Cyberlizard goes to the movies

Anacondas: The Hunt for the Blood Orchid (2004)

Director Dwight H Little, starring Johnny Messner, Matthew Marsden, Nicholas Gonzalez, Morris Chestnut, KaDee Strickland, Eugene Byrd, Karl Yune, Salli Richardson-Whitfield

Given the modest success of the first Anaconda film, it was perhaps inevitable, as with Jaws and Alien, that a sequel would be made. However, not all sequels are created equal, as will become apparent from this review.

The plot

Faced with imminent closure of his research company, Gordon Mitchell (Morris Chestnut, now probably better known to TV viewers as the V Fifth Columnist Ryan) announces the discovery of a so-called blood orchid, the effects of which are believed to increase the regenerative powers of cells and therefore confer at least youth, if not immortality. His hitherto sceptical financial backers urge him to take an expedition to Borneo with haste, as the plant only flowers once every seven years. However the team run into a series of mishaps caused first by the weather and then, more sinisterly, by gigantic anacondas that just happen to be on the move in the mating season.

The film

Although I enjoy a good monster movie as much as the next man, this sequel is so much ropier than the original in many ways. Firstly, scientifically it approachs abysmal incredulity: no member of the group of snakes that includes boas and anacondas lives in Borneo, or indeed in nearly any part of the Old World. Anacondas, as far as I am aware, do not form mating balls, unlike their much smaller relatives among the colubrids. Linked to this is the dodgy CGI portrayal of the snakes, which starts off well (tantalising and rather alarming shots of a huge patterned body under the water's surface snaking between people) but degenerates into a series of lightning-fast moves that are more reminiscent of the marine monster in Deep Rising. To be frank, the effects fall into the category of being well-executed and yet curiously artificial.

The cast themselves are competent, especially Chestnut, but appear to have been chosen at least in part for their resemblance to the first cast - thus Salli Richardson-Whitefield looks uncannily like Sarah Lopez and Eugene Byrd appears to be a substitute for Ice Cube. Both of their characters, incidentally, were written so irritatingly that I was half hoping the anacondas would get them rather than some of the more dignified members of their expedition. Perhaps this is an example of playing to what the writers think the public want? On the positive side, the human villain of the story is not immediately apparent.

The pace of the direction also seems to drag at times, although the story hangs together reasonably well (if entirely illogical from a scientific point of view).

Unlike the first movie, which raised concerns among the herpetocultural community that snakes would be viewed in a bad light by people seeing it, I think any concerns over this one would be dispelled by the fact that the overall effect is so over the top, even preposterous, that it is simply not possible to anyone bar the most hardened ophiophobe to take it seriously.

This somewhat unfavourable review notwithstanding, I should also add that two more sequels have been made, both in the made-for-TV format.

For a brief overview of the anaconda species, click here.

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