Why Anaconda is the Best Creature Feature besides Jaws:
Anaconda is a film that, on first glance, seems relatively two-dimensional and shallow. So why am I devoting an entire article to it? Because there’s a surprising amount of conversation to pull from this movie. In hindsight, it’s a movie that begs the question: how did this happen? How did so many recognizable (and in most cases, talented) people come together and allow this movie to ever leave the editing room? We’ll answer that question after examining what good and bad qualities converge to make this a movie worth a watch, and a brief summary for those who’ve never heard of this critical dud.
Anaconda was a 1997 box office success, about a National Geographic film crew that heads to the Amazon Rainforest in the pursuit of a lost tribe, and becomes tangled up in the schemes of Paul Serone (played by Jon Voight), who is hunting a legendary anaconda along the Amazon River. The film stars Jennifer Lopez and Ice Cube in the leading woman/leading man roles, and Owen Wilson also makes an appearance. Until he gets eaten by a snake, that is.
There’s a lot of “so-bad-it’s-good” to love here, so I’ll get the “just plain bad” out of the way first. The movie is directed by Luis Llosa—famous for practically nothing else—and it’s easy to see why. The direction is some of the least interesting, stagnant work I’ve ever seen in a movie, and there’s a ridiculous over-use of scenes shot from the point of view of the anaconda itself. What’s surprising is that Anaconda’s cinematographer is Bill Butler—the same guy who shot Steven Spielberg’s Jaws. Most viewers probably have no idea what talent is behind the camera, and it’s hard to blame them.
That being said, some of the bad is just so good. Jon Voight especially is a joy to watch, putting on what could quite possibly be the worst accent ever committed to the big screen. Seriously, it doesn’t matter what his character is saying—every line that comes out of his mouth is overshadowed by a mangled speech pattern so atrocious, it’s nearly impossible to discern what Jon Voight was going for. And on that subject, let me take a moment to emphasize that this a movie where Jon Voight, legendary actor famous for films such as Deliverance and Coming Home (for which he won an Academy Award), is eaten alive and subsequently regurgitated by a giant snake.
Make no mistake, the producers of this movie managed to make some good choices. An animatronic is almost always used each time the anaconda finally shows up on screen, and it actually looks exceptional. When it’s replaced by CGI, it’s noticeable but not horrible, the huge snake moving just a hair too fast to be realistic. But realism is hardly the goal in a Creature Feature like this anyway.
And don’t be deterred by the PG-13 rating, either: the movie benefited from the more lax rating standards of the 1990’s, and is surprisingly gruesome. The camera doesn’t cut away from characters getting constricted and thrown around in various circumstances, and the action is always clear—a positive consequence of director Luis Llosa’s habit of simply pointing the camera at what’s happening with little thought to originality or style.
In 2015, it can be confusing to look back on this movie when one keeps in mind the star power the actors eventually achieved. How did everyone come together to pump out such a terrible movie, nominated for a total of six Razzie awards (including, hilariously, Jon Voight and the animatronic snake for Worst Screen Couple)?
Concerning Bill Butler going from Jaws to Anaconda, I honestly have no idea. I can only guess that he was so desperate to shoot another film centering on a giant, aquatic killing machine that he settled for this.
Ice Cube and Jennifer Lopez were both still relatively fresh as actors, and so probably had little choice but to star opposite each other in this film. Although in all honesty, this is probably one of the better films in both of their careers.
Answering the question of how an actor like Jon Voight ended up in Anaconda is easier than expected. An examination of his filmography reveals he is more than willing to scrape the bottom of the barrel—he starred in Superbabies: Baby Geniuses 2, and a cheesy-yet-enjoyable monster movie is a massive step up from an abomination like the inexplicable Baby Geniuses franchise.
Hopefully, everything I’ve mentioned in this write up of Anaconda has convinced some of you to give the movie a second look. Watch talented and legitimate entertainers get terrorized by a giant animatronic snake. Watch Jon Voight butcher all of human language. Be amazed.
I can’t be the only one.