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Truth to tell, watched this one only because adam baldwin was in it. The low budget didnt impinge too much, and the production quality was acceptable. Maybe the real problem with it is that jules verne is just too victorian for present day viewing. Whatever, it fell way short of truely interesting. Acting was ok (mr. baldwin did a nice job though). Unfortunately, it seemed that many scenes went on longer than they should have, especially the horse in the river. When on one hand, Minha lords it over her fiance because of her experience with the dangers present, then it takes her FOREVER to put her horse down while it is suffering agonies, had me yelling at the tv in frustration. I ended up fast forwarding through the movie after Mr. Baldwin exited. Not a very good recommendation....
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The excellent 1960 Mexican version of Jules Verne's La Jangada was
remade in 1993, this time in English and entitled 800 LEAGUES DOWN THE
AMAZON. Executive producer was Roger Corman, and Luis Llosa produced
and directed. Unlike the opulent, classy Mexican version, 800 LEAGUES
DOWN THE AMAZON could best be described in one word--cheap, and was the
result of a new trend in production, movies made directly for release
in the video market. Such pictures can be made for as little as a
million dollars, and lack the budget of features intended for showing
in theaters, or even made-for-television movies. In fact, although the
original running time was 88 minutes, 800 LEAGUES DOWN THE AMAZON has
been released for video in a considerably shortened version, 75 minutes
800 LEAGUES DOWN THE AMAZON has no feeling whatever for the locale or time of the story in such basics as costumes and decor. Indeed, there is no introduction or intertitle to establish the setting, even the year or country. In one embarrassing scene, Torres places his foot on a table, to reveal that he is wearing a boot with a modern sole. Another sign of the quick production schedule is the fact that the key scene in which Torres reveals his purpose to Garral has both men's faces in shadow, concealing their emotions and reactions. Lighting and photography throughout is only passable at best, failing to fully exploit the story's pictorial possibilities.
Despite this fact, the picture has an unusually good cast for such a budget. Barry Bostwick adds a touch of class as a dignified, understated Joam Garral. (The picture suffers accordingly once he is jailed and largely off-screen.) Daphne Zuniga is a fairly credible Minha, transformed into a courageous heroine and modern-style woman. A devotee of horse-back riding, she easily outshines her rather impractical fiancé, Manoel, played by Tom Verica. The plot is changed so that it is Minha, not Manoel, who pursues and kills Torres. However, Adam Baldwin as the villainous Torres overacts deplorably throughout.
The adaptation and screenplay is by Laura Schiff and Jackson Barr. The simplistic dialogue is poor, and could be followed by even the most distracted audience, indicating it was perhaps originally adapted with television (and its interruptions for commercial breaks) in mind. The story has been pared down to its essentials and the five principal individuals, eliminating such characters as Lina, Benito, and Yaquita. Fragoso (E.E. Ross) is still present, providing comic relief. The raft design roughly follows the Verne concept, although vaguely resembling a converted boat (as was also true of the 1960 Mexican version of La Jangada).
However, the trip is portrayed as an almost semi-annual, prosaic event rather than a unique tour of the Amazon. The picture's best portion is the middle third, traveling down the Amazon after a dynamic fight with alligators. The first portion of 800 LEAGUES DOWN THE AMAZON is marred by re-arranging the chronology of the narrative, so that Torres learns the secret of Joam Garral after an accidental visit to his plantation. Torres joins the trip later while it is in progress, in a manner that would have made anyone suspicious.
Other changes from the book are also harmful. There is some distasteful, gratuitous violence, such as a scene showing Torres as a bounty hunter who brings in the severed heads of his victims. There is emphasis on the dangerous attacks by ferocious natives, both in the opening scene pursuing Torres, and later when they attack the raft. The Judges lose all the humane traits Verne had given them. The deciphering of the confession is not done in a credible manner. The code has not even been read before Minha's proclamation of her evidence is believed and Garral saved at the gallows.
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