable for its high definition debut, and it's a welcome replacement for the DVD. It's better than no Blu-ray, that's for sure. Perhaps another company like Arrow will snag the rights and have another crack.
†††† Unlike the DVD, Umbrella provide English subtitles here. I didn't have any issues reading them, but they are noticeably small compared to other releases, and I did notice a few spelling errors ("harm" misspelled as "hard," and "Malparinga" written as "Malparinka"). Still, at least there are subtitles for those interested. And thankfully for international fans, this Blu-ray is region free, and all of the disc's content is presented in 1080p.
†††† Apparently Umbrella didn't learn from their Road Games Blu-ray, which drew ire for its lossy audio mix that the company actually defended on their Facebook page. Dark Age arrives on Blu-ray with a lossy Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo audio track that gets the job done, but a lossless mix would have been welcome, not to mention more appropriate for the superior disc format. Luckily, this is a stereo mix (true to its theatrical presentation) as opposed to mono, though the mixing doesn't exactly sound too crash-hot on contemporary surround sound systems. The movie wasn't mixed in 5.1 after all, and it would be foolish to expect a lavish remix for a title as niche as this. The Blu-ray's production manager also pointed out that they had to track down the stereo track from a separate video master, as the RKO master only carried a dual-mono mix - if nothing else, this is appreciated, as the audio sounds "fuller" with the benefit of stereo.
†††† With the source in mind, it's no surprise to learn that this is a predominantly front-centric presentation and there isn't anything in the way of separation or panning. Don't expect any real rear channel activity either - seagull chirps in beach scenes should be all around you, but there's no separation. However, music does fill all surround channels to nice effect, and an early scene with Steve in the rain benefits from the stereo encoding. Subwoofer activity is limited, only accentuating some of the more intense moments. Dialogue is usually easy to comprehend, and the original score comes through to nice effect. The only real issue with the track is that it lacks the crispness of a lossless audio mix, but at least there are no dropouts or sync issues. Audiofiles may feel slightly let down with this one, but casual listeners might not care as much.
|Surround Channel Use|
†††† Whereas Umbrella's DVD release only came with an audio commentary, this Blu-ray is loaded with exclusive additional extras that should please fans of the movie. Worth noting that, like most Umbrella releases, there is reversible cover art - I personally prefer the alternative front cover, as it's not as cluttered and is thankfully without a rating logo on the front cover to spoil it. Worth pointing out that I've listed the titles of each special feature accurate to the menu listing, with Jarratt being misspelled as Jarrat... So, without further ado, this is what we have:
†††† Now this is fascinating. Here we have "uncut" interviews with John Jarratt and executive producer Antony I. Ginnane, which were filmed for the documentary Not Quite Hollywood. Jarratt can still recall the production; he discusses its similarities to Jaws, that he thought the movie was a comedy and wouldn't be good at all, the fact that he hasn't even seen the movie because of how rare it became, Tarantino's love for it, and the issues with the mechanical crocodile. He also mentions doing Greg McLean's Rogue, and how different it was compared to Dark Age. Ginnane, meanwhile, touches upon the production and the issues which prevented it from being released in Australia for so many years. The interviews are very basic, with no music or any cutaways to speak of. This extra is presented in 1080p, but it's doubtful the source itself is HD.
†††† Jarratt and Ginnane are front and centre in this next extra as well; they represent the only two people involved in the production to actually be involved in the special features on this Blu-ray. The two speak at length about the production and the movie, bouncing off one another throughout. The problems which prevented the movie from being released in Australia for so long is touched upon, and Ginnane recounts that Quentin Tarantino flew over to Sydney in 2009 to screen his 35mm print. The pair also recount production anecdotes, the inclusion of nudity, and they generally comment on what's occurring on-screen. This is a great track, and fans of the movie should give it a listen to learn more about the production.
†††† This panel discussion about Dark Age exclusively involves critics and commentators who were not involved with the movie itself, speaking about their own interpretation of the movie and about the production. The film clips are from a standard definition source, and look horrid - they'll make you appreciate the HD presentation all the more. I can't say this extra is especially valuable, but some viewers might find some worth in this, and I suppose it makes the package seem more complete. Just don't expect a making-of featurette with the cast and crew.
†††† This is not actually about the movie itself - this is a documentary about crocodiles featuring author Grahame Webb, who wrote the book "Numunwari" on which Dark Age is based. Ultimately, your mileage will vary with this. Like the rest of the extras, this is presented in 1080p but is struck from a questionable source - most likely a VHS. It's littered with artefacts, and there's even a fair bit of aliasing which makes me suspect it's from a PAL source. Sound is often hissy, as well.
†††† This trailer has been remastered in high definition and scrubs up quite well. Very valuable from a historical standpoint.
†††† A very cheesy VHS trailer that's nice as a historical curiosity. Quality is absolutely appalling - it looks like it's from a third generation VHS.
†††† Another cheesy VHS trailer, which is actually very reminiscent of the theatrical trailer in terms of structure and clips chosen - in fact, it's almost identical. Quality is shoddy but not as unwatchable as the previous trailer. This will again make you appreciate the HD remaster of the movie all the more.
†††† A collection of press materials, production notes (these are especially fascinating), a shooting script excerpt, artwork and stills. You can either navigate using the "Forward" and "Back" buttons on your remote, or you can watch the basic slideshow. The production notes actually provide lots of worthwhile insight into the production if you have the patience to read them.
NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.
† † No other Blu-ray release exists anywhere in the world and, as far as I can tell, this disc has the biggest collection of extras compared to global DVD releases. A win for the local by default.
†††† Not many people know about Dark Age. It remains a truly underrated crocodile flick which does have something of a minor cult following. With Umbrella debuting the movie on Blu-ray, there is room for it to be rediscovered by a new generation.
†††† The Blu-ray itself is a worthwhile purchase. The presentation is a mixed bag, but the good definitely outweighs the bad, and it's nice to see the movie in HD. The lossy audio is frankly rather limp, but the selection of special features is terrific. I'm certainly happy to own it. All things considered, this one comes recommended.
|DVD||LG UP970 4K UHD HDR Blu-ray Player, using HDMI output|
|Display||LG OLED65E6T. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 2160p.|
|Audio Decoder||Built in to amplifier/receiver. This audio decoder/receiver has not been calibrated.|
|Amplification||Samsung Series 7 HT-J7750W|
|Speakers||Samsung Tall Boy speakers, 7.1 set-up|