Somewhere lost in time, there was a marketing meeting. Some execs thought they could put out a movie in which a giant alligator rampages through the sewers and some critic would blurt out, “It does for sewers what Jaws did for the ocean!” Well, that doesn’t really work, because no one in their right mind wants to go into a sewer, unless they’re being paid…a lot.
Alligator exists in that time when the ‘70s wanted to die and the ’80s were determined to get kick-started. It is a relic, a goofy, sloppy creature feature with a decent star (the alligator, not the humans), terribly clichéd and contrived script, and wasted characters.
There is still an appeal to Alligator though. The giant alligator prop is relatively convincing, munching on helpless humans within the first minute of screen time. Despite the poor miniature work by Bill Kaufman (his only credited effects work), the actual alligator is used effectively between prop shots. The idea that a baby alligator could grow so large by eating dead dogs discarded by a drug company is marginally unique too.
The gator actually belonged to Marisa (Robin Riker) as a child, who amazingly grew up to be a herpetologist, and amazingly happens to fall in love with the cop investigating the killer-gator case, and who amazingly is involved in the creatures eventual demise. That’s only a part of how contrived this John Sayles script is.
Characters are all stock players, including the rookie cop, grumbling police chief, scientist, and the big game hunter who exists purely to be eaten while trying to play the same role as Robert Shaw from Jaws. It doesn’t work that way.
Alligator closes on a big finale, one in which the Alligator inexplicably attacks the wedding of the drug company CEO’s daughter. The growth hormones apparently gave the gator ESP too, something the corporate world would love to get their hands on. That, or the script is even more contrived than originally thought. Probably the latter.
Alligator comes to DVD in a troublesome transfer. Unnatural, annoying, and rather obvious smearing is evident throughout. The film has obviously been digitally manipulated poorly, with DNR wiping the grain and most of the detail.
Colors are bright (too bright though, with some red push), the blacks are fine, and the contrast is strong. Edge enhancement is a regular problem as well, although the halos are less evident than usual. Artifacting is under control, although the lack of film grain does not hurt the encode.
Something the world has waited nearly three decades for (or not), Alligator has entered the era of surround sound. This Dolby Digital 5.1 mix is actually fair, with a nice echo effect when the film is down in the sewers. Water splashing and dialogue echoes are nicely placed into all channels. The high end is flat and strained, although still mixed well enough that no dialogue is lost. The subwoofer remains quiet.
A commentary by director Lewis Teague and actor Robert Forster leads off, followed by a decent little retrospective, Alligator Author that runs 17-minutes. The rest of the disc is loaded with trailers.
The original script, written by Frank Ray Perilli, had a different scenario. The gator was going to terrorize Milwaukee, growing in size because beer companies were dumping beer waste into the sewer. Then the critic tagline could have been, “Does for beer what Jaws did for the ocean!”