Anaconda

This move answers a lot of questions no one ever asked… how over the top can an actor go before the director will try to stop him? How many fake looking snakes can one film hold? If none of the characters choices make any sense, will an audience still sit through a 90 minute movie?

Anaconda is a 1997 movie starring Jennifer Lopez, Ice Cube, and Jon Voight. The fact that any of these people had a career following this is astounding. It follows a documentary crew as they travel through the Amazon looking for a lost indigenous tribe. Early on their journey they encounter an obvious villain and bring him on board their boat. Why do they bring him on board? Why do they keep him on board in spite of the fact that he’s obviously up to no good? Who knows? The movie sure doesn’t, and it’s hoping you won’t ask either.

This is one of those creatures features that wants to be the next Jaws. It has a mega sized monster that stalks our cast of characters all along the river. It has a group of disparate archetypes all lined up to feed the monster. It has a legendary character actor hamming it up. However, Jaws was made with skill and craft and an eye for the logic of the story. This movie is made with pure 90’s excess and an eye for maximizing box office potential.

Jon Voight plays the obvious villain. He has a scar along one side of his face. His mouth is constantly sneering in comical fashion. He looks like his upper lips smells terrible, and he’s really made about it. He puts on one of the most outrageous accents of all time. Where is it from? The character is Portuguese. The accent is pure fantasy. Seriously no one in history has ever spoken the way Jon Voight does in this movie. Could this be campy fun? It’s too boring to be campy fun. The script is so dull and lifeless that no matter how far over the top Voight goes, it’s still boring. This performance is the epitome of watching someone try to act their way out of a brown paper bag. He’s trying, but he’s still stuck in that bag.

The snakes in the film range from real snakes, to absurd looking animatronics, to late 90’s cgi. None of them are very convincing. Even when real snakes are used, they still somehow look fake. Most commonly, a big snake puppet is used. This is both the best and the worst of the snakes. It looks the most real. It is tangible and present in the shot, and that is so valuable. However, its movements are stiff and awkward. It just looks so fake and silly as it jerks and sways its away through the movie. Combine this slow clumsy movement with the snake when it is replaced by CGI. The CGI looks like a shiny 40ft black hose that moves faster and smoother than anything in history could ever move. It’s just bad effects work that just calls attention to itself, but never in a fun look how bad it is way. Just a boring incompetent way.

The movie feels like it was stretched too thin by the producers. It was a silly jungle adventure with a giant monster. They stretched it too thin by adding plot elements and characters that they thought would make it more marketable. Add Ice Cube, he’s popular. Add Jennifer Lopez to play a sexy documentarian, so we can get our sex appeal. Add a villain who can be defeated by the monster. Add a big final battle set piece between our heroes and the snake. Did the snake get killed earlier? Just add another giant snake. Problem solved. This feels like a film made by committee. Too many voices diluted the project to the point that it feels neutered and bland. This isn’t a directors vision that went wrong. This isn’t a disaster of a production that resulted in an entertaining mess. This is a bad movie that got watered down to make it as marketable as possible.

There is one successful moment. A character flees the snake by climbing up a waterfall. The anaconda follows him. He is trapped. He leaps from the waterfall toward the pool below. He’s saved! Nope. The snake swings its massive cgi body and snatches him out of the air. It’s a genuinely effective moment. Too bad it’s the only one.

I don’t like this movie. If you do, more power to you. Its not my cup of tea. – D

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