The recent Blu-ray release of Lake Placid put me in the mood to revisit other killer animal creature features, so it’s kismet that 1997’s Anaconda is being re-released on Blu-ray just a few weeks later. Although the film debuted on the format in 2009 via Sony, Mill Creek Entertainment recently picked up the rights and re-issued the title.
Written by Top Gun duo Jim Cash and Jack Epps, Jr. along with Hans Bauer (Titan A.E.), Anaconda’s plot is a simple one. A documentary crew travels through the Amazon rainforest by river barge in hopes of capturing the elusive native people known as the “People of the Mist” on film for the first time. While in search of one great mystery of the expansive Amazon, the hapless group discovers another: a 40-foot, man-eating anaconda. Like that, the hunters become the hunted. Tensions (and stakes) raise even higher when it’s revealed that one crew member is in it for the snake and considers the others expendable.
The film is driven by an ensemble cast. Jennifer Lopez takes top billing as documentary director Terri Flores; this was the same year as her breakout performance in Selena and before she began her music career. Ice Cube (Friday), who plays the camera man, was still in the transition process from hardcore rapper to family-friendly entertainer. Jon Voight (Deliverance) rocks a ponytail and his best attempt at a Paraguayan accent as snake poacher Paul Serone. Eric Stoltz (Mask) portrays Dr. Steven Cale, an anthropologist who is an expert on the indigenous tribes.
Rounding out the cast is Owen Wilson (Wedding Crashers) as the sound guy, Vincent Castellanos (The Crow: City of Angels) as the barge’s captain, Kari Wuhrer (Eight Legged Freaks) as the production manager and Jonathan Hyde (The Mummy) as the documentary’s snooty narrator. Danny Trejo (Machete) has a small role as an ill-fated poacher in the opening scene. While none of the film’s performances are particularly memorable, the eclectic ensemble is perhaps even more to watch all these years later, given the different trajectories their careers have taken since ’97.
Director Luis Llosa (The Specialist) makes the mistake of showing the anaconda – in its unconvincing animatronic puppet form – attacking an animal prey before the crew is even aware of its existence. The anaconda itself isn’t particularly scary. For its more spry work, the snake was created with CGI, which is dated but remains better than the average Syfy flick. In fact, the technology was cutting edge at the time, reportedly costing $100,000 per second (which would explain the $45 million budget).
The filmmakers succumbed to studio pressure to make the movie PG-13 rather than the originally intended R rating, so there’s not much gore – which I can’t help but believe would have increased the entertainment value – and some obvious ADR was used to remove cursing. There is, however, a emergency tracheotomy that still makes me squirm. Some of the snake attacks, although bloodless, are fairly effective as well.
Like its previous Blu-ray incarnation and the DVD before that, Anaconda unfortunately carries no special features. The release is about as bare bones as it gets; no trailers, no subtitles, no pop-up menu. I would love to hear what any of the cast members have to say about the production, but alas that probably won’t ever happen. Mill Creek, however, offers a budget-friendly disc; you can’t complain about a Blu-ray that retails for under 8 bucks. More importantly, the high-definition presentation looks good, bringing the lush Amazon to the comfort of your living room.
Anaconda grossed $137 million at the box office worldwide. Surprisingly, it wasn’t turned into a franchise until 2004, when Anacondas: The Hunt for Blood Orchid slithered into theaters. The third and fourth installments premiered on Syfy in 2008 and 2009, respectively. As is often the case, the original remains the best. Dated and formulaic as it may be, Anaconda is a fun creature feature.