Today, I’m going to delve into one of the more notorious modern creature features: 1997’s Anaconda.
The plot of Anaconda is summarized on IMDb as follows:
A National Geographic film crew is taken hostage by an insane hunter, who takes them along on his quest to capture the world’s largest – and deadliest – snake.
Three writers were credited for work on the screenplay for Anaconda: Hans Bauer (Titan A.E., Komodo), Jim Cash (Dick Tracy, Turner & Hooch), and Jack Epps, Jr. (Top Gun, Legal Eagles, The Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas).
The director of Anaconda was Luis Llosa, whose other directorial credits include The Specialist, Sniper, and Fire On The Amazon, among a handful of others.
The primary cast of Anaconda is made up of Jennifer Lopez (Money Train, The Cell, Gigli), Jon Voight (Baby Geniuses 2, Bratz, Coming Home, Deliverance, Mission: Impossible), Owen Wilson (The Haunting, Wedding Crashers, Marmaduke, Zoolander, The Darjeeling Limited, The Royal Tenenbaums), Ice Cube (Barbershop, 21 Jump Street, Ghosts of Mars, Friday, Three Kings, Torque), Danny Trejo (Desperado, From Dusk Till Dawn, Machete, Spy Kids, xXx, Con Air), Eric Stoltz (Pulp Fiction, The Prophecy, Jerry Maguire, Mask), and Jonathan Hyde (Jumanji, Titanic, The Mummy, Crimson Peak).
Anaconda‘s editor was Michael R. Miller, whose other movies include Mr. Destiny, The Marrying Man, Raising Arizona, Miller’s Crossing, Ghost World, Mr. Magoo, and Soul Plane.
The cinematographer for the film was Bill Butler, who also shot such films as Frailty, Jaws, Cop and A Half, Child’s Play, Grease, Rocky IV, Capricorn One, Stripes, and Can’t Stop The Music.
The musical score for Anaconda was composed by Randy Edelman, who has also worked on xXx, Son of the Mask, DragonHeart, The Mask, My Cousin Vinny, Ghostbusters 2, Underdog, and Balls of Fury, among many, many others.
The extensive team of special effects and animatronics workers for the film included common elements with such movies as Deep Blue Sea, Snakes on a Plane, Evolution, Species, Waterworld, Mimic, Leprechaun 4, The Island of Doctor Moreau, Class of 1999, and Demolition Man.
Rifftrax, a company made up of former hosts and writers for Mystery Science Theater 3000, held a live theatrical simulcast of Anaconda on Thursday, October 20, 2014, complete with a live commentary track of humorous riffs.
Anaconda racked up an impressive total of six Golden Raspberry Award nominations (which are given annually to the worst movies and performances of the year), including Worst Picture, Worst Director, and Worst Screenplay. It was later named as one of The 100 Most Enjoyably Bad Movies Ever Made in the Official Razzie Movie Guide.
Famed television actress Gillian Anderson was considered at one point for the lead in Anaconda, but ultimately had too many conflicts with filming The X-Files. Likewise, Jean Reno was apparently seriously considered for the antagonist role that went to Jon Voight.
The production budget for Anaconda was estimated at $45 million, on which it took in a lifetime theatrical gross of roughly $136.9 million, making it a significant hit. It thus wound up with a theatrical sequel (Anacondas: Hunt For The Blood Orchid), two television sequels (Anaconda 3: Offspring and Anacondas: Trail of Blood), and a crossover television film, Lake Placid vs. Anaconda.
Critically, however, the movie didn’t do nearly as well. It currently holds an unenviable 4.7/10 IMDb user rating, along with Rotten Tomatoes scores of 38% from critics and 24% from audiences.
Despite that reception, Anaconda had a handful of prominent apologists. Notable among them was Roger Ebert, who gave Anaconda a solid 4.5 star review, saying:
“Anaconda” is an example of one of the hardest kinds of films to make well: a superior mass-audience entertainment. It has the effects and the thrills, but it also has big laughs, quirky dialogue and a gruesome imagination. You’ve got to like a film where a lustful couple sneaks out into the dangerous jungle at night and suddenly the guy whispers, “Wait–did you hear that? Silence!”
While I think that Ebert was way too easy on the film, I can certainly agree with one aspect of his review: this movie is certainly entertaining. It is pretty clear from the beginning that everyone involved knew that they were making a popcorn flick, and aimed for entertainment value wherever they could. At the same time, there are certainly some places where the mark was clearly missed.
First, however, I think it is worth pointing out that the concept here is really good: river adventures can make for pretty damn cool movies. They offer an interesting mix of tense claustrophobia on board the ship with the constant presence of unknown, exterior threats laying just beyond the banks of the river. The combination can make for some really intense intrigue when done well. Examples from over the years include everything from Werner Herzog’s Fitzcarraldo, to Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now, to this year’s The Lost City of Z (which is totally worth seeking out). However, Anaconda has the distinction of botching this concept quite hilariously, and it all begins and ends with the curious and bizarre performance of Jon Voight.
While Jon Voight’s astoundingly awful accent is without question the biggest problem with his character, his mind-numbing performance goes far beyond that. Don’t get me wrong, whatever he was doing with that accent was probably shockingly racist, if anyone could have figure out what race he was trying to emulate. However, his physical performance and vocabulary are equally weird. I’m sure that the result was supposed to be mysterious and intimidating, like a more villainous version of Robert Shaw’s Quint from Jaws. Instead, Voight is just disgustingly off-putting: more like a subway masturbator than a terrifying, knife-wielding killer.
The eponymous anacondas have gotten a whole lot of flak from critics over the years. However, I have to say, the snake puppets and animatronics are totally servicable in my book. Outside of some odd jerking motions, they are still pretty convincing today. That said, the CGI snakes are a pretty stark contrast to them, and leave much to be desired during their sequences.
Overall, I think Anaconda is a pretty enjoyable ride. Jon Voight sort of makes and breaks this flick: he shatters any potential it may have had to be a legitimately good movie, but he also distinguishes it from from the glut of blockbuster mediocrity, and single-handedly solidified the movie as a cult classic with his outlandish performance. The presence of such a recognizable cast gives it some bonus points as well, because who hasn’t wanted to see Owen Wilson and Ice Cube bonding over snake-related peril? The added dimension of half-assed effects work and old-school puppetry makes the movie more than worth revisiting for a casual laugh for die hard bad movie fans and others alike.
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