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The Wisdom of Crocodiles (Rental)
MGM/Roadshow Entertainment . R4 . COLOR . 95 mins . MA15+ . PAL


Okay, call me cynical if you must, but when an obscure five year-old film makes its way into video stores in Australia as a rental-only DVD, suspicion about that film’s quality is understandable. Five years is a bloody long time in cinema, and when Jude Law starred in The Wisdom of Crocodiles, he was best known for his supporting role in Gattaca and was yet to do A.I., Road to Perdition, Enemy at the Gates or The Talented Mister Ripley. Sure, Jude Law’s star power burns ever so much more brightly now, but is that enough pulling power to attract a rental audience to a 1998 film that got a frosty critical reception, got retitled in the US in a desperate attempt to pull in punters, and which is essentially just a glossy retreading of hoary old vampire mythology?

The most frustrating thing about The Wisdom of Crocodiles is that, right from the outset, it wants to be the most stylish kid on the block. And here, that appears to mean throwing character and plot development out the window and going full-tilt into a moody, pouty Duran Duran music video working method where virtually nobody speaks (though they do a hell of a lot of pouting) and the audience doesn’t have the foggiest clue what’s going on. And then, once our star bites Kerry Fox’s neck and does the reliable old blood-dripping-salaciously-off-the-lips thing, we think “ah crap, it’s another vampire film”. We spend the next hour hoping we’re wrong. And in a way we are. Because while this is indeed a vampire film, it’s more than just that. It’s a really, really silly vampire film.

Steven Grlscz (Jude Law) is a man with no vowels in his surname (though Roadshow kindly add one on their back cover blurb!), a moody man who wanders around town pouting at people, plants and inanimate objects. When not pouting (which is 98% of the time), he’s picking up women with a batch of super-smooth lines that would result in anyone who wasn’t Jude Law being hit repeatedly. He’s obviously torn between something and… err, something, as he doesn’t say very much at all while he saves Maria Vaughan (Kerry Fox) from suiciding only to later use her neck as a celery substitute. Whatever could be going on? Could Mr No-Vowels be a creature of the night, a demonic devourer of life, a bat in sheep’s clothing? Well, maybe. We can’t tell, because the only time the man speaks is when he’s picking up women. And speaking of which, enter Anne Levels (Elina Löwensohn). She likes him. He likes her neck. But there’s more to it for our vowel-deprived anti-hero than just blood-sucking the nearest stranger. And as that becomes clearer, the thot plickens.

This hodge-podge of vampire cliché, unrequited love and unfulfilled dreams plays out like an over-serious Anne Rice novel (and THAT is saying something!) Veteran Hong Kong director Po-Chih Leong makes his English-language debut here (he’s not made a feature film since) and he’s obviously well-equipped technically - the film’s loaded with gorgeous photography and delicately choreographed set-pieces. But Paul Hoffman’s screenplay is stilted and pretentious, and when the director takes the whole thing so immensely seriously the result is aloof and uninvolving.

There are some positives - particularly the reliably wonderful Elina Löwensohn (Hal Hartley fans will know her well), whose endlessly expressive face gives this movie a much-needed dose of emotional involvement. Timothy Spall is typically entertaining, too, as the hapless Inspector Healey. But it’s not enough; The Wisdom of Crocodiles is, ultimately, cold-blooded.


Originally shown theatrically at a 1.85:1 aspect ratio, the picture on this DVD has been unforgivably panned and scanned to fill the 4:3 TV frame. What appears to have been done, in fact, is a digital zoom on a 16:9 transfer, as evidenced by the noticeable loss of resolution between the opening credits (which are letterboxed at the correct ratio) and the rest of the movie. Framing seems too tight throughout as a result of this unnecessary pandering to the mass market. After all, one of the most popular shows on commercial TV - ER - is screened weekly to a mass audience worldwide in letterboxed 16:9. A 4:3 transfer of a visually-rich film such as this is self-defeating, particularly when it’s not an open-matte effort.

The transfer itself looks to have been quite lovely - in 16:9 this would have been real eye candy - and there are no compression problems visible on this single-layered DVD. Colour saturation and stability is particularly excellent.

Note that the aspect ratio logo on the back cover states both “Fullscreen 1.33:1” and “Original Theatrical Ratio”. The latter is, of course, completely untrue.

The sole audio track supplied here is a matrixed Dolby Surround mix that does the job without ever being even remotely exciting. It’s clean enough and free of problems, but the fact is that the theatrical sound mix for this film was in Dolby Digital 5.1 - we’d love to know where it’s gone.

The Dolby Surround flag is correctly set on this disc, and decoders equipped to recognise it will automatically switch to matrixed surround decoding.

Being a rental title, this is as bare-bones as they come - merely a theatrical trailer (ironically, it’s letterboxed!) is here to divert your attention.

A curious choice for a current rental release, The Wisdom of Crocodiles obviously wants to be something important but simply doesn’t have the substance to do it. Mildly diverting but dangerously close to boring, it’s one for fans of its stars only.

Roadshow’s rental DVD is a surprising disappointment from a usually reliable company, with both picture and sound in compromised formats.

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  •   And I quote...
    "While this is indeed a vampire film, it’s more than just that. It’s a really, really silly vampire film. "
    - Anthony Horan
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