Anaconda

Anaconda. Columbia Pictures 1997.

Before watching the movie:

Well, here’s a “scary animal is the monster” horror movie. Comparing it to Jaws is easy. Probably harder to compare to Arachnophobia, even if I did remember enough of it to do that. In this case, it’s a documentary film crew stuck on the Amazon getting picked off by some guy’s scaly White Whale, which is a somewhat interesting angle to get into the story through. It would probably be most interesting as a pure found footage movie, but even though this was about the time that Blair Witch proved that could work, I don’t expect that will be the case.

The cast is particularly eclectic. I started thinking that when I saw Ice Cube featured prominently, but also how often do actors like Jon Voight and Jonathan Hyde mix with Owen Wilson and Jennifer Lopez?

After watching the movie:

Professor Steven Cale and director Terri Flores, along with the rest of their crew, prepare to boat down the Amazon River on an expedition to film contact with the reclusive Shirishama tribe, a crew including Danny the cameraman, Warren the narrator, Denise the production manager, sound guy Gary, and skipper Mateo. On the water, they meet a man stranded with a broken propeller who tells them he is Paul Serone, a Paraguayan who studied for the priesthood before deciding to see the world instead and now is a snake trapper tracking a gigantic anaconda. Serone claims to be an expert in the Shirishama and offers to help them find them as thanks for rescuing him, but many of the things he says with authority about them are disputed by the anthropologist Professor Cale, and Cale refuses to take the fork of the river that Serone indicates. Soon after, Cale gets stung by a wasp and is almost choked by the swelling in his throat, but Serone cuts an emergency bypass breathing hole that is apparently not a tracheotomy, temporarily saving his life but requiring the project to be scrapped so they can get Cale to a hospital which just so happens to be down the branch of the river Serone wanted to go. Stopping to salvage supplies as they pass Serone’s boat, the anaconda Serone had been trying to trap kills Mateo. Assuming control of the crew, Serone tells the remaining members that if they help him catch the snake, he’ll get them out alive. As they go further down the river in the hopes of saving the professor, the snake now stalks them.

I was expecting this to be more fun in some way. Campier, maybe? This is more tense, and yet only popcorn-level tense. Maybe it’s more of his reputation now than what he was known for at the time, but it felt like most of the fun died with Owen Wilson’s character, which seems like it easily could’ve been intentional, as he’s the first death the party is certain of. It’s not as classically gory as one would expect a horror movie to be, though that is largely because of the way the anaconda kills. There are certainly plenty of unsettling dislocations and bone snaps.

The anaconda design is… interesting. The eyes are more forward-facing than real snakes, which is probably supposed to make it look more menacing, but for me it just makes it look silly. They should have kept the monster more hidden, but then you don’t get to show as graphic of kills, which they were clearly relishing the ability to do with CGI.

I was hoping this was going to be a case of a movie being more engaging than my vague concept of it going in, but this is unfortunately not much more than what I had expected. Not everything can be surprisingly delightful, and it’s probably good to know exactly what to expect sometimes. But it can still be a letdown when a movie, especially one so clearly expensive, is just okay.

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