The camera draws closer. The subject leaps across the frame. He splashes across a pond and runs up the bank. His loud cry fills the back country as he frantically whips aside the brush. As the camera zooms in, he peers back, wide eyed. Dominic Monaghan grins into the lens, even as he announces that the “wild thing” he was following has disappeared into a burrow. He is continuously gleeful, persistent, and awed.
Getting “wild” with Monaghan is an adrenaline rush. Unsurprisingly, the opening of every episode of Wild Things with Dominic Monaghan shows the series host leaping out of bed and exploding into action, eager to be on the trail of this week’s guest creature.
“Since I was a kid, I’ve dreamt of traveling the planet to get my hands on the rarest, scariest, and deadliest animals out there,” Monaghan confesses at the beginning of the show. Backed by the fame of starring roles in The Lord of the Rings, LOST, and FlashForward, the actor now has his chance, and he takes viewers along for the ride.
Each episode provides what Monaghan calls his “mission” or “quest” to find often-endangered “wild things”. On the two DVDs just released by BBC, Monaghan travels around the globe to exotic locations in search of equally exotic creatures, including poisonous lizards and glow-in-the-dark scorpions. During the Creepy Crawlers DVD episodes, he seeks three giants—at least of the insect world: the giant white Goliath beetle, giant huntsman spider, and giant centipede. The Deadliest Critters disc shows the actor on the hunt for venomous prey in Africa and Central America; my favorite title among these episodes is “Black Hairy Thick Tailed Scorpion”.
Describing Monaghan as a nature enthusiast is a misnomer. His enthusiasm is so genuinely infectious that even audiences who prefer seeing critters through the safety of a television screen will enjoy traveling with him. While tracking the highly venomous beaded lizard in Costa Rica, the actor drops his backpack and eagerly runs toward his elusive prey. When the lizard escapes into a break in an embankment, the actor decides not to stick his hand into what possibly could be the creature’s home.
The local lizard expert, watching from a safe distance, agrees that Monaghan is wise to stop his pursuit. After all, as has been mentioned several times during this episode, the lizard is one of the deadliest in the world. Monaghan’s desire to capture (only on camera) a hard-to-find creature sometimes carries him away, but most of the time he brings the audience right along with him.
While on the trail, Monaghan reveals more about himself as well as the terrain, local guides, and the often-reluctant reptilian stars of the show. The actors’ fans may not be surprised by his childhood reminiscences about the reptiles that have fascinated him throughout his life. After all, he is well-known to have kept some rather strange pets during the time he filmed LOST in Hawaii. (Black widow spiders come to mind.) In addition, the actor grew up with a science teacher father, and audiences who watch Monaghan’s series on BBC America or these DVDs quickly learn that Monaghan inherited the ability to educate as well as entertain.
In fact, Monaghan’s natural fondness for wild creatures and ease in handling snakes, scorpions, and other stinging, striking reptiles is the major selling point of the series. The actor suggests that the camera follow him when he spies a shy indigo-and-orange tarantula just off the path, then carefully coaxes the spider to walk across his hands so that the camera can provide a close-up view for the audience.
During a break from one quest, he discusses meerkats as an adventurous young one climbs all over the actor’s shoulders and head. Monaghan jokes that the meerkat is named Billy Boyd, after his friend and The Lord of the Rings co-star. (The actor sometimes name drops but more often interjects popular culture references into conversations, whether with humans or animals.)
Although he is willing to handle more common wildlife, during his 40-minute quest he’s interested in more exclusive prey, Monaghan warns those of us watching at home not to attempt to reach under rocks or glibly approach an animal if we decide that we, too, want to explore the habitat of wild things. In every episode Monaghan explains how carefully he approaches creatures. Often he works with a two-pronged, long-handled metal “snake stick” with which he gently lifts a deadly reptile or alters a snake’s path, or he slowly maneuvers prongs to handle the business end of a scorpion.
The “you are there” style of filming at times is difficult to watch as the handheld camera bouncingly tracks a fleeing creature. Most of the time, however, the camera pans spectacular scenery or provides a passenger-seat perspective as Monaghan drives along dusty roads. Even moments extraneous to the quest, such as the host getting lost and having trouble reading a map or changing a flat, make the final cut and show Monaghan as more like one of us regular folk instead of a TV and film star.
Not all wild things are easy to find, and, at times, the episode’s payoff—locating and observing the subject of the quest—is too brief. As the final credits roll, Monaghan releases the prey of the week, and both go on their merry ways toward another adventure.
Each DVD provides more than two hours of entertainment through either three (Creepy Crawlers) or four (Deadliest Critters) episodes. (No extras are included.) The style of each episode is more reminiscent of Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations series on the Travel Channel than Steve Irwin’s Crocodile Hunter series on Animal Planet. Bourdain’s series combined his interests in culinary arts and travel, just as Wild Things blends Monaghan’s love of multicultural travel experiences with the thrill of finding hard-to-locate species.
In both travel shows, the host visits an out-of-the-way location, chats with the locals, gets to know more about culture, and meets the episode’s objective: to introduce the audience to something foreign and entertaining. Monaghan is as enthusiastic as Irwin, and he does court danger, but he also seems highly aware that his audience is as concerned about the host’s welfare as the animals’.
As with life, the best part of the trip is what unexpectedly happens along the way. Monaghan may not always find the animals he’s looking for, at least not until the last minute, but a Wild Things road trip may include detours to a village for a friendly game of footie, culinary delicacies provided by a local family, or a shamanic blessing.
The educational information Monaghan provides about creatures’ habitat, biology, or sheer beauty is an important element of each episode, but the weekly “quest” merely provides the framework for a much larger, laid-back travel adventure. The creatures may be wild, but the journey, as Monaghan exclaims at least once in each episode, is decidedly “cool”.