Cane Toads:  The Conquest

Dir. Mark Lewis

Mark Lewis’ Cane Toads:  The Conquest is easily the best 3-D documentary of the Sundance Film Festival.  Granted, it’s the only 3-D documentary of the festival, but the aforementioned qualification is definitely not intended to diminish its value.  It is simply meant to bring attention to the unique format in which it is presented.  This film will surely do for nature documentaries what Avatar has done for narrative features, immediately earning it the affectionate nickname, “Avatoad.”  Check out the review after the jump…

Cane Toads:  The Conquest, is a sequel to Lewis’ 1988 film, Cane Toads: An Unnatural History.  Where the subject of the first film is the introduction of the toads to Australia and their behavioral habits (particularly mating), the sequel documents migration of legions of cane toads from Queensland to Western Australia, thousands of kilometers away.  This may be a cute, perhaps even inspiring story in the vein of March of the Penguins, except for one thing:  They won’t stop multiplying.  Thousands upon thousands of cane toads litter the ground from Queensland to Darwin.  They are considered vermin and reviled by most locals (although some find them charismatic…hey, some people keep rats as pets).  Their defensive venom creates hazards for indigenous wildlife.  Local governments struggle to keep the populations under control and prevent them from invading any deeper into the country, a task for which most citizens are happy to do their part by any lethal means necessary.

Be warned, PETA members!  Many toads were harmed in the making of this film.  The film is filmed with scenes that are veritable Cane Toad Holocausts.  They are run over with cars, speared with litter disposal poles, gassed, frozen, and one toad is even strapped to a firework and sent out in an explosive blaze of glory.  Thankfully, there is no real gore to speak of.  And the film does not only present them as nuisances and pests.  There are testimonies from environmentalists making a case for their coexistence, as well as eccentrics trying to turn a buck on their exploitation, and people who simply find them charming and keep them as pets.

The most remarkable aspect of this film, however, is its photography.  Modern 3-D has changed from throwing objects from the screen out at the audience to adding depth to the screen, allowing viewers to feel immersed, as if they can almost reach right in to the world presented.  This allows for amazing detail in textures, which paints an intensely vivid portrait of the Australian environment.  The soft, blurry background we are used to from traditional camera lenses is barely present, allowing for sharp images all the way to the back of the image.  The rows upon rows of sugar cane are so vast that they almost demand to be run through.  Every detail the gravel and sand on the ground is so crisp that all one can do is marvel.

Speaking of textures, the animals of this film look absolutely tremendous.  During a reenacted segment about a dog that was hospitalized after eating a venomous cane toad, there are several shots of it lying on a vet’s operating table, and you can see straight across each wisp of fur.  A crocodile swimming past a riverboat seems to swim further and further into the screen.  And the toads!  The sea of toads!  Hopping over one another, writhing like a phalanx, is truly an unbelievable sight, both amazing and slightly horrifying at the same time.  Never before has such a benign animal seemed so attractive.

After all the hype surrounding Avatar, and all the talk of how it was going to “change the way movies are made,” this may be the film that proves it.  While studios may continue to use 3-D as a gimmick and make any number of computer animated franchise movies based solely on the premise that they will include this technology, Cane Toads: The Conquest shows that it can be seamlessly integrated with traditional styles of filmmaking, and simply add, and pardon the pun, another dimension to the way audiences experience movies.

Rating: 8/10