Junkfood Cinema: Anaconda

By  · Published on May 27th, 2011

Junkfood Cinema: Anaconda

Welcome back to Junkfood Cinema; our love don’t cost a thing. Well it’s officially time to fire the captain of your brain barge because he has lead you down the internet river directly to the worst conceivable port. Each week I float atop a stinky, but apparently strangely buoyant, cinematic mistake, laughing maniacally as I poke it full of holes.

Then, once it becomes painfully clear that I am sinking and in danger of drowning in my own arrogance, I begin to patch those holes with an all-consuming, sorely-misplaced love for said mistake. Once I’ve satisfied myself that my rancid vessel is once again seaworthy, I have myself a little post-voyage snack paired impeccably to the movie. If you are already vomiting, I assure you it is not due to seasickness.

This week’s treat: Anaconda

What Makes It Bad?

When one is setting out to make a film about a giant snake, it would behoove one to avoid making the aforementioned giant snake the smartest life form on the screen. The premise of this film is about as shaky a setup as one could imagine. A crew of “documentary filmmakers” are traveling down the Amazon River in search of a lost tribe of natives. The trouble is that not one of these folks is believable as someone who’s ever made a documentary…or seen a documentary…or knows what the outside looks like. I’m not sure if its the presence of not one but two musicians-turned-disappointments-actors, Eric Stoltz’s ever-undeserved smugness, or the mutant visage of Owen Wilson, but something about this crew leads me to believe their documentary will either premiere on HGTV or Nick Jr. The boat might as well have been dubbed the U.S.S. Serving Dish. But at least they managed to have Ice Cube’s lines written by someone who had never met a black person in their life. His dialogue is composed of one-liner gems like “you don’t know shit about the shit we’re in,” constant references to the fact that he lives in some magical land called L.A., and – I shit you not – actual titles of his own rap songs. When the first words he uttered were “today is a good day,” I spent the rest of the movie waiting for him to shout, “Ice Cube is not for the pop charts”…before staring over at his co-star J-Lo and realizing the sad irony of that declaration. Kudos to him however for surviving longer than any other black man in a horror movie.

And then there’s Jon Voight; a man who’s performance is so awful it deserves its own paragraph. Voight’s first appearance on screen is a horrifying, panther-like leap from one boat to another so as to gain easier access to your nightmares for the rest of your life. This moment, wherein our hapless crew chooses to allow him admission onto their vessel was filmed in Insta-Regret-o-Vision! His face, locked in perpetual snarl somehow manages to squeeze out a few lines in an ongoing effort to make him look like cinema’s most successful stroke victim. His infantile rhetoric coupled with his you’ve-never-been-to-Paraguay-in-your-life Paraguayan accent relegates him to the lofty classification of “villain, I guess.” My favorite moment is when he points to what appears to be a large acid burn on his face as evidence that snakes do in fact eat people. Yeah, sorry there Perry Mason, but unless the snake was angry with you for being seen in public without your burqa, I don’t quite understand the correlation. The only thing worse than seeing Jon Voight being regurgitated by a giant snake is the knowledge that while the snake is computer-generated, Jon Voight is very, very real.

Speaking of things that are totally real, how ‘bout those Anaconda effects, huh? Apparently all the money in the budget went toward Jon Voight’s facial greaser and a steady supply of mom shorts for the female cast because the CG in the film cost about as much as it currently costs to rent Are We There Yet?, drive home, break your television in a fiery rage, drive back to the video store, and hurl it through the Plexiglas window. Oy vey does that rubbery computer snake look bad. The only way it could possibly look worse is if it were actually the snake from that wretched Nokia cell phone game. Or if, say, it leapt from waterfalls to snatch somewhat popular character actors from the sky or had the legs of Angelina Jolie’s dad dangling undignified from its jaws…oh wait. But at least the makers of the film were dedicated to perfectly replicating the natural sound an anaconda makes in the wild when it…imitates Tokka and Rahzar from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Anaconda.

Despite Emma Stone’s claims to the contrary in Zombieland, Anaconda is not rated R. This turns out to be its least cumbersome flaw, but is worth mentioning as it once again proves my controversial theory: Emma Stone has never seen Anaconda. I can’t help but wonder how the film might have been improved if it were a bit bloodier, or if Ice Cube could drop a few F-bombs. A complete rewrite and change of cast might also have well-served Anaconda.

Why I Love It!

Despite its kindergarten art class special effects, Anaconda manages flashes of a truly great, low-budget creature feature. If you edit out all the CG snake garbage and merely extend the practical effect shots, it graduates to the class of downright watchable! Some of the stunts are pretty ingenious, and I enjoyed almost every single kill. I can’t help but imagine this film made in the late 70s and directed by William Girdler (Grizzly, Day of the Animals). There would be nothing but practical effects, all the characters would be likable despite themselves, and it probably would have starred Christopher George. Honestly, if this accidentally quality B-movie mentality had been coupled with Anaconda’s legitimately impressive cinematography, the result would have been Jaws with a big fuck-off snake. As it stands, it offers just enough over-the-top death scenes and absurd vocal diarrhea from its doltish meat puppets to be unfortunately entertaining.

The opening scene of this film hilariously demonstrates the fundamental breakdown of a horror film victim’s problem solving skills. An uncharacteristically trim Danny Trejo is besieged on his boat by a miffed invertebrate and decides to scale the ship’s mast to escape. This is actually a genius piece of strategy compared to his next. In his hand, as he climbs the mast, is a revolver. As the anaconda, who apparently has evolved the ability to fly, encircles him, he uses the gun to…take his own life? Okay Danny, let’s call this a mulligan, piece your skull back together, and try again. So you know that thing you just put a bullet through? Yeah, that’s called your head. You know what else has a head? The giant goddamn snake that is trying to eat you! I submit to you that if you were to aim your pistol at the head of the snake instead of, and try not to let me lose you here, your own head, the end result will be similar, but arguably more agreeable for you…and your brains. So, in summation: bullet in snake=good, bullet in self=dead pants.

J-Lo sings not a single song during the film or on its soundtrack. Advantage: Anaconda.

Junkfood Pairing: Haribo Gummy Snakes

Technically gummy “yellow bellies,” which I find inexplicably racist, the Haribo corporation has crafted a snack food that feels suspiciously apt for this film. But, not one to sneer at candy companies doing my job for me, I implore you to stuff a tangled mass of these delicious creepy crawlies into your gullet. Extra points if you dip them in a jar of Smucker’s raspberry jam. Why, you ask? When Jon Voight tosses a bucket of monkey blood on J-Lo and Ice Cube, now also known as Jon Voight’s Tuesday night, I couldn’t help but notice how closely copious amounts of monkey blood resembles a tidal wave of Smucker’s raspberry jam. You know it’s good.

Stop playing with those anal beads and read more Junkfood Cinema

Longtime FSR columnist, current host of FSR’s Junkfood Cinema podcast. President of the Austin Film Critics Association.