Last Feast of the Crocodiles

National Geographic moves even deeper into nature in its beautifully organized account of a South African river's pool drying up during a 1991 drought. Impeccably developed by producers David and Carol Hughes, docu depicts how life's balance seems apportioned in odd doses; here, no one's a hero.

With:
Narrator: Richard Kiley.

National Geographic moves even deeper into nature in its beautifully organized account of a South African river’s pool drying up during a 1991 drought. Impeccably developed by producers David and Carol Hughes, docu depicts how life’s balance seems apportioned in odd doses; here, no one’s a hero.

Filmed in Kruger National Park, South Africa, by National Geographic TV Inc. Executive producer, Nicolas Noxon; series supervising producer, Barry Nye; senior producer, Teresa Koenig; producers-directors-writers- The Hugheses’ cameras patiently record the terrors of life around the pool, where the mighty vegetarian hippos and the hungering crocodiles live in easy proximity, and early on all but gambol together in the water. Editors David Hughes and Barry Nye investigate the secondary characters — baboons, plovers, lions, pigeons, herons, a monitor lizard, impalas, even wart hogs and a transient buffalo herd — as they seek water and try coping with the crocs.

The rains don’t come, and the cameras record the increasing desperation: Though the crocs are terrible threats, various animals take stabs at sampling the water. Sometimes a lunging croc grabs one, and at one point, a baby baboon gets his head caught between a croc’s giant jaws — and marvelously escapes. The Hugheses’ script, read admirably by Richard Kiley, never stoops to conquer by personification or by tagging animals with cutesy names.

Maternal instincts assert themselves — unless nothing can be done to save an offspring. An impala, not able to recognize her mud-covered offspring, denies he’s hers despite his protests. As the waters vanish, some creatures, wary of the crocs, dig pits in thesoft soil nearby to find wetness; and, as the dry season stretches out, even the crocs begin deserting the hole until only one is left to submerge himself in the thickening, drying mud.

The docu has been arranged in chronological order, and incidents starkly stand out. Forlorn mothers see offspring disappear, jabbering baboons fret among themselves, a cautious lioness approaches water’s edge, frustrated plovers try vainly to protect their eggs from lumbering hippos. And a croc mysteriously quits the evaporating pool and returns carrying her young in her mouth.

Images burn as nature goes about its work. With all the heat — nearly 120 degrees — and with all the dying, pain and resignation, it’s still hard to raise much sympathy for the baleful-eyed crocodile. Though he seems to be smiling, that’s not to be considered a welcome.

Latest National Geographic spec seems yet another step forward in investigating nature and its rhythms. Dana Kaproff’s spare score never distracts. Splendid, dramatic report.

Last Feast of the Crocodiles

Production: NBC, Wed. Feb. 7, 8 p.m.

Crew: Camera, David and Carol Hughes; editors, Nye, David Hughes; sound, David Hughes; music, Dana Kaproff. 60 MIN.

With: Narrator: Richard Kiley.

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