SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL REVIEWS - CANE TOADS: THE CONQUEST
by Paul Fischer
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Director Mark Lewis
Over 20 years after Mark Lewis dazzled audiences with his Cane Toads: An Unnatural History,m, the director is back with a sequel of sorts, Cane Toads – The Conquest, and in 3D no less. Or as Lewis put it prior to the world premiere screening: ‘Avatoads’. This time around, Lewis takes a giant leap forward as he revs up the technology, once again tracking the unstoppable march of the cane toad across the Australian continent, from Australia’s lush north through to the Northern Territory and as far west in to the outlying regions of Western Australia.
Loathed and detested by many, and even adored by some, the ingenious director takes the audience into both the early history [a very early history precedes the opening credits with a hilarious sequence] and a take on these pesky toads from various perspectives. Lewis is not a dry documentarian by any means, as evidenced in a film that includes a hallucinatory dog with LSD-type visions to the wonder dog that returns from the dead. Yes, these vignettes are all toad related. He interviews a range of local Australians who have dealt with the toad problem in a variety of ways, and through interviews, he charts the toad’s journey to Australia in the 1930s from Hawaii to Queensland.
Not only is Lewis’ film consistently fascinating and full of a very dry, parochial Australian humour, but technically, his film is a dazzling achievement, in many ways more so than Avatar, since Lewis uses the 3D technology in very subtle but quite brilliant ways to enhance his narrative. Make no mistake about it, Cane Toads – The Extinction is a documentary with a distinctly cohesive narrative style, offering a variety of points of view and telling a very Australian story but yet it feels more universal. His cinematographers create a visual landscape to tell his story of the cane toads, and the vast Australian landscape with all its harsh contradictions is as much a character in this movie as the toads and laconic Australian characters we meet.
In many ways, Lewis’ film explores the Australian psyche and so the film is ultimately more than just a cane toad film, but a fresh and funny look at a unique culture. A visually masterful film, it is also a work that is richly entertaining and original in the way Lewis explores various facets of Australiana. It should do very well commercially, and one can only hope that a US distributor with creative foresight, will bring these fascinating creatures to a 3D multiplex theatre near you.
Paul Fischer is originally from Australia. Now he is an interviewer and film critic living in Hollywood.
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