Anaconda (1998)

Personally, I blame Steven Spielberg. Think about it. Big Steve makes Jaws and look: lots of  giant-animals-eat-people movies glut the screens, sharing much more with the disaster movies of the 70s than any decent daikaiju movie. Predictably, most of them suck. Here’s another one for the barbie. And even though Anaconda isn’t that much of a Jaws rip-off (now, Devil Fish and Up From the Depths, on the other hand. . .) it still blows like a whale.

So there I was, giddy as a schoolgirl over the fact that I finally, finally got HBO. So there I am, back of my chair temporarily attached to my spine, ready to turn my brain completely off for…oh, I don’t know…two hours would be good. Then I spot Anaconda. “Hmmm…there might be a fun way to waste two hours. Giant snake eats people, sounds like a no-brainier to me.”

But wait! a voice in my head gasped. It’s nothing more then another Jaws rip-off! You know it, I know it and a butt load of other critics know it.

“So? Critics have been wrong before.”

Yeah, but they’ve been right too. Come on, TNT’s showing The Blues Brothers for, like, the hundredth time and we both know that’s good. Wouldn’t we rather watch that, instead?

“No.” Damnit. I should learn to trust myself.

After an obligatory Person Is Munched On By Unseen Monster prologue, we meet our cannon fodder. Er…characters. A documentary film maker named Terri (Jennifer frickin’ Lopez) leads our sacrificial lambs, accompanied by Dr. Steve (Eric Stoltz), her anthropologist boytoy. Danny (Ice Cube), serves as camera guy and Token Black Dude, while Warren Westridge (Jonathan Hyde) rounds out the cast as the documentary’s narrator and all around stiff-assed Bit. Then there’s Gary (Owen Wilson), whom I don’t care about. Good thing he dies. Along with his chick someone I don’t care about who will die; and Denise (Kari Wuhrer), his chick.

These (*ahem*) people are all on a quest to photograph some long lost, made-up Amazonian tribe of snake worshipers. They sail around the Amazon aimlessly for awhile and stumble upon Paul Sarone (Jon Voight). Paul is some sort of risk taking adventurer dude, a male Laura Croft, who’s newest bit of raping the natural world involves selling off a 40-foot snake to the highest bidder. (Probably the Japanese – they love this giant monster crap.) Utilizing his new position as tour guide, Paul lures J-Lo’s boatload of filmmakers into Sankapalooza.

Now, Voight plays this role with such nasty duplicity I found myself screaming, “He’s evil you morons! Eeeevillll!”. No one in the film took notice. Soon, Paul strategically deploys a wasp that wipes Dr. Steve out. Pulling a Starscream, Paul nominates himself as New Leader, setting up an inevitable confrontation with J-Lo. Can we guess the plot form here?

Paul’s leadership ensures the rest of the cast’s death. The giant snake gets four of them before exiting itself. Too bad the snake is such an obvious puppet. I’ve seen made for TV movies with better anamatronics then this. In fact, I believe the snake won “Worst New Star” at 1998’s Razzie awards, a well desserved honor. But we’ll save the special effects discussion for later.

Now, I have to spoil the plot. lest you find yourself idelly contemplating a night alone with Anaconda (you sad, pathetic thing, you). Unfortunately, our first snake dies at the surviving “filmmaker’s” hands. I say first because, several more badly paced scenes latter on, another snakes shows up to try and settle the score. Terri and Danny face it alone after Paul gets what’s coming to him, being the villain and all. Mercifully, Paul’s death ends John Voight’s over-acting. This second snake dies in a fuel explosion before it can end Lopez’s under-acting. The survivors sail back to civilization, and I’m glad to see the Token Black Dude come out alive. But I’m happier to see the end of this authentically awful film.

How in on Earth this movie got a theatrical release just became the 8th Wonder of My World. Not only do the normally sad actors (Cube, who plays himself no matter the film the film, and B-movie regular Kari Wuhrer) turn in there usual dismal performances, normally competent actors like Voight completely embarrass themselves. Mr. Midnight Cowboy really botched this one up big time, while Lopez, like so many before her, tries and fails to Xerox Sigourney Weaver’s Ellen Ripley. In  the Amazon.

As mentioned above, the anamatronic snake looks like a prop stolen from Dragnet. (Okay, that was a reticulated python. Sue me.) We should enjoy the opportunity to stare deeply into the puppet’s emotionless, obviously glass, eyes. Are we suppose to be afraid of this twitching robot? Now, the snake’s CGI counterpart, on the other hand, is lightning fast, almost ghostly-smooth, restricted to a few scenes by the movie’s wasted budget. The difference between the two techniques  is laughingly obvious.

As is the script. This bastard won “Worst Screenplay” too. Thank you very much, Mr. Hans Bauer, Jim Cash and Jack Epps. You’ve managed to pound out a movie as bland as week old coffee left on a radiator. The fact that it took three of you to do it only underlines the reason why you are all hereby banned from word processing software for eternity.

The rest of you, consider yourselves warned:  stay far, far away. This film is nothing more than an excuse for director Luis Llosa to film a snake eating people. And it’s all  Spielberg’s fault. Your flaming bag of dog poo will arrive in four to six business days, Stephen. Serves you right for abandoning the American daikaiju genre to whores, hacks and wanna-Spielbergs.  Well, you just have fun celebrating xenophobia and war, polishing the Oscars you’ll no-doubt win the for your efforts. The rest of us will have to deal with what your little 1975 revolution wrought.  And one day, we’ll get our revenge for it…in my imagination.


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