Do you like cheese? I surely like cheese. Maybe too much can bad for your system, but it is meant to be enjoyed. And when it’s nostalgic? Well, that’s just a winning formula right there.
Anaconda is an adventure monster film following a documentary film crew in the Amazon rainforest that ends up being wrapped into a dangerous scheme by a snake hunter (Jon Voight) seeking, as the title would have you believe, a giant anaconda. A cast also features some well-known faces such as Jennifer Lopez, Ice Cube, Eric Stoltz, Jonathan Hyde, and Owen Wilson.
This is the type of film that I ate up back when I was a child. Anaconda has two things that I still retain a soft spot for. Snakes and monster movies. Even the ones that are really, really bad. This film and its sequels would be a childhood passion of mine even when I began to realize these movies may not be as perfect as I once did. Not because I don’t enjoy watching this film. But as someone who is slowly learning more about how to properly critique filmmaking, Anaconda’s weak spots are pretty noticeable right from the gecko.
One thing I didn’t remember how long it took for the big snake itself to go around eating people. For an eighty-nine-minute feature, the audience doesn’t get to enjoy the carnage right until nearly the halfway mark of the film. Now, normally I don’t mind the slow-burn approach when it comes to my monster flicks (As demonstrated with my recent review of 2014’s Godzilla). Still, it requires a level of narrative care and characterization to keep the audience’s attention so that the payoff is worth it.
Well, the level of character depth in this film is very much akin to cardboard. There’s not much to learn about everyone involved beyond a basic personality trait that, for the most part, never changes throughout the film. Of course, I don’t need the character writing to be all that complex, but a little bit of thought could go a long way in making them more enjoyable. However, what’s interesting to me is that the actual cast really isn’t that bad when talking about their performances. It’s not great work by any means, but it doesn’t hurt me much to say that it’s at least serviceable, and the script admittedly gives them some tongue-in-cheek dialogue to work with so they can have some fun with their roles.
There is one actor amongst them. However, that rises above the rest for this film and what keeps the first half from becoming a total snooze fest and instead into the glorious ham that I remember adoring when I saw this film for the first. Without a doubt, Jon Voight’s performance as this snake hunter is the grand highlight. Both for the right and maybe the wrong reasons too. This man doesn’t just chew the scenery; he swallows it whole without giving it a second thought. Voight is clearly having a ton of fun playing this devilish hunter and makes every scene that’s he’s in so much lively. And his accent? I don’t know why he chooses to use one that would far more fitting something like Al Pacino’s Scarface, but it works. It shouldn’t because it’s so out there for this kind of film, but I eat it up anyway.
Anaconda does pick up a considerable amount when its titular star decides to show up to make dinner for our characters. Every scene with the creature is a lot of fun, and few cool kills use the fact that this is a constructor. Of particular is a moment in the climax that might be the film’s peak in terms of pure B-movie schlock. The effects for the snake do show its age, even for creation from 1997, but I do admire the use of both computer-generated effects and practical work. In comparison to how CG-heavy the series became with its latter installments, I appreciate the effort put in here.
Expected from a film titled Anaconda, it does make some nice use of its setting. Director Luis Llosa knows that the Amazon Rain forest makes some beautiful natural imagery in its own right, and he does get some mileage. There a few shots that let the beauty of this location speaks for itself. I wouldn’t call his direction anywhere too close to what I would consider being high-caliber, but it works fine enough, to my pleasant surprise. When the snake is causing havoc, each sequence is given the right amount of energy to be entertaining, and the film never shies away from how gruesome it can be with its unfortunate victims.
As I stated earlier, Anaconda has the right ingredients that would keep me from disliking the overall package as much as I naturally would with a film like this. You got big snakes making a nice meal out of the cast. A character who’s so over the top that it oddly entices the viewer into his crazy world. And maybe most important of all, nostalgia. Lots and lots of nostalgia. It’s a monster B-movie, and if that’s the type of content you love to consume, then you might get a kick out of this one.