I'm not trying to be a hero! I'M FIGHTING THE DRAGON!!

Anaconda

tn_anacondaThis 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.

mp_anacondaThe 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.

This entry was posted on Thursday, October 10th, 2013 at 2:08 pm and is filed under Horror, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

55 Responses to “Anaconda”

  1. [SPOILER FOR GREATEST MOMENT IN DTV HISTORY]

    Shitty CGI snake regurgitates half-digested Jon Voight onto J-Lo AND HE’S STILL OVERACTING.

    [/SPOILER]

  2. Oh crap theatrically-released? Really? We are blessed.

  3. Jon Voigt is such a trip in this. Linking this up w/ my comments about Bruce, Harrison Ford, and De Niro: if you’re going to abandon any sense of standards in what roles you’ll accept, then go full Ana-Voigt-da and at least let’s all have some fun with it.

  4. Is Jon Voigt mega-acting in this, or just plain over-acting? Does it count as mega-acting if you’re giving a deliberately campy performance? These are the kinds of questions that keep me up at night.

  5. I don’t know exactly what he’s trying to do, but I think he knows he’s camping it up. I remember having a lot of fun w/ this one.

  6. CrustaceanHate, there’s only one way Jon Voight could MEGA-ACT in this, and that is if it was Nic Cage playing Jon Voight in a biopic.

  7. my anaconda don’t want none unless you got BUNS hon!

  8. This is supposed to be one of those legendarily so-bad-it’s-good movies but I always thought it was pretty boring. Other than Voigt battling the snake over who can devour more scenery (said Rex Reed, probably) I don’t see what the fuss is.

    I also feel remember that this was the first movie where I started to doubt that CGI was really the second coming. It came out when CGI was still pretty new, and every movie that featured it promised to develop more uses for this exciting new technology. Your eyes were being exposed to new wonders every time you went to the theater. Then that fakey snake happened and the dream died. I believe that ANACONDA is when the first Golden Age of CGI (T2, JURASSIC PARK, TITANIC) ended and the I’m Too Lazy To Figure This Out, Let The Computer Nerds Fix It Later Age (THE MUMMY, THE MUMMY RETURNS, that horrible plane crash from AIR FORCE ONE) began.

  9. Nicely done Griff.

  10. I knew Griff wouldn’t be able to resist…

    ANACONDA made it okay for people to laugh at terrible CGI snakes, paving the way for the SyFy channel’s current business model.

  11. The definition of mega-acting is “overacting” as a deliberate stylistic choice, not just as a miscalculation of the amount of acting required. So in my opinion yes, Voight is mega-acting in this one.

  12. Saw this in a mid-90s double bill with The Relic. Good times. I generally love mid-90s action fare like those two films, (and No Escape, Terminal Velocity, Timecop, Drop Zone and many others), that are in no way considered great by most.

  13. I saw this in the theater at a trade preview in the UK. They had a super hot chick there in a tight white micro dress, holding an albino python.

    The python shit all over her dress. These things go days or weeks between shits, and chose to lay a deuce on her.

    I assume this was pre-emptive payback on humankind for his big brother being killed.

  14. “I knew Griff wouldn’t be able to resist…”

    you guys know me too well

  15. I always wondered why in the world anybody would think it would be a good idea to put a reverse shot in the movie WHEN THERE IS A FUCKING BIG WATERFALL IN THE BACKGROUND, WHICH NOW OF COURSE HAS THE WATER RUNNING UPWARDS!!!

  16. Some evidence for the theory that quality mega-acting can be appreciated by individuals of any age and culture: I must have seen ANACONDA several times (on TV) as a boy of maybe 10 years growing up in Austria, and as far back as I can remember, I was always highly amused by Jon Voight’s performance. In fact, the one element I associate with this movie most strongly is the following facial expression:
    http://4.bp.blogspot.com/_Ph8V052fCNE/Sib75mtxKII/AAAAAAAAGE8/LDhQRmwsuOk/s400/anaconda3.jpg

    Of course, back in those days, I didn’t know about mega-acting theory and thus couldn’t explain my amusement scientifically. But if I had no idea about mega-acting as a concept, and if I still responded to it powerfully (even as a child), then this must surely suggest something like a mega-acting appreciation instinct which is innate in human psychology. So, you see, mega-acting crosses all kinds of boundaries, brings people together, advances the science of psychology, etc.

  17. My favourite ‘rapper acting in a film whilst he listens to his own song’ is in THE WACKNESS when Method Man plays the dealer who starts going on about this amazing new rapper called Biggie Smalls, and the song playing is The What featuring Meth.

  18. I believe the first instance of this phenomenon is THE HARD WAY, in which LL Cool J enters a club that is playing “Mama Said Knock You Out.” He also survives the movie, despite playing the black comic relief in a thriller about a renegade cop going after a serial killer who targets his friends. This experience is clearly what prepared LL to take on both supersmart Mako sharks and Michael Myers.

  19. anaru- I’m surprised anyone could have forgotten this was released in theatres, I don’t think it’s any exaggeration to say this film took the world by storm in 1997, if by “took the world by storm” you mean “was discussed in my playground”. And let’s not forget, this even had a sequel with none of the original cast released in theatres all the way later in 2004!

    Mr. Majestick- I wouldn’t personally put this in the category with MUMMY RETURNS etc., more in a category of post-JURASSIC PARK mid-budget films where they thought poor CGI would somehow overwhelm everything, see also the same year’s SPAWN

  20. I slightly agree with Majestyk – this one’s a little more boring than I wish it was, and nowhere near as fun as Lake Placid or The Relic. But Voight’s performance makes this movie a must-see. It’s mega-acting at its finest: so many quotes, so many great moments, including his last one.

    Not only is it weird now that something as cheesy and Syfy-y as Anaconda got a theatrical release, but I still can’t believe the sequel, Anacondas, got a theatrical run as well, and didn’t do half-bad at the box office! I don’t remember much about it except I thought the origin story for the snakes was clever, and someone re-says Ice Cube’s immortal line, “there snakes out there this BIG?!?” It’s directed by Marked for Death’s Dwight Little and stars Seagal sidekick/antagonist Morris Chestnut, so it may be worth checking out.

  21. “It’s snakes out there THIS BIG?” is one of my favorite line readings from a movie filled with ridiculous ones. Also, “I’m totally lucid right now.”

  22. I always associated ANACONDA with DEEP BLUE SEA and CONGO, two other films that I was too snobby to bother seeing in the 90s. Am I wrong in thinking that DEEP BLUE SEA is seen as the most fun of the three?

    Speaking of snobby: Vincent Castellanos’ scene in MULHOLLAND DR is a hilarious bit of slapstick. It kind of amazes me that Lynch’s most heartbreaking movie is also his funniest.

  23. Pacman: I wouldn’t put it in that category either, but I do think it’s the tipping point that made that category possible.

  24. The Undefeated Gaul

    October 11th, 2013 at 7:37 am

    Jareth, you’re right about DEEP BLUE SEA. It’s an actually good (good as in completely ridiculous but massively entertaining) shark movie, albeit with some crappy CGI effects here and there. It does have a great score by Trevor Rabin that I still listen to a lot. Actually I suspect my liking of the film might be influenced quite heavily by the score, but it is without a doubt much, much better than ANACONDA or CONGO.

  25. I’ve probably seen DEEP BLUE SEA 10 times. It has that Renny Harlin touch that lets everything be completely serious yet completely ridiculous, and you’re not 100% sure if he did that on purpose of he just doesn’t know the difference. I think it’s easily the best of the late 90s CGI monster thrillers.

  26. The Undefeated Gaul

    October 11th, 2013 at 7:49 am

    Also it ends on possibly the best rap song ever created.

    “Deepest, bluest, my head is like a shark’s fin!”

    Bliss.

  27. That’s a good point about Harlin: to this day I’m not sure if I’m supposed to experience LONG KISS GOODNIGHT as an action movie or as a parody of an action movie. Harlin seems to treat the Shane Black script with a kind of self-deprication that most Black scripts don’t usually have (KISS KISS BANG BANG notwithstanding). LONG KISS is as overblown as any Black script, but Harlin seems keen to almost undermine it in places.

    Or maybe he was just shaking things up a bit after the CUT THROAT ISLAND debacle.

  28. I wish I liked Deep Blue Sea as much as you guys. I thought it was a pretty mediocre movie who’s one gimmick that sets it apart (the cast deaths and the order in which they come) wasn’t really that effective (c’mon, the credits say “And Samuel L. Jackson”, i don’t get why people were shocked by his early exit), and it certainly holds no weight on a second viewing. But it’s still watchable and yeah, that end credits song is awesome.

    Congo has some serious pacing issues and shoddy effects work, but I gotta prefer it because of a trio of great performances (Tim Curry, Ernie Hudson, and Delroy Lindo’s amazing cameo). A little mega-acting goes a long way in my book.

  29. I love DEEP BLUE SEA.

  30. Maybe we’ll get a review of DEEP BLUE SEA out of this thread. I feel like we need a detailed analysis of the significance of Samuel L.’s death on this sight.

  31. Neal, what makes Jackson’s deatj in DBS so legendary isn’t THAT he dies, but how (bad effect or not, it’s a pretty surprising and hilarious death) and that it happen’s so early. (“and” usually just means that an actor, who is as famous or even more famous than the real star of the movie, doesn’t play the protagonist, so it could have been pretty possible, that he survives till the end or at least makes it till the last act. I mean, he survived JURASSIC PARK longer!)

  32. I think the impact of the death has lessened over time. The ability to unexpectedly snatch a character out of a shot using CGI was pretty new back then, so it caught everybody off-guard. The audience went NUTS when I saw it. I also remember how surprised I was when that chick got creamed by that bus in BRIDE OF CHUCKY, but now the “character gets hit by a car out of nowhere” death has become so commonplace that you can almost always see it coming. It’s the same thing with DEEP BLUE SEA. You see Jackson start his big speech standing in front of that pool of water and you just know they’re setting him up for a surprise death. It didn’t seem nearly so obvious in 1999.

  33. Did I really wrote “happen’s”? In my defense, I had a shitty day.

  34. The Undefeated Gaul

    October 11th, 2013 at 10:58 am

    It’s too bad Thomas Jane’s career never really came together like I hoped it would. After DEEP BLUE SEA I was sure we’d see more of the guy in bigger productions, I always thought he was definitely leading man material.

  35. I saw this movie like 20 times as a kid when it played on hbo constantly.

  36. Anacondas: hunt for the blood orchid was written by Michael miner and Ed neumier and is technically their writing follow up to Robocop

  37. They sold the pitch in the room for 7 figures.

  38. God, DEEP BLUE SEA is so amazingly cheesy, it’s been a long time since I’ve seen it, but isn’t LL’s character a Christian who only survives a shark attack thanks to him stabbing the shark in it’s eye with his cross?

    and then that scene where the lady electrocutes the shark, but she’s standing on a metal table so she has to take off her rubber wetsuit to stand on leading to a gratuitously awesome underwear shot, you gotta love it

  39. I will grant that Lake Placid is a lot more fun than Anaconda.

  40. CJ – I do gotta give em credit for that extra shot of the two sharks tearing Jackson in half, just to hammer home “yeah, just in case you think he’s coming back, he’s not”.

    Re: the “And…” credits…the most curious case has to be GI Joe Retaliation, where The Rock somehow gets an “And…” credit despite clearly being the main character, and Channing Tatum does not!

    Back to Anaconda, I miss Kari Wuhrer. Even though she was in only a handful of theatrical releases, she had some pretty decent screen presence in everything I’ve seen her in. And yes, her softcore stuff is awesome. It’s also weird to think only 5 years after playing the sexy girl role in Anaconda, she plays Scarlett Johansson’s mom in Eight Legged Freaks.

  41. Now go watch KARATE DOG, where Voight does a Foghorn Leghorn accent as the villain who’s big plan is to develop a dog steroid that’ll help him fix greyhound racing results, and that makes him appear slightly younger than he really is. He also has a martial arts battle at the end with a CGI dog voiced by Chevy Chase, and they both breakdance at one point.

  42. Leave Tom Jane out of this. The guy just wants to see his kids.

  43. Voight in ANACONDA: Anyone else wonder if he was deliberately channeling some of Jack Palance’s scenery-chewing tricks, sly smile-grimaces and hammy speech cadences?

    They leave just enough room for doubt about Duke’s demise in GI JOE: RETALIATION that I’m confident Tatum will return if 1) there’s a third installment and 2) they can afford his salary.

  44. Guys, I am the reason for the ending of DEEP BLUE SEA. Renny Harlin confirmed it. Because of my reaction at the early test screening, they CGIed a new ending. You’re welcome, cinema.

    Stu, so what you’re saying is KARATE DOG is the best movie ever?

  45. Fred, if that’s true, you are one of the unheralded saviours of cinema. DEEP BLUE SEA is Renny Harlin’s best movie, and it’s also where I learned (from LL Cool J) how to properly make an omelette.

  46. Fred, what was your reaction? I assume you pointed out that it’s sexist not to have the monsters fulfill their destiny by killing the mad scientist who created them just because the mad scientist in question happens to be a foxy lady we’ve seen in her underwear.

  47. Re: The hit-by-a-car-out-of-nowhere shot…

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tmYrWXhFf4c

  48. The Undefeated Gaul

    October 13th, 2013 at 2:58 am

    Cool interview. I just saw the trailer for Hercules as well and it looks and sounds like it could be fun, but it’s hard to say. The PG 13 thing worries me. This looks a lot like Immortals and that was pretty much saved by its R rating. Still, Scott Adkins seems to have a bigger role than he was letting on, he’s a proper villain by the looks of it. I was half expecting another Zero Dark Thirty blink-or-you’ll-miss-it bit part.

  49. Fred: The way you pinned Renny Harlin to the mat in record time makes it perfectly clear why you’re Franchise Fred (redundant, I know; we all up in this piece already know this). However, it reminded me of an incident from my near past…..

    [Fires up the wayback machine; summons Sherman & Peabody]

    Now, previously on this website I’ve posted some (so I thought, but not really) outlandish bullshit that allegedly happened to me in REAL LIFE (that tenuous link to the Internet). But this actually occurred (exuent preamble)…..

    [But it happened on the Internet, so technically it’s exempt]. Anyway….. Summer of 2002. I was skimming through an AICN talkback, and someone made this apropos of nothing reference to Eddie Murphy’s standup comedy movie Delirious, making reference to Murphy going off on a weird tangent about Ralph Kramden making Norton his bitch, and ordering him about: “NORTON!….. I want YOU to fuck ME in the ass!”.

    Man>man buttfucking beside the point, a spark of (so I thought) ingenuity fired up in my gray matter: how about a Black Honeymooners Movie? I hovered over the keyboard for about 5-10 minutes, then responded, posting this idea with the following casting ideas:
    Eddie Murphy as Ralph Kramden
    Angela Bassett as his wife Alice
    Eddie Griffin as Ed Norton
    Regina Hall as his wife Trixie.

    I posted all this, as well as a wistful lament that Murphy would probably never go for it, which would torpedo the whole thing. The person who prompted this responded in kind; thought it was a cool idea. And that was the end of it…..

    Until about 6 months later, when I read (either at IMDB or Rotten Tomatoes) that this very idea just got greenlit. YES, some studio lackey halfwit was doing recon on AICN, and actually convinced someone equally moronic in charge that this was a viable idea. I wasn’t pissed at the time, or in retrospect. Movie cost $25 million to make, only grossed $13 million worldwide, was separated by 3 generations between the TV show and the movie’s target audience, and the only casting choice they got right was Regina Hall.

    Anyway, it points up how little intelligence is put into the moviemaking process here in the U.S. Not always, but way too often.

  50. The Original... Paul

    October 14th, 2013 at 5:42 pm

    Ok. Briefly, “Anaconda” is fun because of Voight’s performance and a few fun touches here and there (I didn’t realise it was Owen Wilson in the snake’s belly, but then it’s a while since I’ve seen the film). But it’s neither as fun nor as good as “Deep Blue Sea”.

    Talking of DBS, I read somewhere (I can’t remember where so don’t take this as gospel) that the movie’s ending was changed. They did have Saffron Burrowes’ character survive instead of L L Cool J’s, but everybody liked him and hated her, so they switched. I kinda like the idea of her character being redeemed at the end, but I get that she doesn’t have to survive for that to happen anyway. So I think it was an instance of a good change rather than a bad one here.

    “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.”

    Vern – OH GOD NO. Let’s not have any more monster, alien or zombie movies with that shitty “The humans are the real bad guys here!” ending that has been ruining horror movies for so, so long. “28 Days Later” has to be the worst offender that I can think of offhand (if they’d ended it at the horses, that movie would’ve been damn-near a masterpiece; but no, they had to go and spoil it.) Why would you want this for “Anaconda”? Or any film?

  51. The Original... Paul

    October 14th, 2013 at 5:45 pm

    Wait a sec…

    Fred: “Guys, I am the reason for the ending of DEEP BLUE SEA. Renny Harlin confirmed it. Because of my reaction at the early test screening, they CGIed a new ending. You’re welcome, cinema.”

    That was YOU?

    Was it true about the characters being switched as well?

  52. LL still lived but Saffron got out of the water and saved the day. The scenes of LL with the speargun are reshoots. You can tell the final shots are composed for three but she is CGIed out. I wonder how Saffron felt about that.

  53. “Yo Saffron, this your agent. Listen, that shark movie? They changed the ending because of negative test screenings and now your character dies.”

    “Oh. When are the re-shoots?”

    “They don’t need you. They just digitally remove you from a few shots.”

    “Cool. But they don’t want any money back from me, now that I’m in a few scenes less, right?”

    “Right.”

    “Awesome.”

  54. The Original... Paul

    October 15th, 2013 at 11:05 am

    Fred – wow.

    CJ – hahahaha, love it.

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