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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Cane Toads: An Unnatural History
Cane Toads: An Unnatural History
First Run Features // Unrated // July 17, 2001
List Price: $24.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Holly E. Ordway | posted September 20, 2001 | E-mail the Author
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Watching Cane Toads: An Unnatural History has got to rank as one of the more surrealistically bad viewing experiences I've had lately. OK, so the cover was really cheesy-looking, but the description of the subject sounded interesting: a documentary about the introduction of the cane toad to Australia in an attempt to control a beetle that was destroying the country's sugarcane crops. I knew a little about some of the problems that introducing foreign species (like rabbits) into Australia had caused, so I was looking forward to a documentary that would explore the topic in an interesting way. Well, let's just say that Cane Toads is not that documentary.

Cane Toads is a cross between a bad documentary and a bad comedy. Either one of these failures would have made for a lousy film; the combination is even worse. Essentially, director Mark Lewis can't figure out what he wants his film to be. It's a complete flop as a nature documentary, even a light-hearted one, because it's fundamentally uninformative about the cane toad. I basically don't know anything more about the toad than before seeing the documentary. We get irrelevant interview clips from mumbling scientists and farmers, making a few comments about when they first saw the cane toad, and manhandling some captive frogs in a truly disturbing manner.

The film is also a flop as a social commentary, either humorous or serious, if that's indeed what it's trying to be. Alternated between the "scientific" clips are interviews with residents of Queensland, Australia, about their reactions to the cane toads. These reactions range from the peculiar to the truly bizarre, and that's before we even get to the fellow who was high on cane toad poison cigarettes. It's utterly uninformative and uninteresting as a piece about Australian culture, which leads me to think that Lewis was trying to be funny rather than serious in these clips. Yet the film manages to be absurd and pointless without actually ever being amusing.

The documentary itself is 48 minutes long; the misleading 65 minutes claimed on the DVD case is the "total length," which I assume means that they included the footage of the special features to get that number.

Picture

Surprisingly, Cane Toads was made in 1987. I say "surprisingly," because judging from the image quality, I'd have said that it came from an early 1970s tape that had been kicking around in someone's garage before being hastily transferred to DVD. The 1.33:1 image is blurry and muddy, with a lot of noise, resulting in a very disagreeable image.

Sound

The Dolby mono soundtrack is of the same level of quality as the image. It's muffled and muzzy-sounding, and it's difficult to make out what people are saying.

Extras

The extras for Cane Toads are as bizarre as the rest of the film. The promised "interactive guide to the cane toad" turns out to just be a slightly different version of the scene-selection feature; there's no new information provided.

The DVD also includes a completely unrelated short film called "Signing Off." It's not made by the director, Mark Lewis, it has nothing to do with cane toads, and in fact the only reason I can think of that it's on the disc is that it's also Australian.

Final thoughts

The cover art for this DVD is highly representative of the film. If you think that the cover looks interesting, there's a remote chance that you share the filmmaker's sense of humor, in which case you might possibly find some amusement value in it. If the cover puts you off, trust your instincts: it only gets more bizarre from there. My general recommendation is to not waste your time on it.
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