Anaconda Movie Review

Movie Review by Anthony Leong © Copyright 1997

Snakes don't eat people!

"Anaconda" is a low-rent creature feature with a bunch of cardboard characters being chased around by an overgrown phallic symbol (think about it... better yet, think of the movie in the context of a Freudian psychogenic fugue about frustrated sexuality). And somehow, it managed to scare up over $110 million in box office receipts, both in the North American market and abroad.

Sarone's supposed to help us get back to the hospital, right? But he acts like he owns the river.

Steven Cale (Eric Stoltz) is a scientist in search of the legendary lost Amazon tribe called 'the People of the Mist' (wooooh). Along for the ride are a documentary film crew headed by director Terri Flores (Jennifer Lopez of "Selena" fame, and more recently "U-Turn"), Danny (Ice Cube, whose acting nuances still elude me since I first laid eyes on him in "Boyz 'n the Hood") the camera man (sorry, cinematographer), Denise (Kari Wuhrer of the now-canceled "Sliders"-- hooray!) the production manager, Gary (Owen Wilson) the sound guy, and Warren Westridge (Jonathan Hyde) the narrator and obligatory stuck-up foreign-accented character. As they slowly make their way down the Amazon River, they rescue the mysterious, sinister, and cliché-spouting Paul Sarone (a-hard-up-for-good-acting-gigs Jon Voight), an ex-Priest from Paraguay who has a dark agenda of his very own (wooooh). Before you know it, a mysterious predator is picking off this motley crew who do all the wrong things at the wrong time and meet their gruesome demises.

Someone get this bloody thing off my freakin' hands!

With dialogue that is painful to listen to, jokey-looking reaction shots that pass for acting (well, at least Voight manages to maintain that wild look in his eyes, even to the bitter end), atrocious plotting, and cheesy computer-generated/animatronic special effects that completely prevent you from getting into the movie, this movie was bad. I mean BAD, and not in a good way. The plot twists are truly ridiculous-- Cale arises from a coma at just the right moment to save the day, only to pass out again immediately after (talk about deus ex machina!). I think the only other example that can top that one is Gary undergoing an illogical displacement of loyalty half way through the movie that will have you rolling your eyes in disdain. So how did a movie like this get made?

We've got to get outta here!
Get a grip Westridge!
I got a grip!

Well, I had the fortunate opportunity this past summer to attend a talk in Los Angeles given by Andy Fickman, the Senior Vice President of Production at Middlefork Productions, and Associate Producer of "Anaconda". Being the last speaker of the day, the crowd was tired and longed for sleep, but within a few minutes, he had managed to lift the spirits of the room with his sparkling personality and his humorous anecdotes about how business in Hollywood is really conducted. During the talk that stretched late into the night, he went into a painstaking dissection of the creative process behind "Anaconda", and admitted that he was still at a loss as to how things turned out the way they did.

It was you who brought the snake! You brought the Devil!

According to Fickman, everything had been done right. The script allegedly had a winning high concept ("it's like JAWS, only with a big snake!"). They had a director who was no stranger to action pictures and who had previously helmed documentaries in the Amazon jungle, Luis Llosa (who was also responsible for "Sniper" and "The Specialist"). They had assembled an ensemble of recognizable but B-list actors to populate the picture. And they had even sent the script through numerous re-writes, with established screenwriters, as a form of 'insurance' (Hollywoodspeak for 'covering your ass' so that if the movie bombs, you can blame someone else). Even the talented Neal Jiminez, a gifted screenwriter ("For the Boys", "Desperate Measures") and director ("The Waterdance") who had been paralyzed by a mountain-climbing accident in 1984, was hired as a script doctor. However, even though Jiminez wrote 'beautiful flowery dialogue' for the script, Fickman noted that 'he forgot that there was supposed to be a snake'. Like an extended game of 'Telephone' (remember that game in school where you pass along a message by whispering it to the person next to you?), "Ananconda" passed through many hands and levels of tinkering, resulting in a barely-passable event picture that did enough business to justify a sequel (yes, "Anaconda II" has been green-lighted!). Let's hope they get it right the next time.

You don't know shit about the shit we're in!

So who would enjoy "Anaconda"? If you belong to any of the following, then "Anaconda" is the movie for you:

  • You like cheap thrills with your cheap beer.
  • If you thought "The Ghost and the Darkness" or "The Relic" were good movies.
  • If you thought "Sliders" was a good sci-fi series.
  • If you're Siskel or Ebert ("Two Thumbs Up!").

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