Anaconda

(1997) ** 1/2 Pg-13
90 min. Sony Pictures Releasing. Director: Luis Llosa. Cast: Jennifer Lopez, Ice Cube, Jon Voight, Eric Stoltz, Jonathan Hyde, Owen Wilson, Kari Wuhrer, Danny Trejo.

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Anaconda is the kind of unpretentious popcorn movie for which drive-ins were made. In its natural habitat, Anaconda can be appreciated for its campy pleasures, not the least of which is Jon Voight in a delirious, balls-out performance as creepy Paraguayan snake poacher Paul Serone. The same year, the man who rose to fame as cowboy Joe Buck played an Indian shaman in Oliver Stone's U-Turn. Who knew Voight had an inner Brando just waiting to pounce?

Even Brando would have to chuckle at Voight doing his best Tony Montana (or is it Ricky Ricardo?) as Serone, an evil man who will stop at nothing to trap a giant warrior snake in the Amazon Basin. He hitches a ride with an unsuspecting documentary film crew: tribal expert Dr. Steven Cale (Eric Stoltz), director Terri Flores (Jennifer Lopez), on-camera talent Warren Westridge (Jonathan Hyde), cameraman Danny Rich (Ice Cube), soundman Gary Dixon (Owen Wilson) and his colleague/girlfriend Denise Kalberg (Kari Wuhrer). Along with boat pilot Mateo (Vincent Castellanos), they're boating through the Amazon in search of the lost Shirishama tribe, a goal that takes a back seat when Cale is severely injured (causing Stoltz to spend most of the film out of commission). In need of a hospital, stat, the crew warily takes the advice of the sketchy Serone, who soon reveals his own selfish agenda.

Much of the appeal of Anaconda comes from the odd assemblage of actors, some of whom were just beginning to establish star appeal (Danny Trejo bites it—or is bitten—in a pre-credits sequence). Wilson is wasted, but Lopez and Ice Cube have just about found their niche here, in roles that are pitched right down the middle of their strike zone. The screenplay by Hans Bauer and Jim Cash & Jack Epps, Jr. (Top Gun, Dick Tracy) is no great shakes, but I suppose it's part and parcel of the film's self-knowledge that it forgoes exposition and resolution almost entirely. But try not to smile when Voight delivers this monologue: "Anacondas are a perfect killing machine. They have heat sensors...They strike, wrap around you, hold you tighter than your true love. And you get the privilege of hearing your bones break before the power of the embrace causes your veins to explode."

Filmed largely on location in Brazil (and the rest in the L.A. Arboretum), the picture all but aspires to "B" status by populating the screen with stereotypical horror-movie victims and cheesy but still squealy-scary special effects (the rudimentary CGI of 1997 is blindingly obvious, but still creatively choreographed). Director Luis Llosa manages to make both Voight and the snake (partly played by animatronics) enjoyable threats, and literally and figuratively keeps things moving right up to, and including, the multiple climaxes.

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Bluray

Aspect ratios: 2.40:1

Number of discs: 1

Audio: Dolby TrueHD 5.1

Street date: 6/2/2009

Distributor: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Anaconda makes its Blu-ray debut on a feature-less disc. What, no Jon Voight commentary? The main idea here is the hi-def upgrade. It's significant, though it won't blow anyone away. Detail is excellent, but dimensionality is poor: the picture tends to look flat and dull, with colors that seem a bit washed out (it's been to long for me to recall if the film appeared this way in theaters). It's a solid transfer, definitely an improvement over DVD, and certainly more than suitable for this drive-in-style action-adventure. The lossless sound fares better in a very impressive Dolby TrueHD 5.1 mix that achieves a wraparound immersion in its jungle ambience and active sound effects.

Review gear:
Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
Pioneer SP-BS41-LR Bookshelf Speaker (2)
Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer

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