When it comes to films about creatures terrorizing innocent people, there’s no shortage of the fun you can have. Even if it’s not coming directly from the film itself, somehow you can’t help but enjoy yourself. If you’re lucky, the film will have already tried to meet you half way, but sometimes, the best kinds are the ones that achieve high levels of awesomeness by complete accident.
The Columbia Pictures film “Anaconda” is a delightful blend of fake snakes, decent acting and a flimsy plot that never truly lets you down. While it’s not all I’ll say, I think it’s oddly enough. It aptly sums up this film, which hopefully by now is somehow a favorite of all filmgoers. If not, then those are people missing out on some amazing schlocky entertainment. My opinion on this film has changed over the past 20 years, but my love for it has not. It’s always been the type of creature feature I love, which seriously explains everything you need to know about why I love the “Sharknado” films and most of the others that are shown on SyFy, or any other type of creature feature put out on film. From a modern standpoint, I’d say this film will become a classic like so many other horror films from way back when.
It’s all about the snake. It really is, especially when you think about the sequels that followed. Those were flat out terrible and nothing will ever change that. While I’ve always accepted that there’s a lot to dislike about this film, the snake being one thing, I can’t help but love it the most. Even with this film, the snake and all that it does, makes this film as amazing as it is.
No matter when the anaconda is on screen, it’s always a welcome sight. While the snake isn’t particularly scary at any moment, much like the film itself, it just brings a certain level of realism and fun. It doesn’t even have to be killing anyone. Just stalking some sort of prey or lurking. That’s one of the big pluses with this film. The shots of the snake moving around can’t elicit fear, but instead excitement. Joy. There’s a certain kind of a thrill being had when you know the snake is near. The same thing goes for when it attacks. It’s how I love the snake and have two favorite moments in this film.
The first moment is a little bit past the mid-way point in the film. Jon Voight’s Paul Serone has now taken over the boat and fully shown his treachery, and is trying to capture the snake. While not suspenseful or conveying the slightest bit of fright, unless you’re an eight year old or younger, it’s still thrilling. There’s an energy in everything. It all goes wrong and everyone’s running around trying not to get killed by this surprisingly smart reptile. I can’t look away. And then, when the snake goes after Jennifer Lopez’s Terri Flores, and reveals its true animatronic self, complete with wires still visible, which has gone from being annoying, if it ever was, to being an acceptable and exciting part of the creature, I’m there! I’m caught up in the action. Even thinking about the sequence now makes me want to watch it all over again! That’s how much I love it.
The second sequence, with both animatronics and CGI at work (at least I believe it’s both) is the big finale. After everything before, including the less exciting bits and some of the lazier and wasted “scares”, I’m just looking for this film to end on a high note. It still does. You and the characters have moved into survival overdrive and don’t need much to get involved in the action. Maybe it’s the ludicrous nature of this big finale sequence that does it. Perhaps it’s the two determined lead characters, who really were the only intelligent characters in this whole film, that makes this final bit well worth watching. Whatever it is, I’m always satisfied. Again, I get involved. Should I be? Probably not. This should be a film that just occurs in the background, but because of it’s creature feature and b-movie status, it doesn’t.
While other films of this nature, be it a bunch of snakes on a plane or one with a giant crocodile dominating a lake or some other creature, may not age all that well, and you can pretty much debate that here as well, this one manages to get better with age. Or it could just be me. Hopefully Lopez, Voight and the anaconda can continue to bring this much wild and crazy with each viewing over the next 20 years and beyond.
With a fantastic (even sometimes by today’s standards of practical effects) looking snake (snakes?), doing what we love it doing, the rest of the film can unfold as one would expect. Simply and with some rather blah/decent characters. When looking at this film, no matter how many times you’ve seen it, it’s always truly fascinating because the level of good is quite different depending on which aspects you’re talking about. That then changes the way you watch the film and determine its overall greatness, as well as how much you enjoy it.
Firstly, there’s the basic and semi-uninteresting overall plot. These characters are on an expedition to film a native tribe for a documentary. Pretty basic. But, and this is also quite interesting, it doesn’t stay that way. Twice more it changes but remains simplistic. Instead of a documentary assignment, it becomes a medical emergency, and then finally a rescue mission of sorts. While I typically bemoan such lackluster storytelling in other films like this, particularly the incredibly low-budget films on TV, I can look past this. I think it helps too that the first sequel’s story is even more obnoxious than this. Of course, the fact that the sequel really just screams imitation doesn’t help either.
With a simple story in play, something else can work well and be better than you’d expected. I’m speaking of the characters. They’re decent characters and the performances are fine. They’re not stellar, well, because they’re in this film. It doesn’t demand that. However, they give you characters that are likable and some actually go above just likable, or in the case of Voight’s character, despicable. I found that I actually cared a lot about Lopez, Ice Cube and Eric Stoltz’s characters. Because of the way the film took its time to unspool and get to the action, which is very typical of a horror film, I felt I was rewarded with insights into these characters. The others had their moments too, but it was mostly Stoltz, Lopez and Ice Cube that gave you enough to give a damn. Giving these characters worthwhile jobs also went a long way. How I’m just thinking this is beyond me.
And, of course, you also have some annoying cliché’s plaguing the characters. Most of them just made stupid choices or were useless, and wound up dead. Sure some of these stupid choices were in an effort to escape the snake, but if they’d thought about some basic facts about snakes, they may in fact be alive. Or, if they just weren’t written as your typical sacrificial lamb.
Speaking of deaths! I can’t leave out the deaths. They’re entertaining. That’s really about it. In some ways, they’re also a bit creative and dramatic, but because they’re not too different from one another, which is understandable given what type of animal this is, I can’t fully get behind them. After awhile I just stop caring all that much. These now dead characters served their purpose, so it’s time to move on.
While none of these elements are ever going to make this film some stellar experience, or even one most would admit to having seen, it doesn’t keep it from being fun time and again. Even if I’m expecting it to become background noise, I usually find myself watching it as if it were the first time. I love what’s been given. And a plus could simply be that I started watching this film when I was quite young. At least seven years old or possibly up to 11 years of age, I’m not too sure. The point is that because I’ve always expected a certain low level of entertainment, I’ve never had any other ideas of what this film was trying to be. It was trying to be a fun creature feature with high profile talent. And for that, 20 years later, I’d say this film still succeeds at delivering the best kind of entertainment there is.
The slightly spoiler-y and out of sync trailer:
Originally Released: April 11, 1997
Driector: Luis Llosa
Writers: Hans Bauer, Jim Cash and Jack Epps, Jr.
Starring: Jennifer Lopez, Ice Cube, Jon Voight, Eric Stoltz, Jonathan Hyde, Owen Wilson, Kari Wuhrer, Vincent Castellanos and Danny Trejo