Anacondas: The Hunt for the Blood Orchid (7/10)

Copyright © 2004 by Tony Medley

Fans of the comic strip Brenda Starr Will immediately recognize this story line. The love of Brenda’s life was Basil St. John, the mystery man, who kept appearing and disappearing. Problem was, Basil had a mysterious illness that might be cured by the cultivation of an equally mysterious orchid, for which he was constantly searching the jungle.

In Anaconda: The Hunt for the Blood Orchid, Dr. Jack Byron (Matthew Marsden) is leading a team into the wilds of Borneo to find an orchid he believes could contain the fountain of youth. He enlists down-on-his-luck American expatriate Bill Johnson (Johnny Messner) and his run-down boat to take him downriver. Sam Rogers (Kadee Strickland), Jack’s assistant, and a few others accompany them. Things are made more difficult by a giant, 40-foot anaconda that wants them for dinner.

Although set in Borneo, the film was shot in Fiji. Says Producer Verna Harrah, “Fiji offers various fabulous, incredible locations that haven’t been seen on film before. They look spectacular,” before adding, “But we also received some great tax incentives and that was very important. It’s also very safe in Fiji. This is one of the few places where you can work in a jungle environment and not have to worry abut terrorism or local warfare.”

The rapid advancement of CGI (Computer Generated Image) allowed the filmmakers to create a believable monster. Director Dwight Little says, “I shot a massive amount of film of real anacondas, and all that material will be in the movie. We didn’t want it to look like some sea monster – I wanted it to look as real as possible. We looked at anacondas, but we also looked at pythons and rattlesnakes and all kinds of other snakes to see which eyes, which teeth, which palate, which scale, which tones interested us. I wanted it to look a little bit smarter than an actual anaconda head appears, and a little bit more awake and alive. So we took a few subtle licenses that make it seem more like a thinking creature.” It’s because of all this attention to detail that the movie works and comes alive. Like Jaws (1975), the anaconda is more felt than seen, which makes it even more frightening.

One thing I liked about this movie was Johnny Messner, who is kind of a cross between Clint Walker, the ‘50s star of the TV oater Cheyenne, and perennial cowboy star, Sam Elliott. He’s got Walker’s body (we see lots of bare-chested scenes) and Elliott’s deep, deep voice and laconic manner. This should appeal to women because of Messner, regardless of the story. On the other side, Strickland is beautiful, but her acting is a putoff. The filmmakers resisted what must have been a temptation to show the actresses in tight, wet T-shirts a la Jacqueline Bisset in The Deep (1977), despite the many scenes where they are dripping wet in the river.

Despite a script that borders on banality (after Bill tells Sam about his life she replies, “It’s not long as stories go.” Lost in a cave as they’re looking for a way out, Sam utters this gem, “If there’s a way in, there’s a way out.”), and Strickland’s sometimes distracting emoting, Director Little and Director of Photography Stephen F. Windon do an exceptional job of creating tension. Enough that I could close my eyes and ears to the way Strickland delivered her lines, and the predictable scares and climaxes so that I found this enjoyable. For me perhaps the most important part of a movie that wants to create tension is the music. It was the lack of a good, tension-filled musical score that made Open Water such a bore. Here, however, Australian Nerida Tyson-Chew’s music provides the essential element that makes this a terrific horror film.

August 25, 2004

The End