Steve Irwin's final show is eerily, defiantly upbeat

January 20, 2007|By David Hinckley | David Hinckley,McClatchy-Tribune

Watching Steve Irwin's last excellent adventure is, to be honest, more than a little creepy.

And no, that doesn't mean this well-produced special on dangerous ocean critters contains any ominous footage. It doesn't even mention the fact that Irwin was killed in September by a relatively benign fish, a stingray.

On the contrary, the show goes out of its way to stress how skilled the "Crocodile Hunter" was at his chosen work, and how responsibly he approached it.

Phillippe Cousteau, narrator of Ocean's Deadliest, watches Irwin swim up to a sea snake and marvels, "I've never seen such rapport between a sea creature and a human."

With this kind of tone, it's appropriate that the producers deal with Irwin's death separately, in a 30-minute tribute show that follows the special.

Still, we know as we watch Irwin scoop up a deadly stonefish that no matter what level of rapport he achieved with his aquatic soul mates, one of them stuck a barb through his heart.

Even beyond the tragedy of his death, that tends to drain most of the fun out of the show.

Irwin's whole "Crocodile Hunter" persona, of course, was built on the doing things the rest of us would consider insane.

Wrestle a 12-foot predator with jaws that could crush a refrigerator? No, thanks. But there's Khaki Steve, doing it for us.

His unspoken message has always been, "Don't do this at home, kids, but you can trust me. I know how. I beat the odds."

Except this time his number came up, which is probably why the producers gave this show such a defiantly upbeat tone.

Irwin's real mission, Cousteau and the other expedition team members repeatedly stress, was preservation, conservation and respect for nature. Creatures are captured not for sport, they emphasize, but for research and science, whether that means tracking a crocodile's movements or milking a snake's venom to produce antidotes for bite victims.

At one point, Cousteau delivers an impassioned call for the end of all commercial whaling.

Irwin himself remains as irrepressible as ever, bubbling with enthusiasm over the size of a crocodile and talking about the ocean like a wide-eyed kid who just got his first goldfish bowl.

And yes, we get a last "Crikey!"

Right up to the end, it makes for livelier television than most traditional nature specials.

But to be honest, a lot of people will be watching this program less to learn about the camouflage skills of the stonefish than to see what the doomed man was doing in his final days.

Nor does this special resolve the debate that has already outlived Steve Irwin: Was he doing God's work or television's?

"Ocean's Deadliest" airs at 8 p.m. tomorrow on Animal Planet and the Discovery Channel.

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