This was a staple of my VHS-dominated childhood and I haven’t revisited it in a long time. Anaconda is dopey as hell but there’s something very charming about it.
The mix of early CGI with practical effects makes me happy. It exists in that sweet spot of American genre cinema that’s post-Jurassic Park but pre-superhero movie where could have a crappy monster movie but still see a rubbery mechanical version of the monster itself. There’s also a lot of old-school trickery on show – reverse photography, false-perspective and suggestive angles and POV shots – that makes many of the set-pieces admirable technically and, when watched today, pleasingly dated.
The location work is pretty great all things considered. I love all those shots of the Amazon river at sunset and all the sweaty, jungle atmosphere rendered in nocturnal shades. It doesn’t look like they just faked it all on a set or in a studio tank. It really looks like they tried with this movie, on a level you don’t really get nowadays on films of this ilk. I mean, yes, there’s The Shallows and shit, but with this film I actually believe they took a boat out into the fucking jungle, Herzog style, and dragged a load of snakes along for the ride. They even blow a wall up with dynamite!
I get a kick out of the cast too. We’ve got early performances from J-Lo (fine and easy on the eye), Ice Cube (playing Ice Cube), Danny Trejo and Owen Wilson (hey, Owen Wilson!) as well as hardcore character work from David Hyde Pierce and Jon Voight. Voight’s performance as Paul Serrone is somewhat legendary for its misjudged bombast and imaginary accent. He chews more scenery here than the fucking snakes but you can’t deny that it’s entertaining and a big part of this film’s replay value. I also enjoy how Eric Stoltz gets bed-ridden early on and has to sit much of the film out with a bandage round his neck. Though, the scene where he has the hole cut into his throat was easily a contender for one of the most wince-inducing scenes I ever saw in my youth. Voight getting the bones crushed in his body by an anaconda I can handle, but medical violence? Ouch.
As far as B-movie creature features go, I will always have a soft spot for Anaconda. I mean, I fucking hate snakes and all the shots of the huge mothers in this movie – no matter how rubbery or poorly rendered they may look – always make me shudder. I first saw this film at an age where imagination went much further than computer effects and it honestly worked on me. I admire the attempts at suspense and how director Luis Llosa really embraces the environment for added texture. Even the performances, as hammy or as nutty as they may be – are lots of fun. The fact you’ve got crazy Jon Voight in there as a villain on top of the giant anacondas is just wild. You only get characters like Paul Serrone in movies like this and you’ll never forget him. There’s a sick and knowing sense of humour to the whole thing too which I appreciate. The fact the anaconda throws up Voight’s melted body just for him to get in one last, pervy wink at J-Lo is fantastic. Oh, and that subjective shot from inside the snake’s body as it swallows him whole? Amazing. Had a lot of fun with this. I don’t care how long it’s been since 1997, this flick still does it for me, baby bird.