Almost a remake of the old "Creature Features" using modern technology, "Anaconda" managed to overcome largely negative reviews in 1997 to reach nearly $70m at the box office and become one of the Summer's surprise hits. The movie did not sit entirely well with me upon first viewing, but it's grown on me since. While it's still a little too goofy to be altogether scary, it does manage to have several tense moments.
The film revolves around a documentary crew venturing into the Amazon jungle to try and capture a lost tribe on film. The crew consists of Dr. Steven Cale (Eric Stoltz), cameraman Danny (Ice Cube), director Terri Florez (Jennifer Lopez), Warren Westridge (Jonathan Hyde), Gary (Owen Wilson) and Denise (Kari Wuhrer). Eventually, the group runs into an unexpected guest, Paul Sarone (Jon Voight), a mysterious snake hunter who isn't telling the group everything he knows about what lurks in the jungle.
"Anaconda" is, at a basic level, really no different than most movies in the genre. The characters are not very well-developed and really only exist as potential targets for the film's giant snake. The presence of strong actors such as Ice Cube and Jennifer Lopez makes for slightly more involvement, but the actors only have a little to work with. On a planet of its own is Jon Voight's ridiculously - and actually, fairly effective - performance.
The film is also a fairly quick little ride, but rather than attempting consistent action, "Anaconda" opens with a first half that's generally more concerned with creating a tense atmosphere than actually providing much intensity. While this is moderately enjoyable (largely thanks to excellent sound design), it's not as exciting as I think the film intended.
I've also seen varying opinions about the film's visual effects. While many have considered the snake a remarkable effect, I still think it looks a little too much like something out of a theme park ride. "Anaconda" moves at a steady pace, offers fine performances and a few tense moments, but I still think it had the potential to me more consistently creepy, a little sleeker and less old-fashioned.
VIDEO: As with all of the "Superbit" titles, all extras and animated menus have been taken out (although, in this case, the original edition didn't have any supplements anyways) in order to leave additional room for sound and picture quality, resulting in improved image quality. While I do not have the older edition of "Anaconda" available for direct comparison, I certainly don't remember the original presentation looking this good.
Sharpness and detail are excellent on this edition. Bill Butler's cinematography is slightly soft at times, but for the most part, this edition remained well-defined and crisp, often showing very nice depth to the image. Flaws within the presentation are visible, but they didn't really take away from the viewing experience. Edge enhancement seemed quite pleasantly minimal; while I spotted a slight amount during a few scenes, it was hardly noticable. Pixelation was not seen, either. Unfortunately, a few little stray specks on the print used remain here, while grain is also occasionally very slightly visible.
The film's color palette varies a bit, with some scenes offering richer, warmer colors, while most of the film sticks with a slightly subdued color palette. Overall, this was a very enjoyable transfer that, while not an enormous improvement over how I remember the prior edition, was certainly still a mild one.
SOUND: "Anaconda" is presented by Columbia/Tristar in both Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1; the Dolby Digital 5.1 presentation was already included on the prior edition, with the DTS track new to this edition. While the movie has never been among my favorites, "Anaconda"'s soundtrack amazed me in the theater, it impressed me on the first DVD edition and it continues to provide thrills on this new release.
I've often been frustrated with the lack or inconsistent amount of realistic ambience in movies that take place outdoors. "Anaconda" provides a fine example of what a movie in the jungle - or even outdoors, for that matter - should sound like. Both the surrounds and the front speakers combine to form an exceptionally enveloping experience. There's a consistent, noticable amount of insect sounds, bird noises and more to convince the viewer of being in the jungle setting. There are also many instances where louder, more distinct animal noises can be heard or the ambience becomes heavier.
The soundtrack isn't without its more aggressive moments, either. Surrounds are often heavily employed for more distinct sound effects, especially during the snake attacks. Randy Edelman's score also has solid presence in the sound mix, filling the room at the appropriate moments. Audio quality remained excellent throughout the movie, as even the shrill snake noises were crisp and clear. Dialogue and sound effects were natural-sounding, while strong bass was also occasionally present. Both the DTS and Dolby Digital soundtracks provided an exciting listening experience, although in a few comparisons, the DTS soundtrack seemed to provide slightly greater detail and richer bass. The differences were not major, though.
MENUS: As with the other Superbit titles, there are no animated menus to allow for more space on the DVD for the audio/video.
EXTRAS: No supplements were on the prior edition and no supplements are present this time around, either.
Final Thoughts: "Anaconda" is a watchable, goofy actioner, occasionally livened up by performances that rise above the material. Two editions of the film now are available: the original release, which can be found for $14.99 or less; or the Superbit edition, which offers improved video and a DTS soundtrack for $27.99 or less.