Released on April 11, 1997, Anaconda became a box office hit grossing $136 million, but didn’t fair too well with the critics. I wasn’t a fan of the film but I will admit that some parts were fun in that “so bad it’s good.” vibe. Stephen Holden perhaps put it best in his review over at The New York Times, calling the monster snake spectacle, “A trashily entertaining reptilian version of Jaws set in the steaming heart of the Amazon rain forest.”
The cast was stellar too, including Oscar winner Jon Voight and the then surging mix of Jennifer Lopez, Ice Cube and Owen Wilson. (Side: Originally, Gillian Anderson of The X-Files and Julianna Marguiles of ER auditioned for roles in the film but couldn’t commit due to their schedules on their respective shows.)
The plot was basic: A National Geographic documentary film crew are attempting to locate a long lost Indian tribe in the Amazon. Along the way while on a boat, the crew stumbles upon Paul Serone (Jon Voight). His real objective is to find a large anaconda since he is really a poacher intent on finding the snake. His partner (Danny Trejo) was about to be killed by the very snake when he took his own life to prevent it. Chaos ensues when Serone takes over the boat and demands that everyone help him capture the snake. It’s not before long when the anaconda shows up and starts wreaking havoc killing several of the crew and making life a living hell for the rest.
The chase scenes are tense and can grab your attention, but after twenty years, it’s perhaps the main takeaway is just how dated the visual effects have become. Anaconda was filmed in Rio Negro near Manaus, Brazil. This location was the choice for the river scenes throughout the film while the remainder of the film was filmed at the Los Angeles Arboretum.
I do enjoy monster flicks such as King Kong, Godzilla, Pacific Rim, and the underrated Lake Placid, which quietly opened two years following Anaconda and technically re-charged the late career renaissance of one Betty White. But with Anaconda, it always somewhat seemed a pointless exercise in unoriginal storytelling. It’s also rather forgettable – as soon as you leave the theater it was rather difficult to remember anything about the film on a spectacle, let alone a character-driven level.
Nonetheless, Anaconda did quite well for itself, drawing the release of a sequel Anacondas: Hunt for the Blood Orchid nearly seven years later, along with two direct-to-DVD sequels. (There was even a Lake Placid vs. Anaconda film released in 2015 on the Syfy channel.) All that being said, monster films have their place in the world of cinema in offering the scare, thrills and in this particular case, cheap camp. For me Anaconda is somewhere right in the middle of that. If you can, find a copy of it and check out Lopez and Ice Cube in their early days trying to survive a large snake hell-bent on killing everyone in it’s path and a unique entry in the filmography of Voight.
Did you ever notice it’s eyes, in reality anacondas have rounded pupils, not those stilted ones that make them look evil. Plus, anacondas don’t scream when attacking or getting hit. The more you know, the more you realize how fun monster flicks can be or just how goofy they really are.