Fire on the Amazon, an exotic, South American eco-drama from 1993, is most notable for being the repository of star Sandra Bullock’s first nude scene, before she blew up (figuratively, and almost literally) in Speed, became even more body-sensitive, and then later started claiming that her first nude scene was in 2009’s The Proposal. It is not a good film, but it has — how to say this tastefully? — value, hence its new DVD reissue and Blu-ray debut.
Written and directed by Peruvian-born Luis Llosa (who within years would go on to unleash The Specialist and Anaconda upon audiences), and executive produced by Roger Corman, Fire on the Amazon is a moralizing drama about the inherent nobility of indigenous locals, a la Medicine Man. Set in Bolivia’s Amazon basin, the movie centers around the issue of massive deforestation, and how the encroachment of industrial greed threatens to destroy the lush jungle. When Rafael Santos (Eduardo Cesti), a local environmental activist and leader of the union of rubber tappers (yes, seriously), takes a stand against scurrilous development and impending disaster, he is assassinated. Devil-may-care American photojournalist R.J. O’Brien (Craig Sheffer) teams up with activist Alyssa Rothman (Bullock) to uncover a dangerous conspiracy.
First, the good news: Llosa obviously has a rooting interest — a personal connection — to the material, and the film’s location shoot affords him the opportunity to capture a great deal of convincing local color on a reasonable budget. He also elicits a performance of not insignificant quietude from Bullock, which is nice, and runs counter to the hotheaded passion one might typically expect from such a character, as written. Unfortunately, a lot of the drama is rather rank, and screeching monkeys and lurking alligators substitute for the wandering, “boo-scare” cats of any given brain-dead horror film. Sheffer, too, is an almost complete non-starter as R.J.; he’s saddled with a ridiculous ponytail, and acts “independent-minded” and ballsy by leaning forward a bit too closely in conversation, and making scrunched-up kissy faces like he’s auditioning to be Sylvester Stallone’s stand-in or something. It’s a terrible performance, one that grates quickly, and puts you on the side of whomever is trying to do him harm.
But… what about the sex scene, you ask? It’s real, and not merely some fuzzy, eight- or nine-second cross-fade. But neither is it explicit, so if you think you’re going to get wild, full frontal sex, you’ve got another thing coming. No, instead it’s this strange, minute-plus, faux-animalistic thing, in which a tweaked R.J. and Alyssa, visages smeared with ceremonial Indian face-paint, tongue each other’s bare backs in the half-light, and kind of grind and copulate like they’re aliens who just read a how-to sex manual, or are perhaps filming one of those cushion-humping parody videos for the web. Let that information be your guide if you’re contemplating a rental or purchase.
Housed in a regular Blu-ray case, Fire on the Amazon comes to Blu-ray in a 1080p transfer and 1.78:1 widescreen presentation, with a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 audio track. The disc’s main menu screen is motion-animated, and the sounds of little jungle animals burst forth with the selection of chapter stops or a set-up screen (which offers only English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing). Truth be told, the picture is solid for a title of its age and (one presumes) minimal brush-up, with no edge enhancement or artifacting issues, and consistent color throughout. The only supplemental feature is a cruddy (seemingly VHS-lifted) version of the movie’s original trailer, burnished with new title interstitials. Sans reminiscences from cast or crew, this high-definition upgrade isn’t worthy of an archival purchase, unless one is a hardcore Bullock completist. To purchase the Blu-ray via Amazon, though, click here. C- (Movie) C- (Disc)