Big Red: The Kangaroo King (2015) Movie Script

NARRATOR: In this corner, one of the most
pitiless landscapes in the world,
the arid Australian outback.
(foreboding music)
In this corner, one of the most
resilient survivors in the world...
The red kangaroo.
With skills shaped by millions
of years of evolution,
this time it's brought a knockout punch,
a devastating drought.
As thousands succumb
to dehydration and starvation,
one remarkable kangaroo
maybe on the ropes.
(tense music)
Can he make it through hell on earth?
Or is this one fight
even the red kangaroo can't win?
(theme music)
Australia, the oldest continent
on the planet.
Almost three-quarters
of it looks like this.
(suspenseful music)
At its center,
it gets five inches of rain a year.
(suspenseful music continues)
The mercury can hit
110 degrees Fahrenheit.
But the hardest part,
for those who live here is...
the climate's unpredictable personality.
This is a place where there are
no true seasons...
only moods.
(dramatic music)
To make it here...
you need to be able
to roll with the punches.
And shift gears in a hurry.
The acknowledged master of that art
in the Australian outback...
is the red kangaroo.
The largest marsupial in the world.
This female is pregnant.
Red kangaroo females
are almost always pregnant.
They've evolved to adapt
their reproductive systems
to the unpredictable whims
of the environment.
(dramatic music)
(crickets chirp)
At any given moment, a female
can have three offspring to care for,
each at a different stage of development.
(light music)
This is number one... the peanut.
After 33 days developing in the womb,
the newborn emerges as a blind,
hairless, pink creature
roughly the size of a peanut.
We call him Rusty.
There's virtually no sign
of the powerful hind legs
we all associate with the kangaroo.
He uses his arms to make the grueling
trek up the belly to his mother's nipple,
guided solely by instinct and smell.
(light music)
Almost immediately,
the female goes into heat again,
releasing hormones
that stimulate ovulation.
Once fertilized,
the mother's endocrine system
puts the development
of this new embryo on hold.
That's number two.
Its progress won't be kickstarted again,
until the peanut reduces his suckling.
Number three is the joey, who's spending
some time suckling from outside the pouch
and some out on his own
in the big, wide world.
(light music)
The female is
a living assembly line of young
at various stages of development.
But when times are hard,
the system has to be ruthless.
She will cut off nutrition
to the peanut in her pouch...
and when it dies,
she'll restart the embryo's development
to take his place.
(pensive music)
Rusty's developing nicely.
He's beginning to resemble
something like, a baby kangaroo.
(light music)
Now three months old,
he can hear all the sounds of the world
he'll soon be inhabiting.
It's also unfamiliar.
It's not surprising he'd prefer to stay
in the pouch for just a while longer.
(birds chirping)
There's plenty of food around now,
so Rusty's mom
makes the most of the good grazing.
She doesn't eat much
but needs a particular type of grass
for her nutrition...
the shorter and greener, the better.
She'll need to eat hearty.
It's not a matter of whether
hard times will come,
it's just a matter of when.
And Rusty needs the nutrition too.
It takes a lot of energy
to grow ears like these.
He's also starting to sprout fur,
so Mom has to modify his milk
to supply more protein.
(birds chirping in distance)
By the time he leaves the pouch,
the fat content of his milk supply
will have doubled
to be almost twice that of cow's milk,
nutritionally preparing him
for an active life outside the pouch.
And Rusty has already been
surveying his new world.
About seven months ago,
Rusty crawled into this world with arms
twice as long as his legs.
As mom relaxes her pouch muscles
to release him...
...his legs are now more than
twice as long as his arms.
(light music)
But Rusty is not the only one
in the neighborhood
with a serious set of legs.
(deep growl)
An emu...
the biggest native bird
in Australia announces his arrival.
(emu growls)
His skirt of feathers absorbs
80% of solar radiation,
leaving the skin underneath cool.
And this dad needs a cool head.
In the emu world, Dads take on
all parental responsibility.
The chicks will be
under his wing for 18 months.
Not exactly the red kangaroo way,
males are pretty much deadbeat dads.
They leave as soon as
the young are conceived.
Rusty also still relies on his mother
for food and protection,
so he tends to stay close.
But apparently,
he's also got an independent streak.
Maybe there's even more fun out there!
Soon, he leaves the rest of the mob,
and is in uncharted territory.
(suspenseful music)
Not a good place
for a baby kangaroo to be.
(tense music)
A wedge-tailed eagle.
The largest bird of prey in Australia.
And it likes to take young kangaroos.
Mom realizes she doesn't know
where Rusty is...
but the eagle does.
Rusty's big ears and instincts tell him
something's not right,
but he's too young
and inexperienced to know what it is.
(suspenseful music)
(suspenseful music intensifies)
No sooner has Rusty left his
mother's side than he's in trouble.
With the bone-crushing
power of her talons,
the eagle could seize Rusty
and drag him to his death.
(tense music)
But suddenly, there's a flurry
of panicked activity nearby...
a rabbit is running for its life.
(rabbit squeaks)
Luckily for Rusty,
there was easier prey to be had...
this time.
(uneasy music)
Red kangaroos and wedge-tailed eagles
share the same territory.
And when the eagle has a chick to feed,
the hunting never stops.
More than 10%
of the eagle's diet is kangaroo.
(light music)
Rusty is now eight months old
and a full-fledged joey.
A juvenile that spends
all his time outside the pouch.
In a few months, he won't have
mom's milk to rely on anymore.
And his mother will start
tapering off his milk supply...
because there's another bun in the oven,
and it needs the nutrition.
Mom's body now produces
two totally different types of milk,
a more dilute one for his tiny sister...
and a richer one for him.
Each dispensed from its own nipple.
But males like Rusty are about 10% larger
at weaning than the average female,
and are heavy drinkers.
This is the kangaroo version
of tough love,
Rusty's mother cuts him off completely.
Her milk is needed elsewhere.
And Rusty is off
to explore his wider world.
(light music)
Before long, he happens
on another group of kangaroos.
These are grey kangaroos,
smaller than reds,
and more suited to areas where
the climate is relatively predictable.
They don't conserve water as well as reds
and prefer the shade of the wooded areas
on the desert's edge.
Rusty is apparently
a new experience for them as well.
It's like a get-together with distant
relatives you've heard of but never met.
Slightly awkward.
(tranquil music)
And here comes another branch
of the family... wallaroos.
Marsupials somewhere between
red kangaroos and wallabies in size,
who frequent the rocky outcrops,
looking for shade and water.
If you live in a desert,
water is a treasure,
and it's presence is never guaranteed.
With no true seasons
in this part of Australia,
the only certainty is unpredictability.
A waterhole is a gift from the heavens
for many creatures.
Emus, reds and wallaroos
all gather to drink.
But the relentless sun is turning the mud
around the waterhole into clay,
laying traps for the unwary.
Rusty is not driven by the same intense
thirst as his grey cousins.
Reds have a kind of super-kidney,
which concentrates their urine,
so they hold onto more water.
While the greys have
to drink more regularly...
their thirst sometimes
drives them to unwise decisions.
(tense music)
This young grey is in trouble.
Deep trouble.
And he's drawing
some unwanted attention...
a dingo.
Dingoes will gladly take a young kangaroo
under any circumstances.
A joey stuck in the mud
and unable to flee...
that's just too good to resist.
The other kangaroos can't help him.
His fate is sealed.
Even at the tender age of 18 months,
Rusty has the good sense
to get out of dodge in a hurry.
Now he's on the road again,
in search of a good meal.
He's still an adolescent...
and burning through energy
at a faster rate than an adult.
Kangaroo mobs can number in the hundreds,
but this one is relatively small.
And Rusty's appearance on the scene
has caught another male's attention.
They are around the same size and
the same age, perfect sparring buddies.
Game on.
But this isn't a life-or-death battle.
What they learn here
will be crucial later in life,
when the stakes are higher.
(action music)
Long arms for wrestling win fights.
And females want winners.
(suspenseful music)
Rusty doesn't come out on top this time,
but the boxing experience is invaluable.
At this age, the learning curve
for a kangaroo is steep...
and full of surprises.
A sudden rustling in the dry grass spooks
the gang he's hanging out with.
But Rusty's the curious type.
-A shingleback lizard.
Heavily armored...
and with a thick tail
that looks a lot like its head...
thus its other name...
the two-headed skink.
Rusty wants to know
what he's supposed to do with this.
Make friends?
Try to box with it?
Eat it?
The lizard doesn't seem suitable
for any of these activities.
And Rusty eventually
gives up on the relationship.
This part of the Central Australian
outback has been hot and dry for weeks.
The plants have been picked clean.
When food sources dry up like this,
red kangaroos
are superbly adapted to survive.
Still, even they can't live without water.
But something is happening,
a hundred miles away.
Where the sky has opened up,
and torrential rains
are soaking the parched earth.
These waters will end up
in the channel country
and be funneled inland
hundreds of miles away from their origin.
The channels are dry now,
but because the region is low-lying,
they won't be for long.
(uplifting music)
-(water burbles)
And what was once an arid wasteland...
begins to revive.
(birds chirping)
(chirping continues)
From the swirling flocks of budgerigars
to the dingo mom and her pups,
all are drawn to the life-giving waters.
-(water burbles)
The young eagle flexes its new feathers...
and a young kangaroo celebrates
in her own playful way.
Emu's are water guzzlers and adults
can drink up to four gallons a day.
Like all emus,
the chicks revel in a cooling bath.
There are some half a million emus
roaming around the outback
browsing on fruits and seeds.
And what's good for the emus, is also
good for the rest of the ecosystem.
As they move through the bush,
they scatter the seeds of the flowers
and fruit they've eaten along the way,
which will sprout and become new plants.
The weeks turn into months.
Rusty is now five years old
and in prime condition.
Food has been his overriding concern...
but now he has other impulses driving him.
He's making the rounds of this gang,
sniffing the females
to pick out the receptive ones.
He's now twice the size
of some potential mates.
But he's not quite
in the size class of this bad boy.
This is the king of the mob.
Male reds grow
throughout most of their lives.
He looks like
he's had a few brawls in his day.
And he has about 50 pounds on Rusty.
Big males who lose battles
can be faced with a complete shutdown
of their reproductive system.
Rusty knows he's not ready for this bout,
and wisely withdraws.
(lively music)
Rusty was born to run.
Looking for mating partners,
fleeing from predators,
traveling to find food.
Reds really shine
when it's time to sprint.
The red kangaroo has one of the most
efficient aerobic physiologies
of any mammal,
better than a racehorse,
and a lot better than us.
Its heart is much bigger
than you'd expect,
and twice the size of a deer's.
A full half of Rusty's mass is muscle
with 80% being concentrated
around his pelvis and upper hind legs...
putting him among
the most muscular animals in the world.
They're so efficient that they actually
use less energy to breathe
when they're hopping
than when they're at rest.
Red kangaroos are built
to get where they want to go.
Unfortunately, sometimes,
especially when they're inexperienced,
they get someplace
they really don't want to be.
(suspenseful music)
The inland taipan
is the most toxic snake on Earth.
There is enough venom in one bite
to kill 100 full-grown men.
And it specializes in killing mammals.
(action music)
The Australian desert
is the kingdom of the reptiles,
but kangaroos know too well
to leave all snakes alone.
Brown snakes kill more humans
than any other snakes in Australia.
But it's not the biggest reptile
in the neighborhood...
This is.
The perentie, reaching eight feet long,
venomous, and fast on its feet.
A large perentie
will eat a small kangaroo.
But today, it's got its eye
on an eastern brown snake.
The forked tongue of the perentie follows
the brown snake's chemical scent trail
and leads him to an abandoned burrow.
A burrow with only one entrance.
With a perentie in the picture,
a sanctuary can easily become
a death trap.
(suspenseful music)
The body of one fearsome reptile,
disappears into the body of another.
(light music)
The months roll on,
and Rusty has grown
in both size and experience.
He weighs 150 pounds now,
and has dozens of sparring matches
under his belt.
Today, he finds himself
with a mob he's met before.
The one with the tough male
who intimidated him last time.
But that was five years ago,
and Rusty's not running away this time.
Each tries to attack his rival's head.
Each instinctively keeps his own head
back out of range.
Although highly ritualized,
fights between dominant males
can mean a future as king,
or a loner, depending on the outcome.
Testicles can be retracted...
don't want those damaged.
Rusty, with the darker fur,
is putting up a good fight,
but the alpha male is more experienced.
The females don't care who wins,
just so long as he's got good genes.
But Rusty is younger than his opponent
and in top fighting form.
-Finally, the king goes down.
Now the mob is paying attention.
Rusty's the top male now,
and to the victor go the spoils.
His first choice is this female.
Though he needs
to give her urine the sniff test
to make sure she's ovulating.
(continuously sniffing)
She's ready.
But Rusty has only
a brief window of opportunity.
She may only be receptive
for a matter of hours.
Better get to it.
Mating doesn't take long...
or wouldn't if there were only
one female to consider.
But Rusty's got miles
to go before he sleeps.
He's king kangaroo now and
in addition to regular mating duties,
he'll have to fend off other young roos
who'd like to knock him off his throne,
just as he did his predecessor.
But that's not all Rusty
has to worry about.
The temperature is soaring
and the land is drying out.
Evaporation is sucking the life
out of everything...
flora and fauna alike.
You can never tell when the weather
will change, only that it will.
And that's the origin of some
of the red kangaroo's
most amazing adaptations.
They are masters of heat regulation.
The fur on their backs reflects about
30% of incoming heat
and keeps their skin cool...
the blue parts of this thermal footage.
Spreading saliva over their forearms
cools the blood,
which has been brought close
to the skin's surface
via a dense cobweb of capillaries.
With temperatures simmering
above 100 degrees for over a week,
a third of the males
have already become infertile.
If these temperatures were to continue
for three more months,
the number would more than double.
Reds defend their sperm
by licking their scrotums
to keep them cool.
And in contrast to their battle strategy
of retracting the scrotum,
males let their testicles hang way down
below their overheated trunks,
keeping them about seven degrees cooler
than at their cores.
The sand, even a few inches down,
is cooler than at the surface.
Red kangaroos dig
until they reach cooler soil
and then...
It hasn't rained in months now.
The dry, dead grass
offers Rusty no nourishment.
But then...
(thunder rumbles)
these are dry electrical storms.
No rain will come from them.
But something else will...
something worse than hunger.
(tense music)
(fire crackles)
Lightning has ignited
the dry grass of the outback.
The kangaroos can easily outrun
a grass fire.
Almost 10% of arid Australia
can burn like this in a single year.
In a matter of hours, the fire consumes
what little forage there is.
Rusty has to move on.
But there's really nowhere to go.
Not this time.
Parts of desert Australia are in the grip
of a once-in-a-century drought,
while heatwaves smash temperature records.
Nothing that lives here
has ever experienced anything like it.
Rusty included.
Some are suffering from severe
malnutrition and dehydration.
But if anyone can survive this...
it's a red kangaroo.
Human bodies are about 60% water.
Rusty's is over 70%.
Even in a heatwave like this,
he can survive levels of dehydration
that would kill most humans.
Reds only sweat when they're on the move.
At rest, they pant,
which uses less water than sweating.
Raising their breathing rate
to over 200 breaths a minute,
reduces their deep body temperature
and cools their brains.
And of course, they cover their limbs
in cooling saliva.
But there's a price to pay.
Licking uses up precious water.
If the drought continues much longer,
this form of cooling will be too costly.
The kangaroos stay under whatever shade
they can find.
When times get this tough,
females switch off their milk supply.
Maternal instinct is strong,
self-preservation is stronger.
Unweaned offspring outside the pouch
are the first to die.
And the young in the pouches are next.
As it dies,
the female reactivates her waiting embryo.
But if the drought persists,
it too will die,
and she will stop reproducing altogether.
Even Rusty, one of the strongest,
is in trouble.
In this condition,
the males are the first to succumb,
especially the largest who,
like Rusty, need more food.
The demise of the red kangaroos
is the wedge-tailed eagles' bounty.
(dramatic music)
And it's not just the kangaroos
that are suffering.
The drought is taking its toll everywhere.
Predators turn on each other,
to protect a tiny piece of rancid meat.
(barking, growling)
This is the last remaining waterhole.
It's stagnant and salty.
Ordinarily, the animals
would never drink this water.
(tense music)
But desperation drives them.
The drought makes for uneasy bedfellows.
This is a sign of things to come.
Heatwaves in Australia
are becoming hotter and more frequent.
The intense dry heat continues
and the casualties mount.
Among them are many of Rusty's offspring.
In some parts of these desolate lands,
drought can kill
eight out of every ten kangaroos.
But Australia's desert inhabitants
are a resilient bunch.
After all, these may have been
the hottest temperatures
for the last hundred years.
But these species have successfully
weathered their climate
for tens of thousands of years.
And Rusty is still here,
conserving his energy
and abiding his time.
A change is going to come...
it always has.
After 12 months of merciless drought,
the landscape is dotted
with the remains of those
that couldn't hang on any longer.
But in the Australian outback,
all bad things come to an end...
are gathering in the distance.
Rusty seems to sense
a change in the weather.
Somewhere there is rain,
and where there is water,
there will also soon be food.
(growling continues)
He just has to get there.
(light music)
With what remains of his ebbing strength,
Rusty heads in the direction of a storm.
(bright music)
As do the other red kangaroos
that have made it this far.
When Rusty reaches the area
watered by the storms,
he finds a world restored by rain.
Plenty to eat, plenty to drink.
You can almost see
the relief and joy in their hopping.
They will stay here
and take in the nourishment.
In only a few weeks, males and females
will have their health restored.
And soon they'll be ready
to reproduce once again.
(distant thumping)
But before that can happen,
they have to make it through this.
-A pack of hungry dingoes.
Hunting in a pack
more than doubles a dingo's success rate.
Normally, they'd go for
the weakest kangaroos in the group.
But a pack of this size
can take down something bigger.
Something like Rusty.
Luckily, his strength is
completely restored
and he can travel at full tilt.
Rusty doesn't accelerate
by bounding faster...
but by bounding further.
He lengthens his leaps, at times covering
25 feet in a single bound.
Once he gets past ten miles an hour,
Rusty rockets along
with little extra effort,
while the dingoes' four legs
need to move ever faster.
(heart beating)
Now hitting 25 miles an hour,
Rusty's only using
about half of the energy
the dogs are putting in.
They have no chance of catching him.
(light music)
Now Rusty can turn his attention
to replacing the offspring
lost to the drought.
(uplifting music)
At 200 pounds, powerful,
and in the prime of life,
there's no question that he's
the dominant male of this gang.
The young he fathers
will need an advantage
to survive a world as harsh
and unpredictable as this one.
What greater advantage could there be
than to begin life as the progeny...
of the undisputed king
of the red kangaroo mob?
(majestic music)