Film review by Thomas M. Sipos




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Anaconda  (1997, dir: Luis Llosa; cast: Jon Voight, Jennifer Lopez, Ice Cube, Eric Stoltz, Jonathan Hyde)



Can a giant snake make for a horror film? A horror story requires an unnatural threat, thus while ferocious animals may make for an adventure film, only unnatural animals make for horror. Jaws's shark is not sufficiently unnatural to qualify as a horror threat. Anaconda's snake is more abnormally large (hence, more unnatural) than Jaws's shark, but it's still borderline. Still, Sony did market Anaconda as a horror film, and although studio marketing executives aren't concerned with accuracy in selling their films, here's my review.

Eric Stoltz is a university professor seeking a legendary rain forest tribe, reputedly living along the Amazon river. Jennifer Lopez is the documentary filmmaker hoping to record his discovery. Ice Cube belongs to Lopez's film crew. Once they rent a boat, they journey into the primitive and all its primordial horrors. There are other actors on the boat, but they're mainly there to be eaten by the giant snake, so their characters are unimportant.

They soon come across a stranded boat containing Jon Voight, an ex-priest and snake catcher.  Knowing more than he lets on, Voight seeks to divert Stoltz from his expedition so that Voight can capture the giant snake. Why he can't hire a new boat is never made clear.

Anaconda depicts the usual stereotypes. Voight is the evil White Big Game Hunter. Lopez is an Idealist who accuses him of poaching. She frets over the ecosystem when Voight blows up a primitive native dam. Stoltz too is an idealist, but he's pretty useless. Although Stoltz is something of a love interest for Lopez, it is Ice Cube who performs the manly rescues. There's also an effete Brit (Jonathan Hyde) who imperiously orders about the natives, lugs the usual inappropriate luxuries into the jungle, and practices his golf swing on the boat while listening to opera CDs.



As in many adventure films, the Big Game Hunter has a keener understanding of cruel Mother Nature than the eco-sensitive city slickers (Ice Cube and Hyde pine for urban living). The boat descends ever deeper into the heart of darkness, suffering mechanical mishaps, ignoring native taboos, and disrespecting the ecosystem. As in Deliverance, the crew must embrace the primitive if they are to survive and beat both Voight and the snake.

In this sort of film, the real star is the snake. It's big. It hisses. It's computer generated. But it doesn't show up as often, nor kill as gruesomely, as horror fans may like. It's an okay snake, nothing to be ashamed of. But there's only one memorable scene: the snake regurgitating a partially digested, but still living person.



Once again it's not the monster but the villain, Jon Voight, who steals the show. Voight is skin-crawlingly creepy, with a perpetually pronounced frown and slits for eyes. (Is this a "method" thing, him trying to look like a snake?). After due consideration, Ice Cube ventures to state that there's something he doesn't like about Voight, and we think ... DUH!




Anaconda has a simple plot. City slickers venture into the jungle and a big snake picks them off. This is a film about: Who will be eaten next? Voight is creepy fun to watch. Lopez is especially fun to watch after her clothes get wet. And there's a giant snake that eats people. A pleasant time-killer, if no more.

Review copyright by Thomas M. Sipos


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