Snakes on a Plain yet Effective Modern B-Movie

Deadly Movies Reviews | ‘Anacondas: The Hunt for the Blood Orchid’ (2004)

As far as guilty pleasures go this is right up there for me. It’s the sort of film that you only confess your love of to close friends, film comrades, or that person you end up cornering when drunk at a house party. You know you shouldn’t like it but you do, and you don’t just tolerate it but you genuinely enjoy it time and time again. Before you know it you are on multiple viewings and looking the cast up on IMDB. This bodes the obvious question.., Why?

Well let’s get this out in the open; I am in the minority of people who enjoyed Anaconda (1997) and was more than pleased to hear of a sequel. Also I must admit I appreciated the homage to the Alien franchise in the simple use of the plural of Anaconda for the title (forget the silly subtitle ‘Hunt for the Blood Orchid’). But there is more to love about Anacondas than a name and the want to hang on to the beloved memory of predecessors.

Firstly there is the admirably short setup. There is an all but 3 minute pointless scene in a New York boardroom where our protagonists gain their funding to head an expedition to Borneo to hunt for the said Blood Orchids and therein encounter some pissed off massive serpents. This leads quickly into some very effective use of the Rain Forest externals (actually shot in Fiji) and for added texture monsoon weather conditions. What Director Dwight Little achieves in spades is an understanding that stunning and well-shot locations can make up for shortcomings in acting and effects. He shoots a genuinely picturesque picture.

Then there are the snakes themselves. Little clearly has little in the way of an effects budget. So in true Jaws (1975) style he keeps the monster’s on-screen presence to a minimal. This isn’t to build suspense of reveal (as with the shark in Jaws) as we’ve all seen the creatures already back in 1997, but rather to keep the creatures appearances to short yet effective bursts where the shortfalls in effects budget are kept to an onscreen minimal. Therein we see the Anacondas twisting beneath the surface or from point of view shots. In the Anacondas’ absence we are fed side action sequences involving ludicrous crocodile wrestling, a drunk Australian, some natives, and a genuinely impressive waterfall sequence that puts any jungle action in Indiana Jones and The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008) to shame.

The cast is adequate if bafflingly diverse. Black, White, Asian, and Hispanic are all represented in the crew of Americans, an Englishman, and a non descript East Asian…, all very PC. Johnny Messner does an OK Jean-Claude Van Damme impression as the lead hero type, equally KaDee Strickland is comfortable as the sexy yet headstrong female lead, and Matthew Marsden does well enough as the mild-mannered good guy turned bad. Everyone else is a McHuman Burger to’go. Yes there is a silly ending and yes when the snakes finally come out to play in full sight the CGI gets ropey. But on the whole this is more than adequate straight-to-DVD stuff that shows the other modern day giant monster CGI fests how to hold their load rather than blowing it on cheap effects. Keep a keen eye out for a couple of direct Jaws references, some more subtle than others.

Like big snakes? Try Anaconda (1997), and Snakes on Plane (2006). Then you have the snake pit in Raiders of the Lost Arc (1981), the massive snake in Conan the Barbarian (1982), the Nazi Pagan snake dealie in Dragnet (1987), and the stop motion sand worm (close enough) in Beetle Juice (1988).

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