Beastly scriptwriter’s bun­gle in the jun­gle

Ama­zo­nia’s Gi­ant Jaws 5pm, Na­tional Ge­o­graphic Chan­nel

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Tv -

HOW ap­pro­pri­ate for elec­tion night, a pro­gram fea­tur­ing rep­tiles with big teeth and tem­pers to match. But be­fore the pol­i­tics starts you can also watch this pro­gram about the black caiman croc­o­diles of the Ama­zon.

Per­haps the fun­sters who sched­ule pay television are mak­ing a joke by show­ing this. Af­ter all, a doc­u­men­tary about a nat­u­ral world where the weak are lunch, when not eaten for break­fast, has a cer­tain sim­i­lar­ity to the cam­paign that ends tonight.

But, then again, what ap­pears plan­ning could be an ac­ci­den­tal out­come, born of the way pay- TV shows are sched­uled in any old or­der, much like the con­tent of this pro­gram.

It looks as if the pro­duc­ers of Ama­zo­nia’s Gi­ant Jaws had two lots of video, one of as­sorted an­i­mals, the other on the mat­ing habits of the gi­ant caiman. Stitched to­gether they de­liv­ered a doc­u­men­tary. Thus, some of this show fea­tures a Brazil­ian wildlife ex­pert, while an­other sec­tion fol­lows a year in the life of one par­tic­u­lar caiman.

As usual in th­ese doc­u­men­taries, the beast is given a name to make her more ap­peal­ing. It sounds like Matisse, but how­ever it is spelled I sus­pect it’s some­thing that means huge, hun­gry and hor­ri­ble in Por­tuguese; Matisse’s speed and agility are im­pres­sive, but she’s no oil paint­ing.

The show fea­tures her trip up the river to breed, but be­cause a croc­o­dile swim­ming and nest­ing is not all that spec­tac­u­lar, Matisse’s do­mes­tic round is in­ter­spersed with images of other species. There are jaguars, many mon­keys, three- toed sloths and all man­ner of birds. There are pi­ra­nhas and huge ot­ters that will eat any­thing that does not bite first. And very im­pres­sive they all are, too.

But the script isn’t. Pi­ra­nhas are ‘‘ the ter­ror of the Ama­zon’’, with teeth that ‘‘ can gouge steel’’. The lake where the caiman breed ‘‘ is a crocodil­ian car­ni­vale’’. Then there are breath­less an­nounce­ments such as the claim that the caiman’s lake is ‘‘ so re­mote as to be al­most in­ac­ces­si­ble to out­siders’’, ex­cept of course Na­tional Ge­o­graphic’s cam­era crew. There are also state­ments of the bleed­ing ob­vi­ous, such as ‘‘ Matisse will breed suc­cess­fully only if she can find a mate’’.

This is a doc­u­men­tary to watch for the var­i­ous kinds of wildlife rather than in­for­ma­tion about them.

You will not miss much if you turn off the sound. At least you will not have to hear the clos­ing line: ‘‘ The great black ghost of the flooded for­est slips away.’’

Per­haps you should ap­ply the same prin­ci­pal to the elec­tion cov­er­age and watch it with the au­dio off. The com­men­ta­tors, like the croc­o­diles, will look bet­ter with the sound down.

Stephen Matchett

Happy snaps: The caiman smiles for the cam­era

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