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Sony Pictures Home Entertainment / 1997 / 89 Minutes / Rated R
Street Date: June 02, 2009
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Reviewed by Tom Landy
Wednesday, June 03, 2009
"You can't scream if you can't breathe."
What do you get when director Luis Llosa thinks the "B" in "B-movie" stands for "blockbuster?" Why, you get his 1997 abomination 'Anaconda' of course. The man takes a typical Sci-Fi Channel movie-of-the-week screenplay and attempts to spray a can of Michael Bay all over it. The only problem is, in trying to make his run-of-the-mill creature-feature look like an epic extravaganza, he completely throws the laws of nature, physics, and even logic out the window. The result is a cheese-fest that ends up going a little too "big" for its own good.
On a quest to study an elusive tribe of natives known as the "People of the Mist," Dr. Steven Cale (Eric Stoltz) -- who pronounces every syllable in his sentences with extra em-pha-sis -- charters a boat on the Amazon to track down the lost civilization. Tagging along for the ride is his director girlfriend Terri Flores (Jennifer Lopez)--hoping to document the entire expedition for National Geographic. Her crew consists of a bunch of stereotypical caricatures including streetwise cameraman Danny (Ice Cube), the snooty British host of the program Westridge (Jonathan Hyde), sexy production assistant Denise (Kari Wührer), and hunky sound mixer Gary (Owen Wilson).
The plot thickens, however, when the mysterious Paul Sarone (Jon Voight) joins the party after a mishap leaves him stranded and in need of assistance. The shady character creeps out the crew, but in exchange for the lift, the kooky hunter conveniently offers to guide them to the area where he claims to have seen the tribe. Except the group doesn't realize that there is a method to Sarone's madness -- as he is secretly hot on the trail of a monster anaconda, and he isn't about to let anything or anyone stand in the way of getting his prize.
Even with a cast full of familiar faces, the film is still unable to climb out of the ordinary. The characters are so one-dimensional that nobody (aside from Voight who seems to relish every minute of hamming it up) does anything worthwhile. If you've seen any Ice Cube movie, simply take that performance and you have Danny. Stoltz had it pretty easy by not doing much besides lay around unconscious with a sweaty Lopez dabbing a damp cloth on his forehead, although I can't fault him for that I suppose. Owen Wilson suffers the same fate he does in 'Armageddon' and 'The Haunting,' and Lopez herself isn't necessarily bad, but I can't remember her barking out a single order. I didn't get a director vibe from her at all, that's all I'm saying.
The biggest downfall of the movie is the snake itself. My beef isn't really with the use of an animatronic snake or the now severely dated CGI, but rather the overuse of this technology. Instead of keeping the snake mostly hidden from view and nabbing unsuspecting victims by surprise, the filmmakers chose to show off their stuff and brought everything out into the wide open during the third act of the film. The ambush predator somehow sheds its ambush predator skin, and now we have a massive anaconda zipping along at lightning fast speeds when that just isn't biologically possible. The bigger the snake, the more sluggish it gets -- that's a fact. Anybody who has watched a nature documentary would know this, but the presentation here feels like nobody bothered to do any research.
Even more ridiculous are the serpent's sound effects. I mean, this anaconda must be the snake world's Jones from 'Police Academy.' I don't know who exactly came up with this concept, but I'll tell you this -- I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall during that roundtable discussion:
"Okay, now the topic at hand is making these snakes sound scary. Please, no 'hissing' suggestions. We really need to think outside the box for this one."
"How about a roar? I saw a movie once that had lions in it. They're pretty ferocious."
"They sure are… I get the willies whenever I watch an MGM movie. Good idea -- Let's throw that into the boiling pot. What else?"
"Well you know, we could always have them squeal like a pig. And if we could bring in someone from 'Deliverance' to star in this film, it would really complete the whole package!"
And that's not just the story of how the anacondas found their voice, but also how Jon Voight landed the role. Don't you just love it when everything falls into place?
'Anaconda' slithers onto a BD-50 disc with a 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 (2.40:1 aspect ratio) encode that isn't spectacular, but it's still a step up from the DVD.
The picture is slightly on the soft side, and there's a mild amount of grain on the image that becomes more prominent in a few of the darker scenes. There's good depth and dimensionality, and even though there is a lot of nighttime footage, the black levels remain solid. Colors are nicely saturated and slightly muted, having a warm palette with the jungle greenery being particularly striking. Skin tones are accurate, although facial texturing isn't as sharp as it is on some discs. Fine detailing is pleasing, from the scales on the snakes' skin to the weathered wood on the boat. I guess it's also worth noting Jennifer Lopez isn't wearing a bra in the first shot we see of her, either, which is very apparent thanks to the wonders of Blu-ray. That being said, a glimpse of a J-nip still doesn't make the film any more enjoyable.
The U.S. version of 'Anaconda' is reported to be region-free and therefore should play in all PlayStation 3 and standalone players.
Lossless Dolby TrueHD 5.1 tracks in English, French, and Portuguese are provided for this Blu-ray. As usual, Sony's audio presentation isn't too shabby.
Dialogue is clear and recorded well, although there are a handful of instances where I thought it was a little on the quiet side. Surround use shines by bringing the jungle soundscape to the living room. Quieter scenes have a constant subtle background noise of insects buzzing, birds chirping, and monkeys chattering somewhere in the distance, while the more active sequences have great panning effects. The original music by Randy Edelman--although annoyingly over-the-top at times--still fills the room nicely. Bass is fairly active as well, delivering powerful rumbles for rolling thunder and even a few explosions. 'Anaconda' may stink like a constrictor's regurgitated last meal, but at least it sounds good.
The disc also includes a Spanish track in Dolby Digital 5.1 as well as optional English, English SDH, French, Portuguese, and Spanish subtitles.
Just like the previous DVD releases, supplements are practically nonexistent on this Blu-ray. All that's included are a bunch of high-definition trailers: 'The Da Vinci Code,' 'The Grudge,' 'The Exorcism of Emily Rose,' and 'Hellboy.'
Again, hardly anything worth mentioning here, just Sony's standard BD-Live connectivity page and that's it.
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I don't think any movie gets more preposterous than 'Anaconda.' It's a cliché-ridden, formulaic 'Jaws' copycat that tried to go the blockbuster route, but in doing so it just ended up becoming a laughable mess. The Blu-ray offers decent video and a solid audio mix, but with no supplements and the film being a complete joke -- there really isn't enough to warrant a look unless you're a diehard fan.
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