Since the success of the original “Anaconda” back in 1997, there has been an absolute flood of similar creature feature/nature runs amok films. Apart from a few high profile efforts such as “Lake Placid”, the vast majority of films involved in this resurgence have been shoddy, direct to rental offerings, predominantly released by the ‘Nu Image’ company, whose name has rapidly become associated with quickie, substandard productions.
Despite the occasional presence of recognisable, but distinctly ‘D’ list stars such as Casper Van Dien (whose career failed to take off after “Starship Troopers”, and was quickly reduced to starring in the likes of “Python”), these films are packed with terrible CGI effects, virtually identical plotlines, and worst of all, very little in the way of actual creature rampages, making them nothing more than inferior copies of their old 1950s counterparts. Thankfully, this cycle appears to be running out of steam at last, with the genre resorting to gimmicky films such as “Boa vs. Python” to hold onto its rapidly dwindling viewer base.
Things seem to have come full circle with the release of “Anacondas”, the inevitable sequel to “Anaconda”, predictably shorn of the original’s star cast and reasonably large budget. The sequel is an almost carbon copy of its predecessor, and it goes without saying that there is nothing new here, and there is no attempt to rock the boat. As such, “Anacondas” is competently made, fairly atmospheric and provides reasonable entertainment for viewers looking for an old fashioned throwback to the uncomplicated days of creature feature cinema.
The plot begins with the flimsiest of setups, as a group of research scientists convince their corporate sponsors to fund an expedition to Borneo in order to find an orchid with regenerative properties, which they claim will be ‘bigger than Viagra’. Once there, the scientists run into trouble in no time, wrecking their ramshackle boat after being pulled down a waterfall. As they attempt to trek through the thick jungle back to safety, they are picked off by giant anacondas, conveniently lurking in the area on account of mating season. The expedition must also face danger from within their own ranks, as greed and an obsession with finding the orchid take hold.
“Anacondas” is directed by Dwight Little, an old hand at genre films and sequels, and who has “Halloween 4” and “Free Willy 2” amongst his credits. Here, Little keeps things safe and by the numbers, straying little from the accepted formula, and anyone even vaguely familiar with this type of film will instantly feel at home. Although this obviously means that the film is utterly predictable and filled with attempts at cheap scares, Little at least makes good use of the conventions, especially the evocative setting, complete with wild rapids, a seemingly infinite misty, sweaty jungle, and a huge variety of exotic wildlife, all of which appear to be intent on devouring the cast.
All of this makes for some entertaining scenes, some of which are admittedly unintentionally amusing, such as when the rugged boat captain (Johnny Messner, who has played similar militaristic roles in films like “Tears of the Sun”) has a hand to hand battle with a huge and unconvincing crocodile. In fact, most of the film is hard to take seriously, though given the already ludicrous premise, this serves quite nicely to add to its entertainment value. The characters are all stereotypes, and in addition to the captain, we have the wise cracking minority who wishes he was back in the city, the cold hearted bitch, the beautiful but naÃ¯ve research assistant, the money obsessed businessman, and best of all, the sinister Brit scientist who has ‘villain’ written all over his face.
It is debatable whether the script is cleverly tongue in cheek, or is in fact remarkably stupid; either way, it provides many laughs, mainly during scenes where the characters lament the loss of their mobile phones. The film’s best character is actually a monkey who is used constantly to telegraph false scares, and who has countless scenes where he is stealing fruit or causing general mischief. This is a time honored role in such films, and the monkey performs admirably, and perhaps arguably with more conviction than the rest of the cast.
Aside from being the very definition of the word ‘pedestrian’, the only real problem with “Anacondas” is that it is unfortunately tame. Whilst the original film contained some nice scenes of the snakes devouring their victims, the sequel has opted for a younger target audience and actually only merits its rating through the oddly frequent use of foul language. Although there is a reasonable body count, there is no gore whatsoever, and since this lacking element becomes apparent very quickly, the viewer has little to get excited about or look forward to.
The special effects themselves veer wildly from the impressive to the ridiculous, though they are at least frequent enough to keep things moving. Some of the CGI does look amusingly awful, and there are a couple of moments featuring animatronic snakes that make it very hard to keep a straight face.
To be honest, this really sums up the whole experience of watching “Anacondas: The Hunt for the Blood Orchid”, as it is entertaining, though often as a result of its shortcomings. The bottom line is that, though it could certainly be accused of being spectacularly unambitious, “Anacondas” undeniably fulfills its modest aims, providing a slightly glossier version of the recent spate of giant creature feature films. As such, it is not a film which lies to or attempts to deceive its potential audience in any way, shape or form, being the very spirit of ‘You get what you pay for’.
Dwight H. Little (director) / John Claflin, Daniel Zelman, Michael Miner, Edward Neumeier (screenplay)
CAST: Johnny Messner …. Bill Johnson
KaDee Strickland …. Sam Rogers
Matthew Marsden …. Dr. Jack Byron
Nicholas Gonzalez …. Dr. Ben Douglas
Eugene Byrd …. Cole Burris
Karl Yune …. Tran
Salli Richardson …. Gail Stern
Morris Chestnut …. Gordon Mitchell