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Cane Toads: The Conquest -- Film Review

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PARK CITY -- Rarely has an ecological menace appeared as entertaining as portrayed in "Cane Toads: The Conquest," Mark Lewis' follow-up doc to his 1988 film "Cane Toads: An Unnatural History." Twenty-two years later, Lewis returns to the critters' northern Australia habitat for a 3D production with remarkable results.

Discovery Studios holds the broadcast rights, but a savvy theatrical distributor prepared to partner with co-producer Participant Media on a 3D release could see enthusiastic response from a broad range of audiences.

The film begins with a brief, humorous recap using archival footage to depict how the amphibian, a South American native, was introduced to Australia in 1935 in an ill-advised attempt to control the sugar cane beetle. The prodigiously productive toad -- females can lay up to 50,000 eggs a year -- quickly took hold in its new environment, rapidly advancing from northeastern Australia across the northern regions of the country. From an original 102 imported 75 years ago, the current population is estimated at 1.5 billion.

Lewis then interviews sugar cane farmers, scientists and locals to chart the toad's advance west by the thousands. Some sequences in the film show hundreds of wriggling toads massing at once. The proliferation of amphibians has prompted people to hunt them down in organized community outings or individually in their own back yards. Local and regional governments are also devising schemes to eliminate the pests, but nothing seems effective in stopping the toad.

Despite the serious ecological implications of the onslaught, Lewis injects abundant humor into the film. Amusing re-creations of residents' experiences with the invaders -- and house pets' unfortunate encounters with the toads -- are shot like short films inserted into the longer narrative. More perspective on the species' impact on the local ecology and links to other environmental issues would have provided a greater global context for the problem, however.

The film is the first independently financed doc to be shot with digital 3D and overall production values are first-class, with the 3D cinematography adding the eye-popping realism that could help push viewers into theaters.

Venue: Sundance Film Festival

Production company: Participant Media, Discovery Studios, Screen Australia, Radio Pictures
Director: Mark Lewis
Screenwriter: Mark Lewis
Producer: Mark Lewis
Executive producers: Jeff Skoll, Diane Weyermann, Clark Bunting
Directors of photography: Kathryn Milliss, Paul Nichola Toby Oliver
Production designer: Daniel C. Nyiri
Music: Martin Armiger
Editor: Bob DeMaio
Sales: Submarine Entertainment
No rating, 90 minutes