Posted on Wednesday, January 27th, 2010 by Russ Fischer
I wish there was a trailer I could share with you to show off Cane Toads: The Conquest. This 3D documentary, which premiered last night at Sundance, is director Mark Lewis‘ return to the subject of his film Cane Toads: An Unnatural History. I’m a sucker for oddball nature docs, and with the exception of The Hellstrom Chronicle (which needs a DVD release, like, now) they don’t come much more oddball than Cane Toads.
In lieu of a trailer, here’s a roundup of info and a few enthusiastic reactions to the film. Why do people like the movie so much? Perhaps because it features “the first 3-D dog acid trip sequence in cinema history.” I’m not making that up. Read on!
The basics: In 1935, 102 cane toads were imported from Hawaii to Australia. The idea was to control a beetle that decimates sugar cane crops. What no one considered at the time was that all cane toads do is eat and fuck. There are now 1.5 billion of them in Australia. In 1987 Mark Lewis made his first short doc about the toad, lacing it with quirky humor and a riotous depiction of the facts that the toads are ever-hungry, sexually rapacious and very difficult to kill.
Now Lewis is back with Cane Toads: the Conquest, which happens to be the first 3D film shot in Australia. (And the second 3D entry at Sundance.) “I wanted to immerse the audience in the world of the toad,” he told the LA Times. For more in-depth talk about why the film was made in 3D, go to an interview with Lewis at TakePart:
Even with the first film I tried to tell it from the animal’s point of view and from the perspective of the cane toad because the cane toad can’t speak for itself. They can’t defend themselves, they can’t represent themselves so I thought to give the animal some respect and have the cane toad tell the story. And to try to look at people as a cane toad would look at people: all up high and looming over them. When I first started thinking about cane toads and 3D, I just thought the immersion in the cane toad world would really suit the subject.
What about that acid trip? One weird cane toad fact is that while the tadpoles are quite toxic to animals, the adults secrete Bufotenin, which is hallucinogenic in small doses, and lethal in larger quantities. Dogs, Lewis says, have learned to flip the toads over and lick their bellies to produce the secretion. Lewis filmed this, and got the world’s debut canine acid trip in 3D. (That ‘ava-toad’ joke belongs to Lewis, by the way. I just appropriated it.)
Anne Thompson said of the film via Twitter: “…went to see Cane Toads 3-D. Draughtsman’s Contract meets Fast, Loose & Out of Control.” That’s enough to lock me in, right there.
Real reviews are thin so far, but I don’t expect that to last. LA Times reporter John Horn calls it “fascinating…very ambitious…I can’t think of a movie I’ve seen [at Sundance] that was as enjoyable and unusual as Cane Toads.” Variety reports that “a roar went up inside the Eccles theater on Tuesday night as director Mark Lewis humorously introduced his 3D documentary.” Paul Fisher at Dark Horizons says “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.”
If you’ve never seen the original Cane Toads doc, queue it up on Netflix right now. It’s a massively entertaining and unexpectedly sobering film. To everyone else, I have two demands. One: a trailer, please! Two: buy this film. Now.