Anaconda (1997)

Anaconda (1997)

You can’t scream if you can’t breathe.

A documentary crew set off along the Amazon River to locate and film a mysterious tribe who live in the rainforest. Along the way, they rescue a stranger called Sarone whose boat has been damaged in a storm. It turns out that he is a snake poacher and when an accident befalls the leader of the expedition, Sarone hijacks the boat so that he can hunt down the world’s largest and deadliest anaconda snake.

 

The late 90s was the last ‘great’ period for big screen creature features and by that, I mean the fact they actually got cinematic releases. The likes of Eight-Legged Freaks, Lake Placid, Deep Rising and Deep Blue Sea just don’t get as far as the big screen nowadays, with their modern-day counterparts being relegated to straight-to-streaming services. Anaconda was one of the biggest of this last hurrah and did decent business at the box office, showing producers that there was still a demand for this type of creature feature. Unfortunately for everyone, producers opted to go down the straight-to-video route and thus a glut of creature feature flicks began to emerge from the likes of Nu Image and Sy Fy. If you’re a follower of this site, we all know how that worked out in the end.

Anaconda is the perfect example of a film which should, by all accounts of its story and script, have gone straight to video. The fact it managed to secure a decent budget and attract some big-named celebrities to star in it (Jennifer Lopez and Ice Cube) is baffling but I can think of recent examples where the same can be said – The Meg springs to mind. Did they even read the script before they signed up? Anaconda has a script which really squeezes the life out of the film before it gets going. From stupid characters to plot contrivances and even a first third which adds little to the main plot, the script seems to have been made up on the spot. There are supposed to be experts on this trip but not one person, save for the bad guy, seems to have any real clue about what they’re doing in the jungle. It all leads to a number of scenarios where common sense has been abandoned.

As I’ve said, there’s a first third which is dull as dishwater. There’s not even a hint of the anaconda during this time (save for the prologue) and we get some tedious river boat drama instead as the characters set sail along the Amazon. The cinematography is nice and crisp here with the on-location shooting being particularly pleasing to the eye. The exotic but dangerous jungle provides a nice alternative menace to the characters in the film, as a deadly scuba dive demonstrates. But we’re here for the titular beast and thankfully once it starts to hunt down the crew, Anaconda picks up ahead of steam. Pretty much every major event in the film is predictable enough for seasoned creature feature fans but there’s enough mileage in everything to keep it interesting. There are some tense moments, though you get the impression that some of the set pieces are over too quickly. I’m not surprised given that the anaconda cost $100,000 per second to animate!

The animatronic anaconda works to convey the sense of menace far greater than the CGI version. This is early in the CGI era and there are some ropey moments with the computer snake, but it hasn’t aged too badly in all honesty as this was cutting edge at the time. The snake isn’t used as much as you’d like and a lot of the set pieces with it are standard issue for this type of flick. The problem I have with the snake is that it appears to change size between shots. Sometimes the snake looks absolutely gigantic (like when it’s uncoiling itself from the roof of that old building in the finale) but then a couple of shots later it looks a little bigger than you’d find in a zoo. It moves far too quickly for a snake (especially one with a full stomach) but Anaconda isn’t the first and last killer snake flick to feature lightning-fast reptiles. It’s just an easy plot device to create some tension by having the snake catch up to people running away.

Anaconda has assembled a solid cast, a lot of whom star here before they really made it big. Jennifer Lopez, before she reinvented herself massively, is adequate in the lead role and her pairing with Ice Cube makes for a solid leading duo. Cube pretty much plays himself in any of the films I’ve seen him in so he’s not really acting, just playing it cool and tough and with that solitary facial expression he seems to have. It’s Jon Voight who completely steals and the show when he turns up partway through the film. Voight hams it up massively as slimy snake hunter Sarone to such levels that I’d be hard-pressed to think of another actor overacting as much as he does. That’s not to say he’s bad, in fact he’s so bad that his performance borders on brilliance – sneering and leering with a dodgy accent, Voight is obviously enjoying himself and adds a certain level of cheesy charm to the film. You’re either going to love him or hate him here, there’s no middle ground. I love him. He knows he’s in a bad film and acts the part accordingly.

 

Anaconda has lots of obvious problems but being dull and boring isn’t one of them: it’s entertaining from start to finish and is the perfect popcorn flick to watch when you don’t feel like something too heavy. It’s nowhere as terrible as it’s unwarranted reputation has accrued – for that, you should check out any number of the awful sequels.

 

 ★★★★★★★☆☆☆ 

 

 

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