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The original Anaconda was an entertaining and campy horror film, one of those movies that seeing with an audience was half the experience; people yelling at the screen, screaming and then laughing in unison was all part of the fun. That film, starring Ice Cube, Jon Voight and a pre-J Lo Jennifer Lopez was an unexpected surprise and a box office hit when it was released in theatres back in the summer of 1997. Seven years later, Screen Gems and Columbia Pictures have released an in name only sequel to the film hoping that an anaconda might strike twice.

Anacondas: The Hunt for the Blood Orchid
The film picks up in Borneo where an expedition, led by Dr. Jack Byron (Matthew Marsden) and Gordon Mitchell (Morris Chestnut) and accompanied by their research team including Sam Rogers (KaDee Strickland) and Gail Stern (Salli Richardson) among others, hopes to find a rare and exotic plant that may lead them to a medical breakthrough and on the road to becoming billionaires. There’s just one catch—the rare plant they wish to cultivate is only in bloom and useful to them for another two weeks and will not be available again for another seven years. Their problems don’t end there though when they reach Borneo and find that they have arrived in the middle of the rainy season when no ships’ captain is willing to take them down the treacherous river trek to find their prize. Enter Bill Johnson (Johnny Messner), an American and ex-military man living abroad who is willing to take them to their destination for the right price.

But after distancing themselves from civilization, the group runs into problems with their boat and is forced to travel on foot through the jungle. Unbeknownst to them, they have arrived in an area of the jungle infested with gigantic and lightning fast anacondas that just happened to have gathered for mating season and look to devour anything that crosses their path. The group must now make their way to safety and avoid the carnivorous reptiles lurking in the trees and shadows all while an internal enemy plots his next move.

Anacondas: The Hunt for the Blood Orchid tries hard to emulate the things that made its older brother work by attempting to deliver a fun and tense trip down a different river with more snakes than before. The characters are basically cardboard cut-outs of the previous cast and you will easily be able to pick out who is going to become the next main course after their introductions, but that is part of the fun with this type of film. The plot too is relatively similar to the previous film, but just isn’t as good and not nearly as entertaining on many levels.

Anacondas: The Hunt for the Blood Orchid
A lot of what made the first film work was Jon Voight’s over the top Paul Sarone character, a bad guy who you were just rooting for to be made a meal of…and when he finally was the payoff was one of the best scream-then-laugh moments in recent memory. This film tries a similar trick by planting another enemy amongst the walking smorgasbord, but the character is poorly written (such is the case with all of the characters for that matter) and the actor doesn’t have Voight’s ability to elevate the part above the script. I would think that racing through the jungle trying to avoid giant man-eaters would create enough tension for the characters, but in adding a watered down, uppity version of the Sarone character a lot is taken away from the film and makes that feeling you are watching a retread even more apparent.

The special effects for the film, while a bit more ambitious this time around, aren’t that great either, and are on par with many recent direct-to-video ‘giant reptile’ movies that are in turn knockoffs of the first film such as Boa, Python or Boa vs. Python. You would think that with the advances made in the area of digital effects over the past seven years that the snakes would have gotten better, but apparently not as much money or time was spent in preparing these anacondas for their second screen appearance. The result is about as convincing or less so and the snakes seem to appear on screen less than they did back in 1997. With a cast of characters that includes a barely likeable or capable one in the bunch, you’ll be anxiously waiting longer for the anacondas to hurry back to the screen and eliminate a few more of them from the film. Another disappointment is there are too few times when more than one snake appears on the screen at the same time; with a title that pluralizes the word anaconda I was expecting some scenes involving the characters threatened by multiple beasts or some reptile versus reptile action.

Anacondas: The Hunt for the Blood Orchid
There is surely an audience for this type of film; Anaconda proved this and further evidence is a new film in the subgenre showing up on the video store shelf on a seemingly weekly basis. Anacondas: The Hunt for the Blood Orchid isn’t a very good entry however, and though it offers up a few moments of suspense and a chuckle here and there it will more than likely not satiate fans of the original or its descendants.

Video
Anacondas: The Hunt for the Blood Orchid is presented with the choice of either an anamorphic widescreen transfer at the film’s theatrical aspect ratio of 2.40:1 or a 1.33:1 pan & scan transfer for its release on DVD. This review of the video will focus on the anamorphic widescreen transfer of the film. Even though the film isn’t the greatest in the history of cinema, it still deserved a better transfer than is presented on this disc. Marred by a very low bit rate throughout, the picture is at times unclear, nearly always contains grain, contains several instances of edge enhancement and at times fails to maintain a consistent light level producing a sort of flicker effect, especially during wider shots. Since the majority of the film takes place either at night or against the backdrop of a darkened jungle, the limitations of the transfer become all too obvious in far too many scenes in the film. Aside from these problems, the contrasts in light and dark are handled well and the colours are vibrant. The decision to include the pan & scan transfer of the film on the same disc no doubt contributed to the low compression rate and subsequent less than average transfer; it should have been either offered in a separate release or excised from the package altogether.

Anacondas: The Hunt for the Blood Orchid
Audio
The DVD offers Dolby Digital 5.1 in either English or French and optional subtitles in English and French. Luckily the audio presentation fares a bit better than the video transfer, although it isn’t outstanding by any means either. The film’s sound is crisp and clear, but I found too much of the film’s sound forced through the centre and front channels creating an audio experience that isn’t as immersive as it should be for a film that takes place in the jungle and features gigantic, slithering reptiles. Besides a few nice moments here and there this presentation is just average, no more and no less.

Extras
Columbia has included two extras on the disc; a ten minute featurette entitled ‘Special Effects Toolbox: Creating Anacondas’ and roughly eight minutes of deleted scenes. The featurette focuses on the digital and practical effects work used to bring the titular snakes in the film to the screen and features blurbs from director Dwight Little and various cast and crew members. The feature is basically like every other featurette of this type you have seen before.

The deleted scenes do not offer much of anything interesting in and of themselves either; it seems as if most of the scenes were cut for pacing purposes and were probably best left out of the film as much of the exposition and character development contained in them would have been redundant if they had remained. The disc also contains out of place trailers for Are We There Yet?, Hitch and Breakin’ All the Rules.

Anacondas: The Hunt for the Blood Orchid
Overall
Anacondas: The Hunt for the Blood Orchid may have played better with an audience full of people, but in the end isn’t a very good film although I am sure that it will find its niche among the other giant snake movies littering the local video store. Columbia’s DVD presentation of the film gives the impression that this was basically a token release with a below average transfer, average audio and few extras. I cannot recommend that anyone buy this disc except die-hard fans; all others should definitely rent it before committing to a purchase.


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