Dark Age (1987)
By: Devon B. on May 30, 2012  | 
Umbrella | All Regions, NTSC | 1.77:1 (16:9 enhanced) | English DD 2.0 | 90 minutes (Full Specs)
The Movie
Cover Art
Director: Arch Nicholson
Starring: David Gulpilil, Burnum Burnum, John Jarratt, Nikki Coghill, Max Phipps, Ray Meagher
Screenplay: Sonia Borg
Country: Australia
External Links
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I read about Dark Age in an old issue of either Fangoria or Gore Zone, and instantly knew I had to see it. Unfortunately in the States it was rare as fuck, and it took me years to source a copy (this was pre-Internets). I shouldn't complain, though, because it was even rarer in its country of origin, only just getting an official release last year. Despite spending years searching for the movie, after watching it I promptly forgot all about Dark Age, and could only remember that the indigenous people of Arnhem Land called crocodiles Numunwari. I love the name, and wish there was a Koori punk band called Numunwari.

Anyway, since it's been about 12 years since I've seen it, this was kind of like watching Dark Age for the first time. At a cattle station, cool guy David Gulpilil knows a big croc is around. He tries to warn some people not to go croc poaching, and he's no Crazy Ralph so they really should've listened, but they don't and they run into Numunwari. After the attack, ranger John Jarratt (who I guess I had seen in something before Wolf Creek – I just didn't remember) is called in. A Koori elder, Burnum Burnum, explains that Jarratt's gonna have trouble getting the croc because it's a Dreaming Crocodile, old and smart. Jarratt is caught between his ethics, wanting to save Numunwari, and the law, which wants to destroy him.

When I first saw Dark Age, I was looking for a movie like Killer Crocodile, thanks in part to the review I'd read which made a bit much of the croc attacks. I was a bit disappointed for a few reasons. The main one is that, in the tradition of Razorback, Dark Age is an Australian horror movie with a tacky killer animal. Numunwari isn't very stealthy, which may be part of the reason that people seem to have no qualms with hanging out in or near the water, and at times he looks like a bathroom floaty toy. The croc is often laughable, and this is probably why I erased the film from my memory banks. Because I wanted killer croc mayhem, I also didn't pay attention to the ecological and sociological themes of this movie, which were something I really enjoyed this time around. Most of the Anglo characters in the film are dismissive and derogatory to the aboriginal characters, but the film itself isn't, and Steve Irwin probably would've loved Jarratt's croc loving character that's crusading for croc conservation. But then a lot of crocs get shot in the movie, so maybe it's good it wasn't released here in Irwin's lifetime because it probably would've made him cry.

The first hour of Dark Age is pretty awesome, despite the crappy croc. It was fun seeing Jarratt prepare for his next round of croc combat in Rogue, and I liked his character that was a bit like Les the Bush Tucker Man, but without the hat. So not really like Les at all. The film definitely owes a bit to Jaws, but Dark Age's finale is so silly that it's got a lot in common with the tongue-in-cheek Lake Placid. The ending also gets a bit disjointed when the film clearly shifts from an area that looks like Queensland to Central Australia within a few moments. Given the drastic change in landscape you'd have to think even overseas viewers would pick up on this transgression. You can't even pretend the action is going on somewhere else, since it's specifically stated they're heading to Simpson's Gap. Yes, Simpson's Gap outside Alice Springs. Because that's where you would expect a crocodile movie to be taking place!

Other things are silly, too. The love interest says Jarratt's skull may be thicker than a crocodile's. At Hartley's I watched two male crocs testing each other for 45 minutes by bashing their heads together, and it made a massive cracking sound each time. I eventually gave up and left, and they were still going at it. They shoulda gave up, too, because they were argy bargying over a female, and while they did that a sneaky male came in and sealed the deal with her. Regardless of croc mating habits, I think it's safe to say Jarratt could not happily bash a crocodile in the head with his own head for three quarters of an hour, so his skull is significantly less thick than a crocodile's. Talk about a silly thing to say.

Silliness aside, Dark Age is a great film in Australia's horror cannon. It's a shame it didn't get released here in the 80s, but thanks to Umbrella we can all make up for lost time.
I was expecting this to look crap, but the print is pretty clean and the image is sharp, so people who were waiting for the DVD should be delighted. Colours can be a bit oversaturated at times, and there's some macroblocking and a few spots. There're also a few shots where grain is heavy, but again, overall this was a delight to behold. The only query to raise against this transfer is that the original aspect ratio is listed as 2.35:1, and this DVD is framed at 1.77:1. Looking at the film, I wonder if the 2.35:1 listing is correct, as the framing looked right, particularly in one overhead shot of Numunwari where he virtually fills the screen.
A 2.0 mix is what we get, but that's the original audio so that's fine by me. The sound is clean and the dialogue's clear. Sadly, so is the 80s score.
Extra Features
The DVD has a commentary with Jarratt and executive producer Antony Ginnane. They talk about the rights issue that delayed the film's domestic release, Quentin Tarantino's visit to Melbourne with his personal print of the film, coaching city boy Burnum Burnum to sound like he was from the Outback and a controversial sequence in the film. It's a good track, and well worth a listen for those curious about what happened during and after filming.
The Verdict
Movie Score
Disc Score
Overall Score
Dark Age may not be the monster on the loose flick I wanted when I last saw it, but it's a progressive, interesting movie nonetheless. Except for its Numunwari FX. Those that have always wanted to see Dark Age now have the chance, and those hoping to get a nice release have had their patience rewarded. Umbrella's DVD is in the NTSC format and is region free, so should play worldwide.

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