CANE TOADS: THE CONQUEST is a comic yet provocative account of Australia’s most notorious environmental blunder from filmmaker Mark Lewis. Shot against the harsh and beautiful landscape of northern Australia, this offbeat documentary tracks the unstoppable journey of the toad across the continent.
The latest feature from documentarian Mark Lewis is something of a sequel to his popular award-winning documentary feature CANE TOADS: AN UNNATURAL HISTORY (1988). The film was an international hit and is reportedly director Werner Herzog’s favourite film.
The feel of Lewis’s new film is very similar to the first. He takes a social rather than natural history approach to his subject. Facts about toad biology are sprinkled through the documentary, but it’s how people and their pets interact with the toad that is the real subject of the film.
Lewis begins with the alarming proposition that the spread of the toad through the top half of Australia has accelerated through the years and is unstoppable. As the facts are unfolded, it does seem as though the Bufo Marinus has conquered its adopted home.
But there is a whole slew of Aussie characters in the top end who stand ready to stop the march of the toad. Some believe it can be stopped with sound waves or cleverly designed fences. Some like the Kimberly Toad Busters take a quasi-military approach, going out in squads, catching the toads en masse, bagging them, gassing them and burying them in mass graves.
How one sees this¬—as animal cruelty or justifiable homicide—depends very much on your view of the toad as a pest or a creature who now has a right to exist in our natural environment. Those who want to pancake the amphibians with their cars or hit them with a golf club are plentiful, but we are also shown some dissenting voices.
There are also those who want see the toads as a source of income. Terry Selwood uses toad skins to create handbags—some with the toad head peering from a sideflap. Kevin Ladynski made complex dioramas with stuffed toads enacting scenes of everyday Australian life—at the footy, in a courtroom—to name two examples.
CANE TOADS: THE CONQUEST also comes in a 3D version and is the first wholly Australian feature shot using full 3D camera technology. The photography is amazing even in two dimensions which is how I saw it. Some of the shots appear green-screened and composited, so a certain amount of post-production work and reconstruction has gone into documenting this tale.
This film will have broad appeal. It has its thoughtful moments, but it is above all an entertaining look at this indestructible pest. It’s the only feature documentary I can recall seeing where I laughed all the way through.
CANETOADS: THE CONQUEST is on Australian screens now. It runs for 85 minutes. I rated it 4/5.
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