Anaconda (1997) Blu-ray

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Anaconda is a double edged sword.

I don’t think many people realize that if it didn’t exist we wouldn’t have a Lake Placid (1999) or all those lame CGI infested Nature run amok flicks the SciFi Channel (back before channel rot totally eroded it into SyFy) loved and still loves to make.

Well, one out of two ain’t bad.

I don’t know how successful it was at the box office, but I seem to recall Ebert giving it a thumbs up on one of his shows back then. I can’t recall if Siskel liked it or not. I can never remember what he liked or hated. I think I’d even call this a cult movie now, and it must have been “successful” in some regard since I remember we then got a few direct-to-video flicks—King Cobra (1999), Python (2000) and Boa (aka New Alcatraz, 2001). King Cobra was fairly entertaining; the others, as I recall, were not.

For me this is a serious “memory movie,” I distinctly remember where I was when I first became aware of it’s sublime existance. It was six months after this near fatal car accident I had and I was still using a cane. I was at the mall shopping for a television, when I happened to glance over at one of the TVs and caught a millisecond glance of this giant CGI snake chasing this actor up a ladder (it wasn’t on long enough for me to recognize Jon Voight) then the Anaconda title popped up and in a flash it was gone.

I remember thinking, ‘Did I just see a commercial for a giant snake movie? Because if I did that looked pretty damn cool.’ It wasn’t until months later that I started seeing commercials of it and, yeah, I’ll be damned, I didn’t dream it. They actually did make a movie about a giant CGI snake gobbling people up.

I saw Anaconda opening weekend and loved it.

I still love this movie.

It’s unfortunate they couldn’t make any worthy sequels. I had high hopes for the theatrically made and theatrically released Anacondas: The Hunt For The Blood Orchid (2004). I paid money to see that and wished to God I hadn’t. The remaining sequels (Anaconda 3: The Offspring and Anacondas 4: Trail Of Blood) got infinitely worse after that turning into cheap CGI SyFy channel movies,

First off, Anaconda has got a pretty good cast. Before-they-were-really-famous Jennifer Lopez plays the heroine with Eric Stoltz set up to play the hero, but gets side-lined for most of the movie, making Ice Cube the actual hero. We also get before-they-were-famous Owen Wilson in a small role and an eventual victim of the giant anaconda. I also recognized Kari Wuhrer whom I will always remember from that MTV game show Remote Control (1988-1989). And I can’t forget the prologue cameo of Danny Trejo whose voice sounded like it was dubbed with another actor’s.

Of course the biggest name in this movie is John Voight who plays the human villain.

The plot revolves around a documentary crew who goes up the Amazon River to find this lost tribe, but all that gets derailed when they rescue Paul Sarone (Voight) from his boat during a torrential down pour. Sarone is a fallen priest who now hunts snakes for zoos, etc., and he does it at the expense of all around him.

Danny Trejo’s death on that boat in the beginning was actually Sarone’s boat and Trejo and this documentary crew’s boat driver, Mateo (Vincent Castellanos), was also part of Sarone’s hunting party; though no one ever finds out Mateo’s connection, only we the audience see it from a newspaper clipping hanging on the wall of the old boat when Sarone deceptively gets Dr. Cale (Eric Stoltz) to deviate from their route after he arranges an “accident” that takes Cale out of the picture for a while.

Once Sarone gets everyone on the same snake hunting page he’s on the movie started to remind me of Creature From The Black Lagoon (1954), which was a good movie to homage, except here a giant anaconda stands in for the Gill Man.

Seeing as this was 1997 and CGI was just finding it’s legs you have a lot of very well done animatronic effects on the screen before and then mixed in with the computer effects as the movie and rampaging snake slithers maddeningly towards it’s conclusion. Realistically we all know a giant anaconda could never movie as swift on land as the movie portrays, though I understand they can be quite fast once they hit the water, but it was a cool shot nonetheless when we see the computer animated snake careen after Lopez and coiling insanely fast up that ladder to make a meal out of Voight.

This flick initially belonged to Columbia Pictures and I remember vividly buying its first DVD incarnation in 1998. That first DVD, however, had the movie in its wrong aspect ratio. For some reason Columbia transferred it into a 1.85:1 ratio when its actual one is 2.35:1. They corrected it when they tried to make those Superbit DVDs all the rage in the early 2000s. It finally hit blu-ray from Sony in 2009 and now Mill Creek Entertainment has acquired this movie from Sony and has re-released it.

I can’t comment on how this new version compares to Sony’s 2009 blu since I never bought that one, but I suspect it’s probably the same transfer. I can, however, compare it to the Superbit DVD and compared to that it’s a commendable upgrade, with the aspect ratio coming in at a 2.40:1 this time out.

Audio is English Dolby Digital Stereo only and there are no subtitles and no trailer or extras. It’s movie only here and once you pop the disc in the movie starts right up. A rudimentary main menu does exist with PLAY MOVIE in huge ass letters.

This is one cult classic that really could use a special edition treatment, but I doubt it’ll get any if it can’t get to one of those boutique labels that are lovingly restoring as many genre flicks from back in the day they can get a hold of these days.

On IMDB there are some interesting trivia tidbits about the movie that hints at potential discussion from cast and/or crew if one were ever made:

– During the filming of one scene the controls for the animatronic Anaconda shorted out, causing it to completely lose control. Some of the footage is included in the movie.

– Strong language was dubbed with (for example, using ‘freaking’) in order to get a PG-13 rating. Not only do the ADR’d lines have a slightly different sound to the rest of the dialogue, but the actors’ lips do not match the new dialogue when they speak.

– The version shown on the Sci-fi channel has several scenes added, including Westrige complaining about his room, Cale musing that the monkeys are acting like they sense a predator nearby, and a dinner scene where Westrige expresses reservations about Sarone.

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About Shawn Francis

Movie collector and horror writer.
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