I have a distinct and not very favourable memory of seeing Anaconda for the first time. It was my then-girlfriend’s turn to choose what we were to see at the movies, and she figured that Anaconda looked suitably daft. That, in this case, didn’t even begin to cover it.
It started promisingly enough, with a suitably serious scrolling textual introduction with equally suitable foreboding music warning us of 40 foot snakes. It failed, of course, to warn us that these snakes would be the result of some even-then really not very impressive special effects, and that just left a game of seeing how long Ice Cube, Jennifer Lopez, Danny Trejo, Owen Wilson, Eric Stoltz and the rest of the cast would last (that’s quite a cast in retrospect, but none of those concerned could come close to calling this their finest hour).
As the plot unwound – the usual hokum about being led into the jungle to hunt for an animal that’s bound to kill everyone – I distinctly remember sinking deeper and deeper into my seat. What should have at least being tongue in cheek fun managed to find resolute dullness in its premise, and by the time the computer guys turned up with their pretend snake, I was practically sitting on the floor, weeping slowly into some not very pleasant popcorn. It was not a satisfactory night out.
The film, of course, does have its trump card of sorts in one of Jon Voight’s worst yet most fascinating performances, performing the kind of facial sneer that should easily rake in three figures in one night come trick or treating duties. Anyone awaiting Voight to come along and save the film certainly wasn’t getting what they were expecting, but at the very least, he does give you something to talk about afterwards.
Generating enough interest and business to warrant a direct to DVD sequel in 2004 (with a third film following, and a fourth on the way), rewatching the film in high definition for the first time since I caught it on its theatrical release affirmed many of my first thoughts. Even amongst the league of monster movies (even those best enjoyed with a solid beverage or two), Anaconda is not a good one. In fact, for good stretches, it’s terrible, and struggles to even entertain. Age, however, has brought a fresh appreciation for the sneer of the Voight, who’s magnetically bad here, although time has helped the appearance of the special effects work not a jot. In fact, here’s a film that should never have been approved for a high definition upgrade: the great irony is that 1080p simply makes things look worse. For when the slithering sucker turns up, it looks even more fake than ever before. That’s really some achievement, and it denigrates the rest of the work done in the otherwise perfectly decent high def upgrade.
This would be the last film to date that director Luis Llosa would make in Hollywood, and given how much of a guilty pleasure the pairing of Sylvester Stallone and Sharon Stone turned out to be in his earlier venture, The Specialist (a film aided considerably by James Woods), there’s a bit of me that’s sad about that. Yet there’s no amount of revisionist sympathy I can muster to add even an extra sympathetic star to the film’s score. Anaconda was a terrible movie in 1997, and it’s a terrible movie in 2009. Ah well.
The saviour of many of a high definition package, a quality extra features package can buff up even the weakest of movies into something of at least curiosity value. Heck, I bought Batman & Robin for the Schumacher commentary. In the case of Anaconda, however, there’s not an extra feature in sight.
This, therefore, has not been the trickiest disc in the world to score.
The Film:The Disc: