New Alcatraz (2001)
"12,000 feet below the Antarctic ice, it lays in wait."
A maximum security prison to house all of the world’s most dangerous prisoners is being built in the Antarctic. Under pressure to complete the prison, the engineers accidentally release a prehistoric snake-like monster from the ice which proceeds to start devouring anything in its path. So a call is sent out for the assistance of a palaeontologist, his wife and a team of military experts but when they get there, they are forced to team with the inmates in order to survive.
Apart from the mildly interesting Escape from New York-like idea of building a maximum security prison to house all of the world’s most dangerous prisoners, New Alcatraz (which is a more misleading title than its alternative name, Boa) is another token CGI monster-on-the-loose flick which shares the same characteristics as its other slithery sidekicks Anaconda, King Cobra and Python. Though when I looked down the list of producer credits that director Phillip J. Roth has to his name and see the likes of Python, Shark Hunter, Dark Waters, Deep Shock, Lake Placid 2, Bats: Human Harvest and countless others, then I knew exactly which sort of company I would be keeping for the ninety minutes of New Alcatraz.
New Alcatraz would have worked better as a low budget actioner without the monster… possibly. It’s so inept in almost every level that it’s virtually impossible to see how it could have worked as anything else in all honesty. Recycling every cliché in the book from every previous monster-on-the-loose flick as well as throwing in plenty of sci-fi action nonsense, the script borrows everything from Jurassic Park to Aliens and the isolated Antarctic setting is overly similar to The Thing. If even a quarter of the talent and entertainment from either of those aforementioned films was present here, then the film may have been something. But it wasn’t. Surprised? I didn’t think so. It's best to just remember that New Alcatraz is like dozens of films that have come before it and dozens that have come after it - familiarity with the formula and knowing exactly what is coming is part of the reason why genre fans keep watching the same films over and over (slasher films anyone?). Though realising New Alcatraz is never going to be the next Aliens or Jurassic Park isn't going to help matters as the film is generic as hell.
I’m not sure whether building the prison from hell in the middle of the Antarctic and then filling it with the world’s most dangerous men with only a handful of guards BEFORE it is finished being built is something that any rational country would go along with but it’s one of many ludicrous ideas that the script throws up. The prisoners range from Chechen rebels to Iraqi chemical experts to IRA terrorists – nice to see that they’ve filled up their quota of token ‘problem’ groups from around the world. All it needed was a rogue North Korean general and a Colombian drug lord and then you’d have had the full set. But if you can sell the idea that a warm-blooded reptile would thrive in below zero temperatures, I guess characters are the least of your worries. There are too many characters plodding around the prison (which is weird considering that the prison itself isn’t fully populated with inmates and staff) and not enough time is devoted to some of the more interesting ones – the prisoners to be exact. It’s hard not to get drawn to a charismatic Chechen terrorist who infinitely is more entertaining than bland, one-dimensional scientists or by-the-book wardens.
The cast is full of recognisable faces no doubt eager to get back into the big time. Obviously the star of the show (though he doesn’t appear until a third of the way in) is Dean Cain, fresh from Louis and Clark and clearly destined to appear in this sort of low budget nonsense for the rest of his career. Cain isn’t a bad actor and has a natural likeability but he just hasn’t got it, that extra dimension, which would have propelled him onto big budget films. Mark Sheppard has made a niche out of playing these snivelling bad guys in a whole host of TV series (see everything from 24 to The X-Files) and steals the show, Grand L. Bush was in a slew of 90s actions films such as Die Hard, Lethal Weapon and Licence to Kill and Craig Wasson, who plays the warden, had a pivotal role in A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors as his genre claim to fame.
Finally, we come to the snake and it will come as no surprise to find out that the snake looks exactly the same as any other low budget monster movie CGI snake does. The serpent here could have come from Python or one of the Anaconda sequels and it wouldn’t look out of place. And the fact that the creature was a snake was a bit of a let-down. The script had the chance to create a unique prehistoric monster, something like the creature from The Relic for instance, but was happy reverting to type. Much like the rest of the film. Why bother cooking something original when you can just reheat old leftovers?
New Alcatraz is pretty bad. In fact it's more than pretty bad, it's awful. Once you’ve seen one modern CGI snake movie, you’ve seen them all and it’s just a case of seeing how repetitive things can get. How films like this get funding is beyond me, especially when more accomplished and promising talents get their films turned away at the first hurdle.
Also Known As: Boa
Director(s): Phillip J. Roth
Writer(s): Terri Neish, Phillip J. Roth (story)
Actor(s): Dean Cain, Elizabeth Lackey, Mark Sheppard, Dean Biasucci, Craig Wasson, Grand L. Bush, Richard Tanner
Duration: 96 mins