Review Date: May 28, 2009
“This river can kill you, in a thousand ways”
The Show - out of
The man responsible for delivering the ham and cheese on rye that was Stallone’s flimsy disappointment, 1994’s The Specialist, Luis Llosa delves deep in the ‘B’ movie jungle to deliver campy chills and thrills in 1997’s Anaconda. An absurd schlock monster flick with the IQ of a glass of water and acting talents befitting a high school play. It is, however, despite itself, a little fun at times.
In the deep recesses of the Amazonian jungle, a film crew sets out to create a documentary on a mysterious people only known in the west through legend. Documentary producer Dr. Steven Cale has hired a first time documentary director, Terri Flores along with her cameraman friend Danny Rich to make the trek up river to find and document this mysterious people. With the smug and pompous presenter, Warren Westridge and the production assistant (Ms. Kalberg), along with the last of the crew, Gary Dixon – the crew set off.
On their journey, they encounter a man whose boat is snagged and offer him a ride – but what they don’t realize is the man they picked up, Paul Sarone, is a snake bounty hunter of sorts bent on tracking and capturing a massive anaconda. He tricks them and finally forces them to take the route he needs them to on the path of the large snake, but the snake is tracking them.
A silly plot to be sure, but the cast seem to take it all very seriously. Performances range from moderate to terrible, with Jennifer Lopez as the director with a break, Terri Flores and Eric Stoltz as Dr. Steven Cale coming out of this film relatively unscathed - when it comes to how seriously we can view them as performers at least. They provide the unlikely romantic interest in the story. Ice Cube is, as he always is, sour faced, gruff and tough as the cameraman, with Owen Wilson showing up here as one of the crew. As the impossibly clichéd British on-screen presenter with a penchant for fine wine, classical music and the world to be at his beck and call is Jonathan Hyde.
But notably, and most excruciatingly, is Jon Voight as the Paraguayan river guide-cum-snake hunter, Paul Sarone. So absolutely atrocious is his accent, coupled with what must be a really poor Robert Shaw from Jaws imitation in his expressions, that his performance almost defies logic. Coming from a man who has ably acted in numerous quality films through the years, his Sarone portrayal can only be labeled as bloody awful.
Eric Stoltz, after an unfortunate incident fairly early in the film, remains absent for almost the entire second act so that Jennifer Lopez’s character can step us as a heroine of sorts, though she pales when compared to far greater and stronger female heroes, such as the Alien saga’s Ellen Ripley or the Terminator’s Sarah Conner.
The film channels Jaws on more than one occasion, with shots clearly influenced by the Spielberg masterpiece. But rather than be informed by the steady patience exhibited in that great shark tale, it borrows without transferring the simplicity of that film along with it. It does, however, make the right choice in keeping the headlining serpent under wraps for a good portion of the first half of the film, not unleashing the full scale, or the full CGI effects, until the final confrontation.
But sadly, the film’s ‘villain’ isn’t really that impressive. Perhaps back in 1997 it would have seemed more threatening and exciting – but, despite some pretty good CGI and very good animatronics, it doesn’t amount to a memorable movie monster.
Nothing about this 89 minute feature can be taken seriously, though it was surprisingly successful during its theatrical run, raking in over $136MM worldwide – so it clearly has its fans.
Columbia Pictures slithers Anaconda home to us on Blu-Ray for the first time in a 1080p High Definition transfer preserving its theatrical aspect ratio of 2.40:1. The colors are a little faded, lacking pop or power as you might expect from rich jungle locations – but the image is very clean, with a reasonably good level of detail and a faithful film look. A little washed out and soft at times, this is still a good image for a 12 year old, lower budget film.
What the English Dolby TrueHD surround sound audio lacks in depth, it more than makes up for with its frequent flexing of the bass muscles (the subwoofer kicks in more than I was expecting) and the mount of surround speaker activity alive with bugs and assorted jungle creatures.
As I mentioned, the sound can seem a little shallow at times, but overall the audio is crisp, loud and satisfying.
Previews for a handful of better films
In summary, Anaconda is a silly film. After what really was an exciting opening scene, with Danny Trejo (From Dusk ‘Til Dawn), falling victim while on his river boat – complete with some nifty camera shots, it all devolves into rampant cliché’s, shaky acting and very little by way of real scares. Even Randy Edelman’s overpowering score telegraphs the jumps and scares far in advance of what is actually seen. In fact, the score is so over-bearing at times that it almost borders on parody. The audio and video presentation of Anaconda is worth experiencing for those who have this on their ‘guilty pleasure’ list. Fans of this kind of film may want to give it a rent first.