Saturday, October 3, 2015

Anaconda (1997, Movie Review)

         Earlier this month I commented that no animal on earth scares me or bothers me more than spiders, but on the opposite side of that coin, one of my favorite animals that I personally can’t get enough of are snakes. Ever sense I was a little kid, I loved snakes, I had snakes for pets and of all the snakes on the planet, it was the anaconda that I was the most obsessed with. Back then, anaconda’s stood out among snakes just like how the T-Rex always stands out as the coolest dinosaur. When the 1997 horror adventure movie “Anaconda” came out, you can bet I was excited to see it. I was probably six or seven years old at the time, but that didn’t stop me from seeing this. I actually remember my parents getting very concerned that the film might be too disturbing or scary, but I loved every second of it. This was actually one of the very first horror movie experiences I ever had in my life, so I can’t help but look back on it while wearing the nostalgia goggles, but how has it aged over the years, is it really any good? To be very straight forward, the answer is no, in fact you could call this the pore mans version of “Jaws”, but it is still a lot of fun to watch, and a small yet classic product of the 90’s.  

       The movie begins with scrolling text all “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” style, as it tries to put you in the mindset that what you’re about to see is based on real events revolving around people attacked by giant snakes. That tone is immediately shot in the foot with the opening snake attack scene, in which an anaconda attacks a boat house, which is incredibly cheesy and over the top, but at least they keep the snack off screen during this attack, that way it can still surprise us later. Our real adventure begins in the Amazon, a film crew are sailing down the river in search for a mysterious tribe in hopes to shoot a documentary revolving around their culture. However, they find themselves taking on an unexpected passenger who claims to know the rivers well, and offers to help guide them on their expedition. In truth, this mysterious man is actually a snake hunter, and leads the boat off course in hopes to hunt down a massive and deadly anaconda. Passengers are suddenly disappearing, and the river seems to take one nasty turn after another. The film crew soon find themselves up the Amazon River without a paddle, as their at the mercy of an unstable poacher, and an even more dangerous river monster that won’t hesitate to make meals out of them. 

       I have to say, for a cheap “B” grade monster movie, it actually has a respectable cast of talented actors including Jennifer Lopez, Ice Cube, Jon Voight, Owen Wilson, Danny Trejo and Jonathan Hyde. All the characters are your typical, cardboard cut out’s you’d expect from a film like this, but the cast actually makes them salvageable. Jonathan Hyde plays a typical rich guy, but I grew up with the actor in so many films from the 90’s like “Jumanji”, “Titanic”, “The Mummy” and it’s always a small treat to have him in a film. Owen Wilson is very restrained as the comedic relief turned Judas, as he sides with the villain at the cost of his friends. Ice Cube is the typical “cool tough guy”, and to be fair, he actually has his cool moments, and stands out when he’s on screen. Jennifer Lopez is our star, and I have to say, she holds herself very well in this film, and has a fairly captivating screen presence. Now I’m not just saying that just because she’s incredibly beautiful (which she certainly is), but for all that she was given to work with, she looks totally committed to the role and dose everything in her power to deliver a believable performance. Obviously not Oscar worthy, but still good considering what little she had to work with, and I love that her character manages to stay strong without becoming your typical, over the top, bad ass action star. 


     Of course the star who completely steels the show is Jon Voight as the films generic evil hunter who’s obsessed with capturing the snake. I swear, Jon Voight is having the time of his life in this role as a scary snake hunter, and he’s just savoring every juicy moment of the film. You can tell, he knows what kind of film this is, he knows how clichéd his character is, and he’s just going to take the role and run with it. While his performance is enjoyably over the top, he does still shine in some scary moments. Now in all seriousness, Jon Voight is a very respectable actor, and has turned in some truly Oscar worthy performances in his carrier. But that only makes it all the more fun to see him go so over the top in this film. For the actor, he must have been treating it like a mini vacation away from all the quality films he’s used to staring in.

       With all the characters addressed, lets finally talk about the main event, and that’s the films giant snake. It’s not clear how many different anacondas attack our hero’s because we see the characters kill more than one, but regardless I’ve often regarded the anaconda in this film as a memorable movie monster in its own right, maybe even on par with Jaws. It goes without saying that this is a monster movie and it will depict anacondas as anything but realistic. Well, that’s what it’s supposed to be like, but so many people feel the need to point out the obvious, that while giant snakes are real, they’d never do any of the things depicted in this film. Come on guys, it’s a monster movie, it’s supposed to be over the top, and for whatever it’s worth, the over the top stuff is actually kind of subtle when compared to what other monster movies have done. The creature effects are all really good, but they’re not class art either. There’s some serviceable CG, but for the most part the snake is an animatronic puppet, which looks awesome. Much like the Giant ants in the 50’s classic “Them!” it doesn’t look real, but it’s still a spectacle whenever it’s on screen. Plus, it’s just really nice to have something on the set with the actors as opposed to a monster that only exists in a computer.

       The music is all good and the cinematography is excellent, I especially love all the POV shots that put you in the snakes perspective. There are even some beautiful locations which also allow for some creative action scenes. There’s a moment when our hero’s are stuck at a waterfall and it’s the perfect setting for a big action spectacle with our deadly river beast. There’s also a fine variety of different snake attacks, we never see the same kind of action scene twice, and the film never gives us too much of a good thing, it’s just the right amount. Plus, the passing in this movie is terrific, and manages to stay entertaining even without the big snake. The river itself is a very exciting, mysterious and alienating place with ominous totem poles, a wooden wall full of snakes blocking their path and there’s one scene involving a scuba diver and a poisonous wasp that was probably the most terrifying moment of the whole film. Some of the horror elements work while others are kind of laughable. The one scene that always stood out the most to me is an underwater shot of the snake swimming, and we can see the imprint of a human body inside, which should have been scary but it looks ridiculous.

       It all builds to a thrilling climax in which our last surviving hero’s get captured by the hunter and are used as bait to lour the anaconda into a massive boat house where the final battle takes place. The villain gets a very memorable death, as he’s eaten alive, then vomited up and finally his corps gives a little wink. Then the snake chases our hero’s though out the complex, up a smoke stack, blown sky high and then Ice Cube delivers the finishing touch. Its great stuff and probably one of the best finales to any animal attack movie I’ve ever seen.   

       Before I wrap up this review, let’s take a look at all the different sequels, crossovers and rip-offs. In 2004 there was “Anacondas: The Hunt for the Blood Orchid” which was the only “Anaconda” sequel to be released in the theater. When I was younger, I loved this sequel and found it to be every bit as good, if not better then the first. However, it hasn’t aged well with me at all, it lacks all the charm of its predecessor, the effects are far worse and it just takes itself much too seriously.
Then there was “Anaconda 3: Offspring” and “Anacondas: Trail of Blood” that were released on the Sci-Fi channel, but they looked like garbage, so I never bothered to watch either of them. Then in 2015 there was a crossover movie also released on the Sci-Fi channel titled “Lake Placid vs. Anaconda”, which I also haven’t seen. It’ll probably be stupid but I might just check it out for curiosity sake and because when I was a kid, I always wanted to see an Anaconda meets Lack Placid film. After the box office success of “Anaconda”, there were several other rip-off movies that tried to bank on the concept of a giant snake. There was the “Boa” film series, the “Python” film series, both of which had crossovers of their own. Why can’t we have snake attack movies with normal sized snakes, that might actually be scarier, in fact I remember seeing a movie called “Silent Predators” in 1999 that involved rattle snakes invading a neighborhood area, and that was actually kind of terrifying. Then of course there was “Snakes on a Plane” in 2007 which was every bit a product of its time just like “Anaconda”, and while it was slightly entertaining, it just didn’t have the same B monster movie enjoyment that “Anaconda” mastered so perfectly.

      On that note, what’s my final verdict of the 1997 picture “Anaconda”, personally I think its outstanding B movie trash. You won’t get much more out of this movie then a simple dumb monster film about a killer snake, but that’s all still very fun if you go in with a mind set for cheesy, enjoyable popcorn entertainment. It offers me just enough action, eye candy and monster fun to make it worth re-watching in a span of maybe six or seven years. So take it for what it’s worth, a cheesy fun monster movie, and I still enjoy it.

                                                    I give “Anaconda” 3 stars out of 5

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