This may surprise you, but I have always wanted to see ANACONDA. It’s a theatrically released, pre-SyFy Channel, early CG giant snake movie with an all star (more so now than then) cast, and I heard pretty good things about it, including a description of the best part of the movie (a famous scene involving Jon Voight) which was convincing. But somehow in all these years I never rented it. And then all the sudden last month Seattle’s S.I.F.F. Uptown screened it in a remastered DCP. The kind of thing I was hoping would happen to make up for all the theaters being forced to switch to digital. You take away our 35 mm, you better give us theatrical re-releases of ANACONDA and shit like that.
Maybe that’s why I never watched it. I was waiting for it to come back to the big screen. Maybe dreams do come true.
Jennifer Lopez (one year before OUT OF SIGHT) stars as a young aspiring filmatist hired by her sometimes-flame Eric Stoltz (three years after PULP FICTION), an anthropologist and explorer, to direct a documentary about his search for an elusive native tribe in the Amazon rain forest. They get on a boat with camera operator Ice Cube (two years after FRIDAY), sound department Owen Wilson (one year after BOTTLE ROCKET) & Kari Wuhrer (six years after BEASTMASTER 2: THROUGH THE PORTAL OF TIME), narrator Jonathan Hyde (same year as TITANIC) and hired boat captain Vincent Castellanos (four years before MULHOLLAND DR.), and they head down the river.
In a weird way it reminds me of those early FRIDAY THE 13TH sequels, a group of young mis-matched friends getting together, going on a trip, having fun in the sun, on the water, not having a care in the world until all the sudden they have every care in the world. Because of snakes. Wilson is the most slasher-victimy of all of them, since he’s low-billed and immediately announces that he’s horny. Later he makes a poor ethical choice, and he’s doomed.
The real heart of the movie is Jon Voight as a scarred Paraguayan nut they rescue from a ship wreck. He turns out to be a snake poacher by trade and a weirdo by personality. They don’t trust him but he still tricks them into taking an alternate route and blowing up a small dam (“Is that real dynamite?” somebody asks. No, I brought a bunch of fake dynamite with me after my shipwreck, genius), releasing an avalanche of snakes onto the boat. Not giant ones, though. Regular-sized ones that he keeps calling “babies” as he throws them back to their “mommies.”
Of course there is also the giant anaconda that starts stalking them, and since he wants to capture it he prevents them from fighting back properly. Like in all giant animal movies it stays out of sight alot, or we get its POV. Most of the time when you do see it it’s a goofy animatronic, so at the time I bet it was exciting to get to the CG shots. Those look as fake as you’d figure, but they’re pretty imaginative about having it toss people in the air, wrap itself around them, then open up and say hissssss. Taking advantage of the possibilities of animation.
There are several nice monster moments that went over well with the crowd: Owen Wilson imprint in the snake’s belly, coughing up a dead monkey in somebody’s face, what happens to Jon Voight, etc. But you gotta have some funny character stuff for a movie like this to not be boring. Fortunately Voight has a whole bunch of good lines and gives a hilarious performance, getting several big laughs just from his expressions. And I gotta say (SPOILER), for all these years I was positive Cube would get it first. But he survives! In fact, now I know this might be the first example of the indestructible rapper, later seen in DEEP BLUE SEA, HALLOWEEN H20 and the one after HALLOWEEN H20, if it existed, which of course it does not and never will. (Unfortunately this pattern may have emboldened Redman to be in SEED OF CHUCKY, only to get disemboweled.)
Cube’s character is a stereotype, arguing with the narrator about playing a Mack 10 CD (a song Ice Cube is featured on, by the way. HOW IS THIS POSSIBLE!?). But at least he’s a college graduate.
Lopez is fine but it’s hard to believe this is not that long before OUT OF SIGHT. She didn’t yet demand the respect of a very strong character. One of her acts of heroism is putting on lipstick and pretending to be attracted to Voight so the sissy narrator guy can sneak up from behind and hit him with a golf club. But I guess I give them props for making her a female documentary director in charge of the project, and not making her a tight ass who has to learn to let her hair down or anything like that.
One person I didn’t know was gonna be in the movie until I saw his name in the opening credits was Danny Trejo. He’s just in the opening scene as the snake’s first victim. He looks skinnier than I’ve seen him before, more like Brion James than the Trejo I know from DESPERADO. And his voice sounds totally different, I’m pretty sure it’s dubbed.
There are lots of enjoyable action beats as they fight the big bastard: shooting at it, lighting it on fire, chopping at it, etc. One obvious missed opportunity is at the end when they survive and finally find the tribe they were looking for, and it’s treated as an ending. Obviously we expect, and kind of want, the natives to be pissed that they killed their Snake God and go CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST on them. But maybe the filmatists just wanted to be respectful. The score by Randy Edelman always acts like it’s an old fashioned adventure movie, and plays out the happy ending as such.
Director Luis Llosa also did SNIPER and THE SPECIALIST. The credited screenwriters are Hans Bauer (HIGHWAYMEN) and the team of Jim Cash & Jack Epps Jr. (TOP GUN, TURNER & HOOCH, DICK TRACY, THE FLINSTONES IN VIVA ROCK VEGAS). It’s goofy but it looks and feels like a real movie. In fact, it’s just as good as JAWS, if “just as good as” means “has the same director of photography, Bill Butler.” So be sure to wait until you can see it on the big screen with a small crowd and introduced by a local reptile expert like I did.
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.