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The first time I saw Anaconda, I had hoped it would be a bit of a throw back to those good old fashioned monster movies of yesteryear. You know the kind - fun (if not more than a tad low budget) effects highlighting campy performances intertwined with non stop adventure! Well, Anaconda tries to be all these things, but unfortunately, it never really comes together the way a good giant snake movie should.
The story is simple enough - a National Geographic style documentary film crew, headed by Steve Cale (played by Eric Stoltz) and Terri Flores (bootilicious dance diva, Jennifer Lopez), runs off to the jungle and down a river to try and film a lost tribe of natives. On the way, they encounter Paul (the always sinister Jon Voight) and save him from his sinking boat. They enlist his help in finding the tribe and continue on their merry way when they find out that Paul is actually a snake hunter looking for a giant anaconda. Given that the movie is called Anaconda, this should come as a surprise to no one.
Cale gets bitten by a poisonous insect though, and once he's debilitated, Paul takes over the boat and heads off on his quest, with no regard whatsoever for the rest of the crew's safety or well being. As luck would have it, that giant snake that Paul is deadest on finding is actually in the area... and it's none too happy at all to find out its got some unannounced visitors.
While the film had potential in it's setup, it fails to deliver any real punch, and despite it's solid supporting cast (consisting of Owen Wilson, Ice Cube and the always fun to look at Kari Wuhrer), most of the performances are about as impressive as dirt. And I don't mean the cool kinda dirt either, I mean the unimpressive kind. Most of the problem stems from the fact that the movie never really goes far enough with its premise. Yes, we do get plenty of shots of the giant snake in the later half of the film and these do deliver some cheap thrills and chills, there's no real sense of danger and the few gore sequences in the film are tepid at best. Had the film had a more interesting plot of more interesting characters and, as such, hadn't had to have relied on the snake scenes to carry it, this could be forgiven, but that's not the case here.
The special effects also come off as insincere and contrived. Where we should have had a cool, giant rubber snake, we end up with something that looks a little too polished to really have any charm, and something that's not quite polished to enough to really 'wow' you. The CGI in the movie has not age well at all and parts of the picture feel as if they're cut scenes from a Playstation 2 era video game. There are some moments of solid cinematography and the action scenes are well choreographed, but this isn't enough to save the movie. Throw in a bunch of poorly written dialogue and a lot of wasted potential (nothing interesting is done with the whole 'going to find the natives' subplot) and unfortunately, you've got a pretty lame film. It's fun to see the giant snake puke up a full sized man covered in some sort of internal snake slime goop, but that only makes up thirty seconds of this otherwise unexceptional monster movie..
Anaconda debuts on Blu-ray in an AVC encoded 2.40.1 anamorphic widescreen 1080p transfer. While there's more detail than there was on previous DVD releases of the movie, there's a bit of edge enhancement in some spots and the picture isn't quite as strong as you'd hope it would be. Colors look pretty good and the lush jungle provides a great visual backdrop for the goofy action to play off of, but skin tones are, in some spots, just slightly waxy looking. Black levels look nice and strong, however, and the flora and fauna in the various scenes really does look quite good. This isn't a great transfer, but it's okay.
The English language Dolby TrueHD 5.1 soundtrack is active and aggressive just as you'd expect it to be. The snake attack scenes feature some great surround usage and bass response is quite strong. Dialogue stays clean and clear throughout and the levels are all well balanced. There are no problems at all with even a trace of hiss or distortion to note and overall, Anaconda sounds really good. Alternate TrueHD 5.1 tracks are included in French and Portuguese while a standard definition Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound mix is supplied in Spanish. Subtitles are available in English, English SDH, French, Portuguese and Spanish.
Here's where this release really disappoints - aside from some trailers for a few other completely unrelated Sony titles, and some menus and chapter selection, this Blu-ray disc is completely barebones. Given the previous releases, it probably won't surprise many people (standard definition releases have been weak on extras as well) but it's still disappointing.
Fans of Anaconda will enjoy seeing the film in high definition even if the transfer isn't amazing, but the lack of extra features is going to be a sore spot for some and understandably so. Unless you already know you like this one, you can keep on moving and skip this disc.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.