Anaconda (1997)

An ophidiophobic creature-feature by a cast full of music-cameos with a shockingly decent storyline, Voight, sin-themes, & plenty of big constrictor action, Anaconda’s laughable CGI and ludicrous non-realism constrict but don’t swallow its entertainment whole. 6/10.

Plot Synopsis: Filmmaker Terri Flores (Jennifer Lopez) is traveling deep in the Amazon jungle looking for a forgotten tribe. Terri and her crew, which includes an anthropologist (Eric Stoltz) and a cameraman (Ice Cube), come across Paul (Jon Voight), who is stranded on the riverbank. He offers to help them find the tribe, but his secretive behavior puts everyone on edge. They realize too late that he’s using them to find a legendary anaconda that’s worth a fortune — if they can catch it.

*Possible Spoilers Ahead*

Official CLC Review

A Trip To The Amazon

A Guilty-Pleasure Blockbuster Genre Blossoming In The 1900’s, Creature-Features Needed A Big Ophidiophobic Counterpart

Photograph Courtesy Of: Columbia Pictures

The creature-feature genre has with a long history in Hollywood: from the 1930’s classic monster movies in more supernatural-motifs like Frankenstein, The Wolfman, Dracula, & Creature From The Black Lagoon to ’70’s/’80’s sci-fi ones like Alien, Predator, & The Thing to pseudo-natural recurrences like King Kong & Godzilla. Then, there was Jaws – a masterwork of naturalized terror that showed that you don’t need such elaborate supernatural, alienic, or skyscraper-high creatures to evoke horror; just look at the ones already in nature. There have been plenty of ones since about Sharks, Spiders, Lizards, & Apes – but there was always one major phobia missing from the canvas: Snakes. The perfect pitch and entry-point eliciting a canvas full of superstar pop-stars likely begging to have a part here, and you have Anaconda. An ophidiophobic creature-feature by a cast full of music-cameos with a shockingly decent storyline, Voight, sin-themes, & plenty of big constrictor action, Anaconda’s laughable CGI and ludicrous non-realism constrict but don’t swallow its entertainment whole.

A Strong Establishment & Natural Themes

An Uneasy Alliance, Documentary-Shift, & Classic ‘Don’t Pick Up Strangers’ Parable – Plenty Of Big Constrictor Action & Sins

Photograph Courtesy Of: Columbia Pictures

For a blockbuster like this, the plotline is surprisingly.. interesting. The film follows a group of documentary filmmakers as they descend in to the primordial Amazon to film the secretive Shimishuri tribe – but come across a ‘stranded’ mystery person they offer to help on the banks of the river. Although the strangers’ actions seem benevolent and he even saves some of them from natural dangers in the jungle, there is a secretive sketchiness about his actions that forms an uneasy-alliance – one that eventually proves our gut-feelings right when he uses promises of big pay-days and dreams to trick some crewmates and mutinies the ship as a cargo-vessel for his true goal: hunting a monster snake in a forbidden area of the jungle; one that picks them off one-by-one. The storyline reverberates natural & sin human themes as scary as the omnipotence of snakes & predators outside: survival-of-the-fittest, hierarchies, fear, greed, lies, sex, & disregard for human-life through second-hand murder for a shockingly-visceral plotline that entertains in the aptly-chosen steamy primal Amazon Rainforest. Of course, a script is only as good as the performances to bring it to life – and Anaconda’s will have tons of easily-recognizable faces.

The Performances & Cast

A Canvas Of Music Superstars Who Shockingly Hold Their Own, Nescient Owen Wilson, Trejo, & Effective Villain In Voight

Photograph Courtesy Of: Columbia Pictures

The biggest wildcard of the whole project is the cast, one full of music-superstars and eventual A-listers in their earliest possible stages – but one that somehow works very well. The performances are solid by the two biggest names and superstar leads: Ice Cube’s Danny Rich and Jennifer Lopez’s show-stealing Terri Flores – a charming reveal that J.Lo is a surprisingly-talented actress outside of her pop-star career. It is a funny pleasure to see Owen Wilson in his awkward teen-phase just learning how to act before he would blow up to become one of the biggest names in comedies, and not only is Jonathan Hyde featured – but as is Danny Trejo, a national treasure and enough said. The best performance is clearly Jon Voight’s Sarone though – a sly, delusive, culturally-infused trickery villain that makes you absolutely hate him in one of the most effective blockbuster antagonist roles of the few years around him as he enacts a sadistic, merciless plan to utilize live bait in his one goal: to hunt a massive Amazonian anaconda. The film easily delivers on its central promise: loads and loads of high-octane snake violence. This might be one of the most carnage-heavy creature-features of its time – as we see each crewmember get picked off one-by-one by a natural-slasher who watches from just above the periphery of the water’s edge.

The Cinematography & Score

A Quirky Collection Of Out-Of-The-Box Shots & POV-Exposition Into The Eyes Of Its Ana; A Nice Tribal/Jungle Sound Aesthetic

Photograph Courtesy Of: Columbia Pictures

The anaconda is one of nature’s most fascinating and cruel creatures – so scary and perverse, it doesn’t just grant its victims a quick death with venom or slashes; it constricts their skeleton until the bones crunch into powder and veins pop, a slow and mercilessly-painful death enough to evoke nightmares. While the CGI & non-realism of the snake is.. well, stupid (as we’ll explain later), the hunt and everpresent threat of the snake creates an atmosphere of predator dread that is pretty effective – brought to life by the film’s quirky cinematography and score. The film’s shot-style is filled with out-of-the-box imaginative shots like a shot from inside the mouth of the anaconda as it devours its prey whole (one of our favorite shots in monster movies) and endless POV-exposition into the eyes of the snake as it stalks our victims and prey – one that’s impressive in water-skimming realism and tilt shots from within the trees that takes cues from Jaws (and Creature From The Black Lagoon in the whole Amazon river and creature-in-the-water/boat aesthetic) and adds a couple of good scenes itself like the panther-strike night one. The score adequately uses tribal and jungle sounds to elicit the mood it needed to and provide that transportive oomph that makes it feel plausible, a nice Randy Edelman soundtrack that combines everything from peculiar ancient flutes to to low horns; big adventure pieces to horror on-the-run; the beauty and dread of nature.

The CGI & Ridiculousness

Laughable CGI & The Most Ridiculous/Non-Realistic Version Of Film-Snakes – Have They Ever Seen A Real Snake Before?

Photograph Courtesy Of: Columbia Pictures

Now, the flaw. The CGI is so laughable, cartoonish, and not even remotely-realistic, I do not blame anyone who failed this film on this ground alone. It is so bad, I have to wonder: have the filmmakers ever seen a real snake before? They slither slowly and stealthily, striking in short bursts when needed but the whole point – and why they have become so omnipotent as evil-symbology in pop culture and religion – of their scariness being sly, stealthy tricksters like the devil (or Sarone who parallels the theme nicely in his elaborate sacrificial plan). From the very first scene of the film with Trejo, the anaconda is the most unrealistic anaconda in the history of anacondas. This snake bangs on floorboards like King Kong, descends from ceilings like Spider-Man, wraps around prey in mid-air, and moves at the speed-of-light – as well as eats every crewmember within a few hours or days when one kill of the size of a human would phyisologically last an anaconda a few weeks or months, and incapacitate them since they swallow their prey whole and have to digest this massive lump in their stomachs. The fact that the film posits that this is just some natural anaconda from the jungle and not a super-snake is irresponsible and decimates the realism the rest of the film nicely floats.

Conclusion

A New Creature-Feature

A Cult Classic With Solid Performances, Decent Plot, & Big Snake Action That’s Fun If Not Taken Seriously – & Forgiven For CGI

Photograph Courtesy Of: Columbia Pictures

Overall, Anaconda is a mixed package that has become a cult classic creature-feature by its jungle-aesthetic entertainment and solid performances and plotting by a superstar-famed cast – although I completely understand the urge to fail it our of its CGI & ludicrous non-realism alone. The genre needed a big snake challenger and newcomer to add to the canvas, and this fits the bill (as long as you don’t take it or yourself too seriously.) J.Lo is fantastic, Ice Cube is good, Trejo and Owen Wilson a joy, and Voight a treasure as one of the most hateably-effective villains in that awkward late-90’s blockbuster phase. The cinematography is full of out-of-the-box shots, score establishes its tribal feel nicely, and narrative interesting, only to be taken to by a sledgehammer by the innate decision to have this Anaconda move at light-speed and bang on floorboards like King Kong instead of a snake like all other snakes moving slowly and stealthily – just as scary in its own right. An ophidiophobic creature-feature by a cast full of music-cameos with a shockingly decent storyline, Voight, sin-themes, & plenty of big constrictor action, Anaconda’s laughable CGI and ludicrous non-realism constrict but don’t swallow its entertainment whole.

Official CLC Score: 6/10