Release Date: April 11th, 1997 MPAA Rating: PG-13
Director: Luis Llosa Actors: Jennifer Lopez, Ice Cube, Jon Voight, Eric Stoltz, Jonathan Hyde, Owen Wilson, Kari Wuhrer, Danny Trejo
he Amazon basin is the home of legendary 40-foot anacondas, ruthless serpents known to regurgitate their prey in order to hunt again (at least for the sake of this movie and as gruesome foreshadowing). In the Ariau Jungle hotel in Brazil, documentary director Terri Flores (Jennifer Lopez) reunites with specialist Dr. Steven Cale (Eric Stoltz) to shoot a film about the “People of the Mist,” an elusive Indian tribe. They’re joined by narrator Warren Westridge (Jonathan Hyde), production managers Denise (Kari Wuhrer) and Gary (Owen Wilson), and cameraman Danny Rich (Ice Cube), aboard a boat captained by the rugged hunter Mateo (Vincent Castellanos).
Shortly into their journey down the river, they come upon grimacing poacher Paul Serone (Jon Voight), who, based on his constant sneering, shifty glances to Mateo, and the menacing music that plays to introduce him, is up to no good. It’s soon revealed that Serone isn’t interested in directing the crew to a hospital when a poisonous wasp stings Cale, or scavenging for fuel when they drift past a wrecked boat. His goal is to capture a monstrous anaconda alive – easily the largest one in existence. It’s a dangerous task, and the inexperienced filmmakers aren’t keen on aiding in his cause – so they’re taken as prisoners.
“Snakes don’t eat people,” naively insists Terri. As with most killer animal movies, the deadly beast isn’t the only antagonist – humans always find a way to be eviler and crueler. “Anaconda” also employs the often used “creature cam,” which gives viewers a heightened sense of tension as they witness, first-person, what the monster sees. One of the ending scenes shows an inside-the-snake point of view, which is the project’s finest shot. The rest of it is rather typical, with Wuhrer hanging around with an exposed midriff just for sensuality, Lopez in a couple of sequences without a bra and unconvincingly trying to seduce her captor, a fake panther and monkey tossed around for shocks, and character deaths that are predictable several minutes before they occur.
“Anaconda” is one of those horror films that intends to be serious, scary, and bloody, but turns out laughably hokey. The dialogue is absolutely horrendous, with no intellectual bits and no wittiness. This lets the audience fall back on the special effects alone, which are equally appalling. The CG moments are amateurish at best, and the rubbery, animatronic snakes are stiff and unrealistic. It doesn’t help that during the action sequences, the snake keeps changing size – both in girth and length. Its unnatural, high-pitched screams don’t increase its believability either.
But it’s Jon Voight’s painfully fake accent and delirious overacting that really sets “Anaconda” apart from similar creature features (his role is akin to Michael Douglas’ Remington from “The Ghost and the Darkness,” in that he’s easily the most entertainingly out-of-place element). Viewers instantly know he’s the villain by his unchanging scowl, a goofy moue that resembles a deep-sea anglerfish. Throughout the movie, his thin-lipped frown keeps humorously edging its way into shots; even the most charitable horror buff is likely to crack a smile. On the positive side, Voight probably knew how terrible “Anaconda” would turn out and hammed it up on purpose. Surprisingly, this ridiculous movie became a lucrative franchise, spawning an inexplicable three sequels, which is impressive even considering that most were straight-to-DVD or made-for-TV products.
– Mike Massie