Anaconda (1997)

A documentary film crew chugs along the Amazon River in search of a lost tribe of snake worshippers called the people of the mist. A mad snake poacher cruises the same waters hunting a giant anaconda. A giant anaconda, hungrier than any snake in the history of snakes, and twice as long as the longest anaconda, slithers the murky waters in search of a meal. It all adds up: jungle setting plus naive explorers plus weird guide plus primitive tribe plus giant reptile equals B movie.

*Anaconda* would like you to think it’s a jungle *Jaws*, a mosquito-bitten *Moby Dick*, but don’t let the big teeth fool you. This is strictly a by-the-numbers effort, a derivative, competent knockoff that amuses only by being preposterously implausible.

Steven Cale (Eric Stoltz), a doctor of something or other, leads this doomed expedition along with girlfriend Terri Flores, a fresh out of film school documentarian. Her faithful sidekick and cameraman from the ‘hood is Danny (Ice Cube); Denise (Kari Salin) and Gary (Owen Wilson) are the randy sound crew. Also along for the ride is Warren Westridge (Jonathan Hyde), a prissy Brit narrator who sips wine and chips golf balls into the river when he isn’t whining and cringing. Things go from dumb to dumber when the gang rescues Paul Sarone (Jon Voight), a shipwrecked Paraguayan poacher and ex-priest with a mile-wide wacky streak. After ten minutes with this lot, I was rooting for the snake.

Alas, the snake doesn’t show up until halfway through the movie, during which time Sarone gets crazier and crazier, and Cale lapses into a coma after being stung by a deadly giant wasp while scuba diving. It must have been one of those Amazonian oxygen tank wasps. That kind of thing will happen in the tropics. Anyhow, Sarone saves Cale using the hoariest trick in the book, ye olde ballpoint pen tracheotomy, and Cale spends the rest of the cruise safely ensconced in his cabin, comatose, like the audience.

Meanwhile, creepy old Sarone is left to villainize the ship in the absence of the anaconda. With his mumbly, vaguely latin accent and constant leer, Voight really gives Sarone his all, endangering the very rain forest with his campy, Brando-esque scenery chewing. It is clear that Sarone is supposed to out-Ahab Ahab with his ophidian obsession (I especially enjoyed his cooing over the \\leedle bebby snakes\\ that rained down in the boat after he blew up their nest). What isn’t exactly clear is why Sarone wants to catch the giant anaconda, except that it’s worth a lot of money, which isn’t really very obsessive or Ahabby, but he was once bitten by a big snake (he was no doubt asking for it), and that’s as close to an explanation of motive as *Anaconda* will get. Sarone recruits Gary, the dumb surfer dude, and together they commandeer the boat and go serpent fishing, which is only a good idea because it finally gets the snake into the movie, which will inevitably be followed by the shrinking of the cast.

Meanwhile, the snake, now that it has found the floating buffet, is ready to exploit all the various mishaps that force the clumsy shipmates into the water (even though this 40 foot snake is much bigger than the boat and unlike, say, Bruce the shark, can actually climb aboard any time it feels like a light snack). The embattled fictional filmmakers must now contend with a kooky poacher and a bloodthirsty snake, and *Anaconda* finally gets underway, providing about ten minutes worth of excitement. *Anaconda* doesn’t do anything particularly innovative or original (although the snake esophagus-eye view of a victim being swallowed isn’t bad), but the action gets fast and bloody in its predictable way. And if you’re cheering for the snake, like I was, there’s some inherent tension in knowing things will go badly, like they always do in the human versus giant reptile genre.

There are actually two snakes in *Anaconda*, an animatronic snake and a CGI snake. The animatronic snake is extremely convincing, with glowing red LED eyes and a pink, fleshy, fangy mouth. The computer graphic snake is phony and cartoonish as it climbs trees, rears out of the water and lunges at its prey, coiling itself like a wayward garden hose, twirling and crushing its hapless victim, who cannot scream as his eyeballs pop out ("When you can’t breathe, you can’t scream" promises the ad copy for *Anaconda*, echoing *Alien*’s "In space, no-one can hear you scream." Obviously, the ultimate nightmare for the Hollywood ad copy writer is being rendered mute, although the rest of us would consider not being able to vocalize the least of our worries as we’re being crushed to death). The snake itself screams an eerie, Godzilla sort of screech as it lunges at its lunch, so there is no shortage of screaming in *Anaconda*, if you go in for that sort of thing.

The best thing about *Anaconda* is that it, unlike the snake, is short. This is an Etch-A-Sketch movie -- shake your head and it completely disappears from your memory.