Anaconda (1997)

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Anacondas are a perfect killing machine. They strike, wrap around you, hold you tighter than your true love – and you get the privilege of hearing your bones break before the power of the embrace causes your veins to explode…”

 

Director:  Luis Llosa

Starring:  Jennifer Lopez, Jon Voight, Ice Cube, Eric Stoltz, Jonathan Hyde, Owen Wilson, Kari Wuhrer, Vincent Castellanos, Danny Trejo

Screenplay:  Hans Bauer, Jim Cash and Jack Epps Jr

 

 

 

Synopsis:  On the Amazon, a poacher (Danny Trejo) shoots himself rather than fall victim to something that has invaded his boat… In a riverside motel in Brazil, aspiring film-maker Terri Flores (Jennifer Lopez) meets with anthropologist Professor Steven Cale (Eric Stoltz), who has hired her to shoot a documentary on a mysterious tribe, the Shimishama – and with whom she was once involved. The next morning, as Terri talks excitedly with her friend and cameraman, Danny Rich (Ice Cube), Cale consults with Mateo (Vincent Castellanos), a local hired to pilot the film crew’s boat, over the route they should take. The film’s onscreen narrator, Warren Westridge (Jonathan Hyde), comes on board, and immediately alienates sound technician Gary Dixon (Owen Wilson) and production manager Denise Karlberg (Kari Wuhner) with his arrogant attitude. The expedition gets underway. Later that day, as a violent storm breaks, the crew hears someone calling for help, and finds a man stranded on a broken-down boat. They take him on board, and Cale warns him that they cannot turn back. The man, Paul Sarone (Jon Voight), assures the others that he is happy to be set down along the river, amongst a tribe from whom he can get help. Unseen by the others, Sarone exchanges significant looks with Mateo. Under questioning, Sarone admits that he catches snakes for a living, but denies being a poacher. Hearing the goals of the expedition, Sarone claims that he has seen the tribespeople the film-makers are looking for, and agrees to guide them. Along the river, the boat passes a snake totem, which Sarone insists is Shimishama. The river forks, and although Sarone tries to convince Cale to turn into a tributary, he persists in taking the main branch. That night, Gary and Denise go ashore to do some sound recording, and Sarone saves their lives by shooting an attacking wild boar. Cale orders that in future, everyone will stay on board. The next day, the boat comes to an abrupt halt as a rope gets tangled around the propeller. Cale dons a wetsuit and scuba gear and dives in to fix the problem, but suddenly has a strange attack. Danny and Gary drag him into the boat. To their horror, they find a wasp in Cale’s mouth. It has stung him, and he has stopped breathing. Sarone saves Cale’s life by performing an emergency tracheotomy. He then warns Terri that they must get Cale to a hospital, insisting that the quickest way is down the tributary – where he had wanted to go in the first place. Terri reluctantly agrees. Soon, however, the boat’s way is blocked by a man-made wall across the river. Sarone produces dynamite from amongst his gear, and convinces the others to let him blow the wall up. As the resultant debris showers down, the boat ends up covered by baby snakes. The shock of the blast also frees the drums of fuel, which were strapped to the deck; all but one are lost. Further along, the crew sees another boat, and stop in the hope of finding more fuel. Sarone and Mateo wade across, and Danny goes to film them. The boat is deserted, but Sarone finds a metal trunk, which he appropriates. As Sarone and Danny are carrying the trunk back to the crew’s boat, Mateo manages to fall into the river. Suddenly, he is attacked by a gigantic snake…

Comments:  Many films manage to piss me off. It is a rare film, however, that can manage to do so within so brief a space as the three sentences of its opening crawl. Anaconda is one such film.

For the benefit of those unfamiliar with this film, I have reproduced that crawl below. Take a look at it, and see if you can spot the subtle pieces of misinformation contained within it:

Tales of monstrous, man-eating Anacondas have been recounted for centuries by tribespeople of the Amazon Basin, some of whom are said to worship these giant snakes.

Anacondas are among the most ferocious – and enormous – creatures on earth, growing, in certain areas, as long as 40 feet. Unique amongst snakes, they are not satisfied after eating a victim. They will regurgitate their prey in order to kill and eat again.

You kind of have to admire people who can cram that many outright lies into such a short piece of writing, don’t you? Obviously, the tribespeople of the Amazon Basin aren’t the only ones who like to recount “tales” about anacondas.

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“No, we don’t need a giant snake on the cover – this one’s all about the cast!”

Now, as my regular visitors would be well aware, I love snakes. It is completely mystifying to me why some people should be so terrified of them, but nevertheless I accept that this is the case. I have no problem with a film making snakes the bad guys. Nor do I really have a problem with a film being, inevitably, about The Biggest Snake In The Whole Wide World – even though, in point of fact, no anaconda longer than twenty-eight feet long has ever been solidly documented. (There was once a report of a specimen that was thirty-seven and a half feet long, but the pesky critter took itself off before any independent confirmation was possible.) No, what kicked off my slow burn was the implications of the final sentence of that remarkable opening spiel.

There is, believe me, only one species of animal in the world that is ever guilty of such stupid and wasteful behaviour, and it ain’t the anaconda. Anacondas often do get into difficulties while feeding. Sometimes they take on prey too big even for them, and sometimes they injure themselves trying to swallow horns or shells. And sometimes, given the size of the animals they can devour, the prey starts to decompose in the gut before anaconda can digest it. If this occurs, the snake will indeed regurgitate its prey.

In other words, far from being “unique”, they’re just like the rest of us: they eat something bad, they get sick and throw up. However, they certainly do not vomit up perfectly good – and often hard-won – prey in order to kill and swallow something else.

So why would the film-makers kick off their film with such a bizarre lie? Clearly, in spite of all the ophidiophobes out there, the fact that Anaconda is about The Biggest Snake In The Whole Wide World simply wasn’t considered scary or compelling enough. Instead, Luis Llosa and his writers felt they had to resort to promises of pathetic gross-out scenes (“Uhhuhhuhhuh – they said regurgitate!”) in order to try and keep their viewers in their seats. Nothing like having faith in the premise of your motion picture, hey?

Mind you, regurgitation will turn out to be only one aspect of the film’s gross-out scenes, which will follow the rules laid down by Paul Sarone in the speech quoted above, and thus pile lie upon lie. Not only, then, do we see one of the anacondas swallowing its victim alive, but the first graphically presented human fatality has the snake deliberately breaking the bones of its prey.

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Too late to get out of his contract, Danny read the script.

Now, constriction by a large snake often does result in broken bones, even a broken neck, depending upon where the coils are positioned; but that hardly justifies the scene in which an anaconda takes its victim carefully by the head and intentionally snaps his neck like some sort of ophidian Steven Seagal.

Of course, these shameless lies about the anaconda aren’t the only ones to be found in the film. You ought to see what they try to palm off on the audience as a documentary crew.

Anaconda opens, however, with one of modern filmdom’s more perpetual victims, Danny Trejo, doing what he does best. We watch his houseboat/barge being attacked by a rampaging POV shot (an attack that invokes one of my least favourite effects, the floorboards that explode from underneath), before Danny climbs his own mast in an effort to avoid his pursuer. This masterly tactic fails, however, and Danny shoots himself in the head rather than fall victim to – Whatever It Is. We’re not granted a glimpse of the owner of the POV at this point, but here’s a clue: the film’s called Anaconda.

Then we meet the characters [sic.] who, by and large, will soon be snake chow. First of all we are introduced to Terri Flores, a rookie film-maker hired to make a documentary about a mysterious Amazonian tribe (yes, a lost tribe – in 1997) called the Shimishama. We are soon reassured that, despite her amateur standing, Terri has been hired purely on the basis of her talents. Well – that, and she used to sleep with the film’s producer. When we first see Terri, she is clad only in a slip. There is a knock on her motel room door, and as she rises to answer it, we discover that people get sweaty in Brazil; very sweaty indeed. Terri crosses the room, and as she does so, the camera gives us a good look at two of the four reasons why Jennifer Lopez was cast in this film.

At the door is Professor Steven Cale. He and Terri greet each other mock-formally as “Ms Flores” and “Professor Cale”, just to let us know that if they haven’t been knocking boots in the past, they will be in the not-too-distant future. Cale tells Terri that he’s been talking to some locals, and thinks that there is sufficient reason to believe that their “lost tribe” is indeed out there – “Or at least,” Cale adds with a smirk, “that’s what I told the grant people!” Of course, presumably Cale also told the unfortunate grant people that Terri and her friends were competent film-makers, so perhaps we shouldn’t put too much faith in his assurances.

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Yup, this is the guy I’d hire to take me into the middle of nowhere.

And then we cut to the next morning, and meet the rest of this highly skilled crew. First up is Danny Rich, Terri’s cameraman, who not too subtly slips in a little exposition about his “home girl from S.C.” and “her first documentary”. Next we meet Warren Westridge, the documentary’s onscreen presenter. (This role feels very much as if it were written for – and scornfully rejected by – Alan Rickman.) Now, if you watch a lot of documentaries, as I do, you might be tempted to question why Westridge is even there. After all, unless a presenter is someone like [genuflect] Sir David Attenborough or [broad guilty grin] Nigel Marvin, do they normally get on camera at all? Considering the amateur status of Terri and her team, I would have thought that a post-production voiceover was the more likely – and cost-effective – option.

Ahhh…but then Westridge opens his mouth, and it all becomes clear: half a dozen “bloody”-s later, we realise that we are in the company of the film’s Odious Comic Relief. Because, you know, English people are funny.

Westridge’s first actions are to insult Terri’s credentials (hard to argue, really) and to order around Gary Dixon, who is the crew’s sound recordist, and Denise Karlberg, who— Well, frankly, I’m not sure who the heck she is. She calls herself the “production manager”, but as far as I can see, her sole contribution to proceedings is to make sure that Gary doesn’t end up having to, uh, handle his own equipment, if you get my drift.

The final member of this doomed expedition is Mateo, a local hired by Cale to pilot the boat. I can only assume that Cale went down to the local employment agency and asked them to send over the single most suspicious-looking individual they could find.

And then our merry crew sets off, and we are given a good look at what these experts think they do and do not need on a trip down the Amazon.

Do not: sensible clothing, insect repellent, rain gear, long-life food stuffs, drinking water, trained mechanical assistance.

Do: ghettoblasters, make-up, golf clubs, a wine cellar, lettuce, fine china and glassware, pewter goblets. (Granted, most of these things belong to Westridge – because, you know, it’s funny.)

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“Excuse me, did someone order some Odious Comic Relief?”

They also seem to think it’s a good idea to keep their round metal drums of extra fuel lying on their sides and stacked on top of each other and tied in place with a single rope. Sigh.

The first bend of the river has barely been rounded when, through a torrential downpour, a voice is heard calling for help. Enter Jon Voight as Paul Sarone, a leering, sneering, outrageously accented, trainee-priest-turned-snake-poacher. (I think there’s meant to be some kind of Eden / snake / temptation thing going on in there somewhere, but it hurts my brain to think about it.)

It’s hard to know what to make of Voight’s performance in Anaconda. If it was meant to be a way of expressing his contempt with the entire production, one can only applaud (and sympathise). If, on the other hand, we were in any way, shape, or form meant to take it seriously, well… Sarone’s first act on board is to exchange a series of significant looks with Mateo. Astonishingly, none of the trained observers in the vicinity of this interaction notices.

The rain clears, and soon Sarone is busy with a hand-made spear, quickly serving up “Feeesh…reeever style!” “We’re going to have to get that on film next time,” remarks master film-maker Terri. Jeez, ya think? As Sarone chops up the feeesh (and “production manager” Denise prepares a nice salad), he casually announces that he can lead the way to the Shimishama, an announcement greeted with scorn by Westridge, who opines that any river-rat would say the same after five whiskies. “Five wheeeskeees?” responds our own particular reeever-rat, overhearing. “That’s breakfast on theee reeever!”

That night, the fireflies are out in force. Being an anthropologist, Cale immediately launches into a recitation of the mating habits of the insect, a speech that segues into some lame sexual innuendo between himself and Terri. Meanwhile, out in the jungle, our titular beastie finally puts in a brief appearance, attacking and killing a panther in an effort to convince us all how big and scary it is. Unfortunately, all we come away convinced of is that the film is not going to be redeemed by the quality of its special effects, since the panther makes the castle-dwelling animals of El Conde Dracula look lively by comparison. We do, however, come away with further proof that in pursuit of the ultimate gross-out, nothing is too stupid for this film: the sequence ends with the camera resting thoughtfully on the panther’s popped-out eyeball, sitting on the ground nearby.

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The many faces of Paul Sarone.

And then, by way of contrast, we get a classic example of what passes here for rapier wit. Westridge and Danny fall out over the latter’s taste for loud rap music (music which just happens to be by—well, gosh, who’d’ve thunk it? Ice Cube!!), setting up following sparkling repartee:

Westridge: “You know, I could cheerfully hire someone to kill you! One of the local tribesmen, perhaps. $50 ought to cover it!”
Danny: “I could just kill you for free right now!”
Westridge: “Oh, really? You and whose army?
Danny: “Your momma’s!”

You can see why this thing needed three screenwriters, can’t you?

Around another bend, the team happens upon a snake totem that Sarone insists is Shimishama. He further trots out a legend of the reeever, which Cale recognises as emanating from another tribe altogether. The two wrangle as the ship drifts past the totem, and at the last possible moment it dawns on our director (Terri Flores, that is, not Luis Llosa) that they might want to, you know, film something. However, Sarone barges into shot to re-express his opinions of the Shimishama, and instead of stopping the boat and re-filming, Terri just shrugs and lets the totem go. Man, this is going to be one fascinating documentary.

The boat then reaches the spot where, according to Sarone, the Shimishama should have been found. However, the water levels are high, and it is agreed that the tribe would have moved away. Sarone, in his usual subtle and understated manner, tries to convince Cale that they should head up a reeever tributary instead of following the main flow, on the somewhat irrelevant grounds that, “I trap snakes for a living.” Cale, in perhaps the first and only logical act of the film, finds this insufficient reason for changing course. Thwarted, Sarone goes back to exchanging googley-eyes with Mateo.

That night, Gary and Denise go onshore to record some “wild sounds”, nudge-nudge, wink-wink. Sure enough, five seconds later, the two of them are swapping spit. You know, in many ways Anaconda is a very old-fashioned movie, and we get further proof of that here, as, honest to God, Denise breaks off the make-out session with the immortal line, “Wait! I think I hear something!”

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What could possibly go wrong with this arrangement?

Actually, what she hears is silence. Next moment, something is charging through the jungle. Gary and Denise sprint for the boat, and suddenly Sarone looms out of the darkness, firing a rifle. And, surprise, it all turns out to be a false (or at least, misleading) scare, as Sarone drags the body of a wild boar on board the ship. Remarkably, rigor mortis seems to have set in almost instantly. Sarone enlightens Gary and Denise as to what a close call they’ve just had (“They attack wiz ze tusks…zay go for ze eyezz!”), then sensibly observes that the boar will be a good source of food. Hilariously, we then see Danny recoiling with a nauseated expression, as he repeats blankly, “Food!?” You can tell this guy’s got a bright future in world adventuring before him, can’t you?

The next morning, as Westridge is practicing his golf while he listens to opera (no, really), things finally start to happen. The boat turns out to be trailing a rope for no apparent reason, and that rope gets snagged around the propeller, bringing the boat to an abrupt stop. Cale announces that he’s going into the river to fix things, setting up one of the film’s defining moments (and how sad is that?), as Sarone announces, “This reeever can keeel you in a thouzand ways!”

Unperturbed (except by the thought of a certain little catfish that likes to take up residence in a particular region of the human anatomy), Cale dons a wetsuit and scuba gear and submerges himself. While this is going on, Terri starts messing with her hair and generally striking a series of cheesecake shots (and showing off the other two reasons that Jennifer Lopez was cast in this film), and we get the moment, giant snakes be damned, that everyone remembers from this film: Jon Voight re-defining the word “leer”. Amazingly, not only has Sarone’s behaviour to this point not been enough to warn his companions that he’s up to something, but this little incident isn’t even enough to convince Terri to put on a button-up shirt.

Meanwhile, as he works on the propeller, Cale is suddenly stricken with some kind of fit. Gary and Danny drag him out of the water as the girls go into hysterics, and to the revulsion of everyone, it is found that Cale has, not a death’s-head in his throat, but a wasp in his mouth (!!). He’s also stopped breathing. We then discover that amongst all the other things this team of experts didn’t see any reason to bring along with them was someone with some medical or first aid training. Heck, yeah – why would you need that up the Amazon? Anyway, it’s Sarone to the rescue once again, as he performs a rough and ready tracheotomy and sticks a breathing-tube into Cale’s neck. He then warns Terri that Cale needs to get to hospital, and that the quickest way is up that very tributary that he’d wanted to take in the first place. Imagine that.

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Lacking a handgun, Eric Stoltz found a more imaginative way of getting out of the film.

Oh, and the one radio on board the boat isn’t working any more. Where do they get their ideas?

Now, I’m going to take a little break here and see if I can make it clear to you what I think is going on. Not that the film itself is ever clear about it. As far as I can tell, in his quest to capture a giant anaconda, Sarone has concocted the following plan: he’s gotten his partner, Mateo, hired by the film crew; he’s sabotaged his own boat, in order to be taken onto the crew’s boat; he has tried to talk Cale into taking the branch of the river he wants to take and, failing in that, he has found a way both of disposing of Cale, the only one with sufficient knowledge to challenge his authority, and of forcing the rest of the crew to do what he wants – namely, by sabotaging the boat’s propeller and concealing a wasp in Cale’s scuba gear.

Exactly why Sarone and Mateo couldn’t just have gone after the snakes on their own in the first place is left entirely to our imaginations – particularly since it must have been obvious to Sarone at first glance that this set of rank amateurs would be no help to him in any capacity whatsoever. Possibly he just wanted their boat…which still leaves open the question of how and to where Sarone was planning on transporting the snake once captured. It is hard to imagine that even someone as crazy as Sarone would capture a snake that large and dangerous without having a guaranteed buyer for it – but if he has a client, why aren’t they funding his activities?

All in all, then…this is about the most cogent and foolproof cinematic plan since Ben Willis plonked a dummy out in the middle of a road somewhere between North Carolina and Massachusetts.

Amusingly – and understandably – it seems that this particularly plot twist was the final straw for Eric Stoltz, since from this point onwards his character lapses into a coma and stays that way (one five second interlude aside) for the rest of the film! (“I’m not having anything else to do with this stupid movie! Now, I’m just going to lie here and rest a while, okay? Fine, call my agent! See if I care!”)

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“And then I woke up, and it was all a bad dream…”

Anyway, Sarone gets his own way and the boat heads up the tributary – which at least means we must be getting closer to seeing a snake or two. Sure enough, the boat chugs around another bend and comes up against a wooden wall. Sarone immediately produces dynamite from his duffle-bag. The others cry out against this proposed demolition, Terri on the rather peculiar grounds that, “I’m worried about upsetting the ecological balance of the river!” Apparently she thinks that wall evolved into existence.

Sarone, however, points out that coma-boy can’t afford them to waste time doubling back, and the others reluctantly give in. Sarone and Gary then climb into “the little boat” (where did that come from?) and plant the dynamite around the wall. For a brief, shining moment, we cut to a POV shot, and it seems that we might finally be about to get some snake action; but alas, Sarone pulls Gary out of the water before anything remotely exciting can happen.

It then turns out that Sarone was a bit optimistic with the setting of the charges, since the dynamite goes off when both boats are ridiculously close to the wall. Debris rains down, sinking “the little boat” (goodbye, gallant little boat! I’ll never forget you!), while the jolt of the blast makes all but one of those drums of extra fuel, tied up oh so carefully on the deck of the main, break free and roll into the river, where they sink. (And with the crew making no attempt to retrieve them.)

The explosion also results in a shower of baby snakes landing on the boat, leading to what is one of the contenders for stupidest scene in the whole film – cinematically and dramatically.

First up, a hint for prospective special effects users: if you’re going to give your viewers long, uninterrupted views of animatronic and CGI animals, do not precede your effects with equally clear views of the real thing. These beautiful baby snakes, sleek, gleaming, and well-proportioned, moving naturally, only serve to highlight just how pathetic the fake snakes in this film really are.

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A team of hard-bitten adventurers, ready for anything the Amazon could throw at them. Except snakes.

Second – have I mentioned recently how much I admire this team of documentary makers? You can just see that they’re made for a life of roughing it in the wild – particularly when they react to the presence of the baby snakes by going, en masse, into shrieking hysterics.

Okay, okay, I know some people are scared of snakes. But for heaven’s sake! – we’re talking about baby boas, people! You could hardly find any snakes less intimidating. But nevertheless, our brave band of adventurers finds itself unable to cope with the, uh, threat, wailing helplessly, “What do we do? What do we do?” Once again it’s Sarone to the rescue, as he – wow, I never would have thought of this! – casually picks the snakes up and tosses them into the water. Also, Mateo starts hosing down the deck. Incredibly, Luis Llosa persists in trying to make this sequence seem “scary”. One baby snake is washed towards Denise’s foot, and we get a big impressive music sting to let us know that, um, there’s a baby snake near her foot.

And then it turns out that one of the babies has wrapped itself around Westridge’s hand. Amazingly, he doesn’t notice it’s there until it latches onto his finger and tries to swallow it. Sarone detaches the creature, muttering, “Zo young…yet zo lethal!”, while Westridge stammers and splutters and says “bloody” a lot. Because, you know, it’s funny.

“You knew there were snakes here!” Terri throws at Sarone, as if it had never occurred to her that such things might be found up the Amazon. This futile line of debate is cut off when the fuel situation is discovered. Much is made of the fact that there is only enough fuel left for a certain distance – not that this ever actually interferes with the travellers’ progress; it just introduces a MacGuffinish excuse for things to happen. Sarone takes command of the barge, and finally we get where we’ve obviously been heading since he first came on board: the boat from the opening scene. Sarone suggests that, “There might be fuel”, so they stop, and he and Mateo wade over to investigate. Danny (not Terri, mind you) suggests going along with a camera, while Terri and Gary agree that sound recording won’t be necessary (because two extra people would be inconvenient).

(During this sequence, what seemed at the outset like a mere directorial flourish becomes a motif, as an anaconda’s presence is repeatedly indicated not merely by a POV shot, but by a Dutch angle POV shot. Don’t ask me.)

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The Amazonian ham-eating snake (juvenile).

Sarone, Mateo and Danny climb into the boat, and some time and effort is expended on trying to make this sequence seem scary and suspenseful. It isn’t. The camera pans over a newspaper clipping showing Sarone with Mateo, the suicidal poacher from the film’s opening sequence, and a snake. Sarone quickly conceals it from Danny. Then we finally get to the point of this whole protracted enterprise, as Sarone helps himself to a metal trunk. He and Danny carry it back to the boat, while Mateo, that old reeever-rat, somehow manages to slip and fall off the poacher’s boat into the river. He stands there for a bit, muttering to himself, and then finally, finally – a giant anaconda attacks! ABOUT TIME!! Oh, excuse me. I mean, ABOUT BLOODY TIME!!

Alas, I really wish I could say it had been worth the wait. Unfortunately, the effects in this film are, not to put too fine a point on the matter, crap. The anacondas are realised through a combination of animatronics and CGI, each form of effect worse than the other. The animatronics are slightly preferable. At least they get the snakes’ colour and proportions more or less right. But as usual, the animals have that dead, dull, glassy appearance around the face, which simply screams “Fake!” The CGI snakes, however, are just awful. Wrong colour, wrong shape, and as always, no sense of mass.

See, this is the thing about anacondas and that “Biggest Snake In The Whole Wide World” business: the word “biggest” is rather ambiguous. Anacondas may or may not be the longest snakes in the world (the reticulated python is a more likely candidate for that title), but they are without question the heaviest. An anaconda only half the length of a reticulated python would nevertheless weigh more than it. That twenty-eight foot python I mentioned earlier was almost four feet around. These supposedly forty-foot snakes would be proportionately thick, and proportionately heavy.

Real anacondas, particularly the females, which are the really big ones, spend a lot of time in the water for a very simple reason: it helps support their weight. Often, although they are constrictors, anacondas will kill their prey not by suffocation, but simply by dragging it into the water and holding it until it drowns. On land, although they can still strike quite quickly, they cannot move their entire bodies quickly – unlike the snakes we see here, which seem out to break any land-speed record you might care to name.

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Don’t you have to have an inner ear before you can have an inner ear problem?
(Oh, yes, yes, I know…)

And that, we soon learn, is only one of their amazing abilities. They can also defy gravity, and move without leverage. And they kill purely for kicks. Oh, yeah…and then there’s that whole “regurgitation” thing…

Anyway, back to Mateo, locked in the coils of our CGI heroine. After some gross-out bone-breaking sounds, and a special ops-like neck-breaking, the snake opens its jaws and prepares to have a snack. And of course, regurgitation aside, if a real anaconda had a meal that big, it would then crawl off and hibernate while it was digesting it, possibly for months. Not in this world, however.

On the boat, Mateo’s absence is finally noticed. Danny wades back over to look for him, accompanied by a few threatening POV shots, but only finds his torch. As the others start to panic, Sarone opens the poacher’s trunk, and unfurls an enormous snakeskin, this being his way of breaking the news of Mateo’s fate. “There’s snakes up here that big!?” exclaims Danny, provoking the evilly chuckling Sarone to point out that the skin must be two or three years old, so – bigger.

(Actually, snakeskin stretches after shedding, which is why a skin is never accepted as proof of a snake’s size.)

Terri, suddenly an expert, insists nervously that, “Snakes don’t eat people.” “Oh, zey don’t?” responds Sarone, pointing to the scar down the side of his face, and reciting that idiotic speech quoted up above, during which, our intrepid adventurers react as if they’ve never heard of snakes constricting their prey. Terri insists on waiting for Mateo until morning. As the night passes, Sarone starts to work on Gary, intimating that an anaconda of that size might be worth as much as, “A meeellion dollars!”

You know, I’m not sure even that’s true. I suppose having The Biggest Snake In The Whole Wide World would carry a certain cachet, but the fact is a lot of zoos find anacondas to be more trouble than they’re worth. They’re big, they’re hard to handle, they can be dangerously aggressive, and they really, really stink.

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If that snake starts doing Aikido, I’m leaving.

Anyhoo, Gary lends an ear to Sarone’s eeevil words, and thus signs his own death warrant. Poor Gary! If only he’d watched more movies like this one! Then he’d have known that contemplating m-o-n-e-y is tantamount to cutting your own throat – even in a case like this, where the capture of a giant snake is suggested as a way of trying salvage something from this disaster of an expedition. Of course, the others reject this idea indignantly – hey, it’s not their money at stake, right? Anyway, I’m sure that “the grant people” will find the minute and a half of footage that Danny has shot to be totally worth their investment.

The next day – Mateo not having reappeared – Sarone starts preparing reptile tranquiliser darts, and horrifies his hard-bitten companions by shooting a monkey to use as bait. This brings matters to a head, with Gary dooming himself by taking sides with Sarone, and Sarone quelling an attempted rebellion by Danny by pulling a handgun. Sarone then starts “fishing” for snakes, trailing the dead monkey through the water.

(When writing off Mateo, Sarone pointed out that anacondas hunt via heat sensors; yet at least twice, we will subsequently see a snake pursue cold, dead prey when warm, live prey is available.)

Sure enough, he gets a bite, and a wrestling match starts between Sarone and his quarry, during which we learn another interesting “fact” about anacondas: they scream! Anyway, long story short, the anaconda manages to break free, and in one of the highlights of the film—and sadly, I’m not being sarcastic—it rears up at Westridge and projectile vomits the dead monkey at him.

The snake then pursues Terri through the boat (oh, right, like it’s gunna eat her), and knocks Denise into the water. Gary, not having read the script, dives in after her, and in a totally shocking plot twist that no-one saw coming, becomes Victim #2. This particular killing is topped off by an hilarious underwater shot of the snake, with an unmistakable outline of Owen Wilson showing through its distended belly.

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The critics were unanimous in their opinion of Jonathan Hyde’s performance.

Up on deck, Denise is in hysterics, accusing Sarone of, “Bringing the devil!” “Everyone haz ze devil inzide!” responds Sarone. (Hmm…you know, I think there’s an Owen Wilson joke there somewhere…) He then waves his gun around a lot and intimidates all the others into submission. Some time later, however, we see Terri putting on lipstick, which she naturally brought along on her wild adventure up the Amazon. (I guess she brought a razor, too, now that I look at her.) Terri slinks up to Sarone and starts vamping him, under the guise of buying into that “salvaging the expedition” scheme.

Pardon me while I digress a moment. It is often a matter of some astonishment to me that certain actors simply do not seem to recognise that there are lines of dialogue that should never be spoken onscreen. Ms Lopez seems to suffer from this problem more than most, if we are to judge from her well-documented willingness to utter the, Come on and get me, critics! line, “It’s turkey time!”, in Gigli. In Anaconda, we learn that Ms Lopez’s affliction is of no recent date, as she utters this beauty, in summation of her character’s situation:

“This film was supposed to be my big break, but it’s turned out to be a big disaster.”

Anyway, in an “Ewwww!!” moment that outdoes any of the snake gross-out scenes in this film, Sarone and Terri end up locking lips. However, being eeevil, Sarone refrains from closing his eyes during this tender moment, and thus sees a reflection of Danny, who is sneaking up behind him. Sarone swings around, gun in hand, bellowing, “You zink I em ztupid, hey?” He gets his answer the next moment, as Westridge swings a golf club through a window and pounds him into unconsciousness.

Of course, when we next see him, he’s tied up in a way that I suspect even I could wriggle out of, if I really had to. Moreover, his legs are free, and they didn’t even gag him, which personally I would have made a priority. The reason for this becomes clear when Sarone and Terri start exchanging “tough” dialogue, during which Sarone more or less confesses to that whole idiotic plot I outlined above, including, “The wasp!” The outraged Terri then clocks Sarone one, which doesn’t seem to hurt either one of them.

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I’d recognise that nose anywhere.

Meanwhile, Westridge and Danny are working out how to run the boat, and patching up their differences – which is a pretty clear sign that one of them is about to die. Guess which? The boat approaches a waterfall, and observant viewers might like to amuse themselves by noticing just how completely the “Amazonian” vegetation changes character from this point onwards, as the L.A. Arboretum begins to stand in for the Brazilian jungle. Westridge goes out to admire the view, and Danny very cleverly manages to run the boat onto a sandbank.

Realising that they will have to winch the boat free, Danny and Westridge slide into the water, and Terri goes with them for no discernible reason, beyond giving Denise’s growing post-Gary insanity a chance to reach its climax – with predictable results. Denise approaches Sarone with a knife in her hand. Of course, she wanders rather too close to Sarone’s legs, so helpfully left untied, and he kicks her over and strangles her between – ewww!! – his thighs. He then pushes Denise’s body overboard, and manages to snabble her knife and cut himself free. Hey, way to go Denise! You sure were a big help!

Out in the water, one or other (or another) of the giant anacondas suddenly appears. Having shown themselves able to move like lightning on land, this snake suddenly can’t move fast enough in the water to catch Terri and Danny (!!). Westridge then has an inexplicable – and of course, fatal – moment of heroism, as he splashes around deliberately attracting the snake’s attention and allowing his companions to make it back to the boat. Trying to evade his pursuer, Westridge begins climbing the waterfall (??).

On the boat, Terri grabs Sarone’s rifle, and in one of the more amusing sequences in the film, demonstrates about forty-seven different ways you can not fire a gun. In the midst of this, Sarone attacks, slamming the knife into Danny’s thigh, and inflicting an injury that will cause him to—limp slightly for the rest of the film. As the two wrestle, Terri finds a few more ways not to fire a gun.

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You know, if I had to pick a way not to die…

While this is going on, poor old Westridge gets a practical demonstration of just how remarkable these snakes really are. As he cowers behind a curtain of water, one of them (the same one? another one? who knows?) pokes its head through. Westridge tries jumping to safety – whereupon this snake, which turns out to be coiled around a tree branch at the top of the waterfall, strikes down at him faster than gravity, catches him in mid-air and, instead of being immediately dragged to the ground by the momentum, coils itself back up towards the branch!!

Anyway, the tree to which the anaconda is clinging falls under the snake’s weight (yeah, you’d think!). Both Terri and Danny are knocked into the water by the impact, although she quickly manages to clamber back on board. She tries to help Danny back, too, but just at that moment, Denise’s body re-surfaces. And then the snake attacks Danny. Phew! It’s just one thing after another, isn’t it?

Luckily for Danny, however, he’s carrying a Hero’s Death Battle Exemption© card, so not only is he not killed, or indeed even injured, by the snake, despite being thoroughly constricted, but the snake latches onto Denise’s dead body, which bobs up at this point, instead of his own. Terri then finally figures out how to fire that darn rifle and, after the snake helpfully lets go of Denise and lines itself up for her, puts three bullets into its head. Despite the resulting damage, the snake screams in protest before sinking under the water.

Danny climbs back on board, and then – and not a moment before – Sarone reappears. He grabs the rifle off Terri (who responds by biting his thigh – hope his shots are up to date) and seems about to wipe out Our Heroes, when—

Hey, Eric Stoltz! I remember him!!

Yup, it’s good old Steven Cale, who comes out of his coma just in time to stab Sarone in the back with a reptile tranquiliser dart. And having done so, he immediately lapses back into his coma. Well, thanks for coming.

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The Amazing Yo-Yo Snake Action©!!

Sarone, meanwhile, has fallen into the reeever and sunk. And just in case any of us are foolish enough to think he’s actually dead (on the first attempt, and with eighteen minutes of the film to go!), Danny saying, “Damn! The dart fell out of his back!” is dubbed in.

(Not that it should matter: this is the second time the film has demonstrated that it doesn’t understand how a tranquiliser dart works.)

Now, you might remember that the boat was supposed to be stuck on a sandbank. Well, it turns out that the best way to get a boat off a sandbank is to have a tree and a giant anaconda fall on it. As a consequence, this boat is now free – something signified, in a simply marvellous piece of quality film-making, by the footage of the boat getting stuck in the first place being run in reverse – complete with shots of the waterfall behind it flowing upwards!! Oh, well – I guess after that Amazing Yo-Yo Snake Action©, anything’s possible.

Terri and Danny chug on down the reeever, and come across a broken-down and deserted old riverfront house, where – “There might be fuel!” (Guys, just give it up, will you?) They wander in, inspecting the damage and solemnly agreeing that they don’t want to know what happened there.

(Knowing that the film’s conclusion to be just around the corner, Luis Llosa here indulges himself not just with Dutch angle POV shots, but with one that does a loop-the-loop!)

And what do you know? There is fuel in there! And a gigantic snakeskin! Oh – and Sarone, who somehow managed to get downriver before the motor-powered boat. Surprise! And one blow of a rifle butt later, both Terri and Danny are trussed up back to back – and in a beautifully tacky arrangement, Terri’s bonds are directly below her breasts, and as she struggles during the following scenes, they begin to act like a push-up bra!

Kwality!

Sarone, meanwhile, has killed and bled out another monkey, which leads to yet another of the film’s technical highlights. If you get the chance to see this film on DVD, make sure to watch this scene frame by frame. Doing so will reveal that not only are Terri and Danny covered with blood before Sarone throws it over them, the blood that he throws doesn’t actually touch them. Almost as if it were nothing more than a crappy animation effect.

Sure enough, this “bait” lures in another anaconda, which hangs down from a wooden ceiling that must be a hell of a lot stronger than it looks. It’s about to devour Our Heroes when Sarone springs a net trap, hauling both snake and humans up into the air. However, he also chooses to tether his trap to a pipe that’s clearly not as strong as the wooden ceiling.

The snake gets free, and for some reason Sarone hesitates to use the tranquilliser. He ends up trying to escape by climbing up a ladder, but the gravity-defying critter shoots straight up after him and drags him down. The ladder collapses, and Sarone is temporarily free; but Danny manages to pull on the net ropes with his feet, which blocks Sarone’s exit.

(So – it’s okay to make sure someone is eaten by a giant snake, but it’s not all right to just whack them in the first place? Interesting morality.)

And Sarone finally gets the comeuppance we’ve all been waiting for, as he gets the privilege of hearing his bones break before his veins explode. And then, in one of the weirder shots I’ve ever scene, we watch Sarone being swallowed—from inside the snake!?

While the anaconda swallows Sarone, who slips down its throat as swiftly and easily as an oyster, Terri and Danny manage to cut themselves free. As they run away, the snake deliberately knocks Danny over with its tail, then starts chasing Terri.

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Aww…real snakeys!

(Anaconda would seem to be the source of the conviction, illustrated in pretty much every subsequent killer snake movie, that snakes use their tails as an offensive weapon.)

Terri somehow out-runs the anaconda, even though it’s moving like a giant mutated sidewinder, but stumbles into a snake nest, giving us another chance to compare some gorgeously patterned and coloured real snakes with the godawful computer effect that’s chasing her around.

W-R-O-N-G!!

As Terri recoils in terror from the harmless little nestlings, the animatronic head shoots through a nearby window – and then we get the film’s crowning gross-out moment, as the animal barfs up Sarone. Frankly, given Jon Voight’s performance, you can’t really blame it.

And just in case there’s anyone out there whose suspension of disbelief hasn’t already been pummelled into complete submission, Sarone somehow manages (i) to still be alive in the first place; and (ii) to tip Terri a cheeky wink before collapsing. I hope you enjoyed that scene, people, since it’s the reason that idiotic lie about the eating habits of anacondas was told in the first place.

(And following on from Jaws 3-D, what we have here is another killer animal film in which the animal, female by implication if not by declaration, has an eating disorder. I am seriously thinking of starting a support group…)

The snake then kindly gives Terri and Danny time to plot its demise before attacking again. Terri runs to a smokestack and begins to climb the ladder inside, while Danny sneaks up behind the pursuing animal and pins it to the ground with a blow from a pick-axe. He then pours fuel all over it – that precious fuel they need to get home, remember?

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The Amazonian ham-eating snake (adult).

Some suspense is milked out of Terri being unable to get the cover of the smokestack up before the snake breaks free, but she finally manages it, of course, and ends up dangling on a rope down the outside of the smokestack. Danny set off his fire-trap a little prematurely, it seems, and Terri is forced to jump to safety before the whole place goes up in flames. Luckily for Terri, however, she too has a Hero’s Death Battle Exemption© card, so even though we clearly see her dangling directly over a wooden platform, when she falls she lands in the water a good fifteen feet to the left. Phew!

Then the smokestack explodes, and we see the snake, completely on fire, sail through the air and land in the water, screaming in agony all the while. And although it is on fire, it still manages one more shot at Terri. An unavailing one, naturally. Danny (how did he get out?) drags Terri out of the water, and they watch the anaconda’s death throes.

And then, just when everyone was most expecting it, another snake slams through the wooden walkway on which Our Heroes are standing. Terri can only cower helplessly, but Danny slams that handy pick-axe into the animal’s head. “Bitch,” he comments charmingly as it dies.

Back on the boat (I guess enough of that fuel survived the fireball), good old Steven Cale finally wakes up, exchanging a hug with Terri. Awww. Some time later, when Cale is up and around (and picking at his neck wound – tsk!), a small flotilla of native canoes suddenly appears.

Yup, it’s the Shimishama. Sadly, contrary to what numerous Italians would have us believe, the members of this long-lost tribe do not immediately evince cannibalistic tendencies. But still, there’s no reason to despair just yet. Just wait until the Shimishama find out how many of their snake gods Our Heroes have managed to kill…

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Eunectes horribilus inflammabilis.

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13 Responses to Anaconda (1997)

  1. Dawn says:

    Of course, the real reason Sarone gets on the boat is to use all the documentary crew as bait. The monkeys just weren’t doing a good enough job.
    And yes, about the protective clothing. I live in the Phoenix area, and cover myself up like a mummy whenever I go out (lots of skin cancer in the family). I get so tired of the disaster movies involving excessive heat/sunshine where the cast goes around in sleeveless tops and shorts. At least put a stupid hat on! And if you’re sitting on the ground, get in the shade.

    Like

    • lyzmadness says:

      You’re preaching to the choir there, Australia is still the melanoma capital of the world. Forty years of relentless education campaigns seem to have sunk in a little, at least, though, the rates are dropping.

      I wish Sarone had gotten around to bait-lining them a bit faster, it’s not like they were any other help to him!

      Like

  2. RogerBW says:

    Clearly if a snake does eat more than usual, all the surplus food is immediately converted to Snake Adrenalin™.

    Like

  3. Ronald says:

    “If that snake starts doing Aikido, I’m leaving.”

    Odd, I’d have thought that to be something that you’d LOVE to see…

    Like

  4. goddessoftransitory says:

    Oh, Lord, that waterfall! The Rifftrax guys did this one and every time Voight came onscreen they’d just do a high pitched growl-shriek: “Eeeeeeehhhhhhhhhhhh! Eeeeeeeeeehhhhh!” Definitely made it more watchable.

    Like

    • therevdd says:

      I haven’t caught that one yet; I probably should. Mostly to see if that noise is the one they used last year when they redid Santa and the Ice Cream Bunny. Bill Corbett kept making a noise that sounded like Burgess Meredith’s Penguin if he was high (and mentally slow) whenever the rabbit reared its oh-so-ugly head.

      I wonder if Lyz will post little clips like the waterfall one in future reviews?

      Like

      • lyzmadness says:

        It’s not something I see myself doing too frequently—too easy to make a lazy habit of it—but for moments like this where a screenshot just can’t get the job done, sure. It sealed the deal that someone had kindly captured just those few seconds, though.

        Like

  5. Ray Ochitwa says:

    THIS is the review that made me a devoted follower of the old website and it’s great to see it again! Usually when a film is this colossally stupid I can cut it some slack and have some affection for it but there was so much in Anaconda that just angered and annoyed me that affection wasn’t possible. I remember Crow T. Robot once said: “I want to hurt this movie, but I can never hurt it the way it hurt me.” I felt that way about Anaconda and it was wonderful to have you put the boot in so magnificently in this review.

    Anaconda 3 on the other hand… that’s fun. Filmed in Romania. John Rhys-Davies chewing the scenery in his inimitable fashion, CGI that looks like it cost all of $1.98 and David Hasselhoff who seems to have been paid entirely in the local 120 proof tuica plum liquor!

    I suppose I have Anaconda to thank in some way for being my gateway to the site years ago and that has resulted in me being introduced to quite a few movies that I otherwise may never have heard of and getting new insight to films I was already familiar with so I owe it that at least.

    Like

    • lyzmadness says:

      Hi, Ray! Aw, thanks. 🙂

      Yes, with this one you get the complete film’s overarching, organic stupidity…and then embedded within that, there’s its specific, snake-related stupidity. The combination seems almost deliberately designed to piss me off.

      Ah, yes, Anaconda 3… First I have to get through Blood Orchid, though…and past the fact that’s it’s set in Fiji

      Like

  6. Dawn says:

    You mention it in your review, but the statement that Anacondas regurgitate their food, only to eat it again later, implies that Anacondas do it deliberately to further torture their victims. This is demonstrated in the film as the still-living, half-digested victims all seem able to wave despondently at the survivors. That would imply a high reasoning ability on the part of the snakes, not to mention a level of sadism which is rarely equaled in the animal kingdom. Except by Humanity.
    btw, what are the immigration requirements for Australia? I would look into Canada, but it’s just too darn cold up there (although, climate change may take care of that).

    Like

    • lyzmadness says:

      Well, not quite—they don’t regurgitate to eat the same prey again, they regurgitate for the fun of torturing and killing something / someone else. Which is the same thing only worse, I guess.

      But yes, all films like this attribute sadistic reasoning to their animals. Pot, kettle, you know…

      A capacity to take nothing seriously except sport, mostly. But you might have to take a number and wait, just at present. 😦

      Like

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