Friday, December 23, 2005

Cane Toads: An Unnatural History (Lewis, 1988)

Now here is something different: a nature documentary that implicitly calls for the extermination rather than the preservation of the species it features as its subject matter. With a style very similar to the semi-comedic non-fiction work of Errol Morris, Cane Toads: An Unnatural History is the strange tale of a creature that was introduced into the Australian ecosystem in the 1930’s in an effort to control the grubs that were ruining farmers’ crops. Though the imported toads from Hawaii failed miserably in their primary mission, they went on to thrive in their new environment. And no wonder. Willing to mate anytime, anywhere and with just about anything, the cane toads are wonders when it comes to multiplication. We are told that just a handful of frogs are capable of producing hundreds of thousands of eggs in a single summer. The idea of an army of toads slowly taking over the continent of Australia may seem amusing until we consider the serious danger the creatures pose to the native lifeforms which frequently fall prey to the pests’ internal poison. Add to this the fact that various ne’er-do-wells are boiling down the toads and – I kid you not – ingesting the toads for their hallucinogenic qualities, then you can easily see what a public menace these little green bastards really are. Like the aforementioned Morris, director Mark Lewis has his interviewees speak directly to the camera, a tactic which emphasizes personal quirks and adds an extra surreal layer to a story that is already bizarre. An engaging and startling lesson in natural selection, Cane Toads is a film for those who’d thought they’d seen everything.



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