|Written by Abbie Bernstein|
|Tuesday, 16 January 2001|
If you’re a fan of schlocky horror movies, you will find comfort in "Python." The film bears a 2000 copyright, but it could have been made at just about any point in the past 30 years. Yes, the CGI is a bit better than it would have been a decade ago – in fact, it looks a lot like the type found in inexpensive syndicated fantasy TV shows today – but the obsessed researcher, gung-ho but ineffectual military types, endangered young people and the enormous, nasty creature on the loose in an inexpensive location are all perennials.
"Python" is something of a misnomer, as we eventually learn that the enormous reptile in question is really a hybrid that incorporates many varieties of snake in its makeup. The 129-foot-long beastie kills its warders, causes a small plane crash and slithers into a small town. With its habit of leaving partially dissolved bodies in its wake (it regurgitates its prey and spews acid), the snake soon attracts attention. A young cop, a commando squad, a scientist and some surviving 20-somethings all try to terminate the monster as it continues to terrorize the neighborhood.
The special effects range from decent to crummy – in a lot of shots, the giant snake does not appear to be sharing the same physical space as the human actors. The snake itself generally looks pretty good, even if its ability to sneak up on people unnoticed is somewhat suspect (at 129 feet in length, you think it would make a bigger impression). As for the performances, they too range from competent to ghastly. Among the better cast members on hand are Robert Englund, cheerfully adding maximum melodrama to an exposition scene, and William Zabka as a fairly open-minded deputy who aspires to join the FBI. It takes a moment to recognize Wil Wheaton (formerly of "Star Trek: The Next Generation") as a pink-haired rebel who sells realty, a contradictory role he handles agreeably.
The script by Chris Neal, Paul J.M. Bogh and Gary Hershberger, from a story by Phillip Roth (one of the film’s producers), adds odd little details to the lives of the characters. This doesn’t save "Python" from the realm of cliché, but it does speak well of the filmmakers’ efforts to have fun with the material.
Sound on "Python" has its strong and weak points. On big effects, such as the firing of a rocket launcher in Chapter 13 and a rumbling explosion in Chapter 18, the sound is dimensional and layered, with good punch from the subwoofer. However, at other times, the dialogue and ambient music are slightly buzzy, especially in Chapters 7 and 8.
The best sound in "Python" is actually to be found on the audio commentary track. Here is where the film becomes a joy – indeed, it’s the main reason to recommend checking out the movie. Vibrant voices in the center and mains makes it seem as though director Richard Clabaugh, visual effects director Andrew Hofman and special effects artist Kevin Little are all in the room, gossiping up a storm. Unlike a lot of commentary tracks that are tinged with reverence and/or self-satisfaction, the makers of "Python" seem well aware that their film is not "Jaws" or even "Anaconda." They take pride in those parts of their work that turned out all right and point these out, but they also make no bones about the fact that a lot of "Python" went wrong. They share with us what was supposed to happen onscreen, and how and why the final cut often departs radically from their intentions. The trio are sly, witty and sound as if they’re having a great party – thanks to the enveloping track, we feel as if we’ve been invited.
Probably the most entertaining way to watch "Python" is with the audio commentary track and the subtitles both turned on. This way, you can follow the plot and dialogue while at the same time getting an education in the challenges, physical and creative, of low-budget filmmaking.