I have pet peeves about monster movies these days. Some of them have shown up in other movies that I have really loved, such as Jurassic Park, but I had never seen anything like that kind of movie in my life. It had glorious and original visual effects that looked completely realistic, but nowadays, a movie thinks it just needs those visual effects to be good. But it can't anymore. Such is the case of Anaconda, the new film by Luis Llosa. Anaconda is a visually enticing movie with some good special effects, but as for acting, dialogue, and plot, this movie stinks.
Anaconda opens with some unusual scene which I'm not sure what it has to do with the rest of the plot. I guess it just shows what someone is willing to do to get away from an Anaconda. We don't see the giant snake just yet, but we know what he is running from, mainly because of the trailers and ads. Next, we jump to a group of people filming a documentary on a tribe of natives, or "people of the mist." They arrive to the location and they all board a barge to travel down the Amazon River. We don't get to know the characters much, in fact, we hardly get to know them at all. But it isn't important in a film like this. A monster movie always has to have a few characters that we don't care about (in this case, all of them) just so they can be killed by the monster.
The film involves the director of the documentary, Terri (Jennifer Lopez, fresh off Selena), and her crew. They include an anthropologist, Steven (Eric Stoltz), a cameraman, Danny (Ice Cube), production manager Denise (Kari Wuhrer), and a couple others who captain the ship. While forging down the river, they happen upon a shipwrecked Paul Serone (Jon Voight). He says that he has seen the tribe whom they are looking for for their documentary. They agree to follow his advice and forge ahead. However, an accident occurs on board, involving scuba gear and a poisonous wasp. Because of this, they want to get to a hospital as soon as possible. Serone pretends to want to help the victim, and tells them to continue down the river.
We quickly learn that Serone doesn't want to help the guy, but he wants to continue his own expedition to capture a giant Anaconda. The rest of the plot is predictable, and so I won't bore you to tell you what it's about. What I will say is that the movie tries so hard to be scary, but doesn't quite make it. There are several moments when I jumped, but not as much as I did, say, during Arachnophobia. Perhaps it's because I don't have a phobia of snakes. I don't know. Maybe it just wasn't scary. I think many of the faults lie in the ad campaigns of the film which show many of the great moments.
There were many problems with the movie besides the predictability of the plot though. While I loved the snake, many of the times it looked more like a computer generated creation instead of a real snake. I don't think that ILM (Industrial Light and Magic) did the effects for this movie because they wouldn't have settled for this quality. However, there are also several moments when I gasped at the realism. Two particular moments include when one man jumps down a waterfall and caught by the snake, and another is a little more subtle. It's when the snake slithers speedily on the ground chasing after a woman. It's close to the end, but it looks incredibly realistic. But, even with some of these good moments, overall the effects were cheesy, such as the man inside the snake as it swims underwater (you'll see what I mean if you choose to see it) or the moment when it shows an inside shot of the snake.
I think the overall problem with the film is that they show the snake way to early on. In Jaws, we never saw the shark until late in the film, which raised the tension and scariness of it. In Anaconda, we see the snake early on and so only the music and cinematography scares us. But how many times are they going to show the camera underwater moving as the snake approaching someone who is just about to jump out of the water, barely escaping death? In fact, while writing this review I wonder if I'm giving the film too high of a star rating. Nah, it's not completely a horrible movie, but it's still not a terrific movie either. The acting is third-rate, with the exception of Jon Voight, and the snake isn't as scary as it could have been made to look, but the visuals and tone of the film are pretty good.
Anaconda is rated PG-13. There is plenty of violence and even some gore, along with tribal nudity, sensuality, and some language. And now a personal note: I really hate people who talk in the theaters. It's distracting and annoying. While watching Anaconda, I had kids in front and in back of me who kicked the seats and talked throughout the entire film. I told them to be quiet several times and soon resorted to getting the management to take care of it. If you can't be quiet during a film, don't go to them. Now back to the review. This movie is mostly made for the 12-18 year olds because adults will be insulted at how stupid it is, and anyone younger shouldn't see it. But I'll admit that watching the snake was a pleasure, especially when if regurgitated one of the characters. Now that was original!
** out of ****
Reviews by Boyd Petrie