What a gloriously stupid movie. It makes me happy to write that sentence again; something I have not done since way back in May. But, this flick deserves it. If I had not already named another film the official film of this year’s Horrorshow (revealed at a later date), then Anaconda would have won the distinction running away. Anaconda is a fantastic example of the heights to which a shitty movie can soar. It features a soon to be breakout superstar, a fading has-been whose Oscar is gathering substantial amounts of dust, and a rapper in the midst of crossing over into movie stardom. It hails from a time when CGI was in its infancy, yet relies on these effects too much. It’s self-aware and amateurish at the same time. It’s a piece of shit, and I love it.
From 1997, Anaconda tells the story of a group of documentary filmmakers travelling in the Amazon in search of a lost tribe. But, instead of finding the elusive natives, they encounter a giant, man-eating snake. Are you kidding me?! This film is real?! It sure as hell is.
Jennifer Lopez stars as Terri Flores, recent film school grad and aspiring filmmaker. She’s been hired by Dr. Steven Cale (Eric Stoltz), an anthropologist hoping to document the lost tribe. Joining them are cameraman Danny Rich (Ice Cube), sound guy Gary Dixon (Owen Wilson), and a couple of other people I don’t feel like naming. Ice Cube is particularly precious. His first line in the movie, and I am not joking, is “...Today’s a good day.” Anyone with even a passing familiarity with his oeuvre as a musician has to find that funny. It has such a soupçon. Savor it. It takes a very special person so sell out their image so completely. It remained unmatched for years until Method Man and Redman started selling deodorant.
Not long after our intrepid explorers set off upriver, they encounter the mysterious Paul Serone (Jon Voight). He’s a hunter who claims to have been stranded on the river. More than any other cast member, Voight makes this film. His character is from Paraguay, meaning Voight has to throw on a fake accent. Said accent must be heard to be believed. It lacks the total ineptness of Keanu Reeves or the indifference of Kevin Costner, but it is special, indeed. In addition, Voight plays Paul Serone as a total creep. Even unconscious, he looks like a lecherous freak. This flick wouldn’t be nearly as enjoyable had Voight been absent.
Characters aside, at some point, a gigantic CGI snake does arrive on the scene and cast members begin to get eaten. As far as that is concerned, the film is rather boilerplate. A small cast is being winnowed down by a monster in an isolated environment. Whole careers have been spent in Hollywood emulating this model over and over and over again. Sometimes it gets very tiring, but other times it results in inspired filmmaking. Anaconda rests somewhere in between. Director Luis Llosa is no Spielberg or Ridley Scott, but this movie could easily have been worthless. Llosa showed imagination. At all the spots in a film like this one where the cheapness could end up being a turnoff, he throws in just the right amount of absurdity to keep a viewer interested.
The snake consists of both traditional effects and CGI, and it is here that the film shows its warts. 1997 is a long time ago when it comes to computer technology, so it’s to be expected that the effects don’t measure up to today’s standards. But the CGI snake looks awful. When it strikes, there is little integration between the CGI snake and the shot it has been composited into. This could be a crime of the era, but by the point this film was made, Jurassic Park was four years old, and the dinosaurs in that movie still look good today. The only way to deal with the bad CGI is to laugh it off like the rest of the film. Anaconda is a far better movie than Alien: Resurrection.