The dream is over. The series of trailers for Crocodile Dundee: The Son of a Legend Returns Home that electrified a nation have finally been officially revealed to be a Tourism Australia campaign. Aired during the US Superbowl, the final commercial in the series confirmed it was advertising the majesty of this wide brown land itself – and its wineries, and its restaurants – rather than a somewhat dubious new instalment in a series that gave us both the biggest international success Australian film has ever had… and Crocodile Dundee in Los Angeles.
So well played, Tourism Australia, you found a way to get everyone to pay attention to Australia. You also found a way to get a lot of film lovers riled up, as the original fake trailer sparked more passion than just about anything else involving Russell Crowe this decade. Most hot takes expressed dismay that another Crocodile Dundee movie was even a thing:
“So yeah, I guess this is happening. That or it’s an elaborate tease for a car commercial or something. Either way, may God have mercy on us all.”
Even the guardedly positive reactions were hedging their bets:
“[Danny McBride is] an intriguing choice to reboot the franchise, which faltered with 2001's poorly received Crocodile Dundee in Los Angeles.”
While some went back in time to give the original a good kicking while they were at it:
“These are cynical, opportunistic films, dripping with contempt for their audience. From this point of view, there is one thing the new 'trailer' gets absolutely right: it encapsulates the franchise’s shameless stereotype-mongering and disdainful attitude towards viewers. All in an ultra-efficient two words, when Danny McBride stares into the camera and says: 'G’day, losers.’”
But would a new Crocodile Dundee movie really have been so bad? Many of the outsized reactions to the first trailer seemed to be defending the virtue of Australian cinema comedy, as if a new Dundee movie would somehow have been dragging the proud name of Australian comedy through the mud. Which, if you’re one of the handful of people who’ve actually seen a recent Australian comedy feature film, is a bigger joke than anything we’ve put on screen in years.
Our serious dramas are still kicking goals worldwide – you just have to look at the reaction to the recent Sweet Country to know that. But our crowd-pleasing comedy is like wandering through a graveyard littered with discarded funny bones. Three Summers? A Few Less Men? Spin Out? Now Add Honey? Manny Lewis? Save Your Legs? It’s hard to see how a Crocodile Dundee sequel could somehow be more embarrassing than any of them. And even if Crocodile Dundee: The Son of a Legend Returns Home was somehow less funny than upcoming Shane Jacobson vehicle The BBQ, it would still be a film starring an internationally recognised actor in a variety of unique locations based on a concept with proven overseas success. In what film industry is that seen as a bad idea?
Australian movie comedy has been locked in a death spiral for over a decade now. There are plenty of reasons why, from fragmenting audiences to actual comedians largely being shut out after a string of duds in the early '00s. But it’s also because making people laugh is hard and most comedies fail, so when we only make a handful each year, it’s no surprise that year after year we largely get duds. Maybe upcoming Shane Jacobson vehicle That’s Not My Dog! will turn it around – after all, it does also feature Paul Hogan.
It says a lot about the way we see Australian cinema here that a (fake) trailer for a sequel to one of the most successful movies we’ve ever made was treated with horror and disgust. Of course, there’s a lot about the first Crocodile Dundee that should be left in the past – even for the time, it was racist and sexist in ways the comedy rarely tried to undercut. But none of those elements were on display in the (fake) trailer. Comedy is subjective and Danny McBride is clearly a polarising figure. But was there any hint that a 2018 version would replicate the same crude attitudes of 35 years ago? Or was the backlash more about the idea that we’ve somehow moved beyond making successful films with international appeal, that Australian cinema is somehow better than a big, crowd-pleasing dumb comedy?
Comedy should be a natural for the Australian film industry. It’s cheap to make and, when it’s done right, it has a local appeal that international films can’t match. But when the idea of a big budget comedy based on a successful franchise gets the kind of dismayed response that Crocodile Dundee: The Son of a Legend Returns Home did, it’s no surprise our industry would rather focus on serious drama. If we can’t laugh at a trailer, how are we ever going to laugh at an entire film?
Anyway, it could have been worse – Rebel Wilson tried to get a Crocodile Dundee sequel starring herself up a year or so ago.