It's not your father's "Wild Kingdom."
Crocodile Hunter airs daily on the Discovery Channel. Check listings for showtimes.
When I was about eight years old, I had one of those bunk beds that lacked a bottom bunk (I'm an only child). One night, while perched in my loft reading, I noticed a spider scurrying across the ceiling above my feet, casually making his way towards my face. Being that I was fairly a large kid, and the spider was approximately the size of my toe nail, one would think I would have just squashed the little bugger under my thumb and carried on with my reading. Yeah, one would think that. But alas, it was not so -- instead, I emitted a high pitch squeal, shucked off my covers, shot out of bed (whacking my head on the ceiling for the umpteenth time), and then, quivering from my escape ladder, I feebly batted at the tiny arachnid with my paperback. I finally managed to knock it from the ceiling, only to realize that it now had free domain on my bed. Panicked, I threw my covers over the presumed spot where he (she?) landed, and proceeded to beat the blankets mercilessly with my fists. Obviously, the chances of me killing (or even injuring, for that matter) the spider were minimal; so after fruitlessly scouring my bed for his little corpse, I gave up, and slept on the couch downstairs for the next couple nights (dreaming of the spider finding a nice, warm spot amongst my covers, setting up a nest, and ultimately, depositing baby spiders).
Today, being twenty-five years old, and weighing in around two hundred and twenty pounds, not much has changed. Girlfriends, wanting to go on romantic walks in the park, lose all respect for me after a chance encounter with any variety of woodland creatures. One evening, not too long ago, while drinking with some buddies at a friend's house and weaving elaborate (read: exaggerated) tales of our over-achieving testosterone, a beetle (June bug/cricket/whatever) happened to take a promenade beside me. Instinctively, I launched to my feet, pulled off a shoe, let out a battle cry (something along the lines of, "Oh, sweet baby Jesus!"), and proceeded to blindly bash the harmless insect into an unidentifiable lump of mush. Then, sweaty, chest pumping, shoe still cocked over my head, I remembered where I was, and sheepishly turned my head towards the large group of men sitting beside me; most were chortling heartily, the others just looked on in relative amazement. My only retort was, "What?!"
So, in short, I'm a sissy.
And being a sissy, I get quite a thrill from watching The Crocodile Hunter. A fine example of "edu-tainment," The Crocodile Hunter is an hour long show featuring wildlife expert Steve Irwin, along with his wife Terri, traipsing about remote regions of the world and examining its respective wildlife. In 1970, Steve Irwin inherited the Australia Zoo from his parents, Bob and Lyn. Having grown up surrounded by animals, and raised by two wildlife enthusiasts, it was a natural progression for Steve to become interested in animals as well. Actually, "interested" may not aptly describe Steve's feelings towards all creatures great and small -- "obsessed" may be more fitting. Obsession is the only justification for the way Steve puts his life on the line on a day-to-day basis. While carrying a crocodile from one pond to next, Steve explains how tranquilizers are not good for the enormous reptile, so he likes to merely blindfold the croc, and move them by hand. Never mind how those things can effortlessly snap off your head, drag you underwater, and stick you under a log for a snack later. You have to question the sanity of a man who says, "This happens to be one of the most dangerous snakes in the world," Then adds in the same breath, "Let's hold it up by the tail for a closer look..."
When not looking to fulfill his apparent death wish globally, Steve finds life-threatening situations conveniently located at his zoo with such endeavors as wrangling pythons and maintaining his crocodile pits (no home is complete without a crocodile pit).
What makes The Crocodile Hunter different than most wildlife programs is Steve's unbridled enthusiasm for his craft. As opposed to other explorer/scientists who seem merely interested in capturing the creatures and sticking probes in various orifices, Steve's thrill derives from just being able to examine the animal up-close. Anyone who pauses while carrying a crocodile to mention how beautiful it is gets my vote as a true nature enthusiast, to say the least.
One minor, but perhaps unavoidable, flaw to the show is when the focus loses its objectivity, and the action is portrayed solely for dramatic value. While scaling a cliff, Terri Irwin loses her footing and falls, with only a safety line tied around Steve's waist preventing her from plummeting to the rocky floor below. This mishap is played out like a scene from Cliffhanger, with Terri crying out that she can't hold on much longer, and Steve pleading with her to grab his hand. I fully realize that drama equals ratings, but when you notice that both Steve and Terri are providing after-the-fact voice-over narration (it took me a while, but I did eventually notice it), the drama factor is significantly reduced. Plenty of thrills are obtained through Steve's encounters with the exotic wildlife; the "life-or-death situations" are merely superfluous.
There is a lot you can learn while watching The Crocodile Hunter, but most of us savages tune in for the frequent injuries. Steve's aforementioned enthusiasm seems to get the best of him regularly, and he gets hurt almost every show. Be it clawed by an iguana, a scraped knee after falling out of a tree while chasing an orangutan -- I can't count how many times I've seen the man bit by a snake. But even while bleeding profusely, Steve's love for his job never falters, nor does he ever blame the animals. One of the first things to pop out of his mouth after being attacked is, "That was my fault." Which, for the most part, is true. When dealing with the likes of Komodo Dragons, one needs to ask oneself:
"Why in the hell am I messing with a Komodo Dragon?!"
But after establishing that, one should realize that when you are dealing with the likes of a Komodo Dragon, or any variety of wildlife for that matter, if you don't handle the situation properly, chances are pretty good that you'll go home with a nasty souvenir, or perhaps not go home at all. Steve realizes the stipulations of his occupation, and the possible grievous consequences of his actions. I just hope his eventual epitaph doesn't read: IT WAS MY FAULT.
Joe Bannerman's opinions on things cinematic can be found at his website, Opposable Thumb Films.
Copyright © 2000 by Joe Bannerman
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