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Non-Review Review: Anaconda

Anaconda is a B-movie. It’s not a homage to a B-movie, or a love letter to that type of film. It’s not a nostalgic throwback, or an attempt to capture some of the elements of those old cheesy productions. It actually is a B-movie. There’s no real attempt to execute the film in a manner that rises above those, or even captures that type of filmmaking at its best, it’s just a solid example of what a B-movie might look like, were it produced today. It’s hard to argue that Anaconda is a good film – and I’ll readily concede that it’s actively a badone – but there is some charm to be found it, if only from the way that all the hyper-trashy elements seem to come together in what appears to be a perfect storm of creature feature cheese.

I always had a crush on Jennifer Lopez...

On any objective level, it’s easy to criticise Anaconda. The performances are really bad. I quite like Jennifer Lopez, and she’s proven herself capable when the right script comes along, but here she’s just crap – though there isn’t a lot to work with, to be frank. (Favourite random silly moment #1: During an early enough fight sequence, Lopez’s character proves “feisty” by biting the guy they’re overpowering.) Ice Cube isn’t a good actor in most cases, and here he’s reduced to stating the obvious. Owen Wilson and the British guy from The Mummy are along for the ride, but neither of them does anything memorable.

And then there’s Jon Voight. His work here would have him declared “emperor of the gleefully terrible bad actors association.” In fairness, I kinda respect how far out into the realm of an awful performance he goes. He gives his incredibly one-dimensionally-evil character a Cuban accent for some reason, perhaps because he’d been watching Scarfacein his trailer and thought it was a good idea. He makes sure that, even before he’s revealed as a dangerous sociopath, he’s glowering and grimacing his way through the film, making sure that you know he’s relishing shooting poor innocent monkeys (supposedly for bait.) Of course, the script calls for him to kill a woman with his thighs (while she’s standing and he’s sitting), so I suspect Voight looked at the script and just decided to jump in with both feet.

Do the Voight thing...

And, to be honest, I kinda like it. It’s a bad performance that would ruin any other film, but it’s so incredibly one-dimensional, so clearly focused on illustrating that this guy is the bastard ill-begotten of Dick Dastardly and Gaston from Beauty and the Beast, that it kinda works. Voight’s performance is the one you remember after the film is over, and the guys seems to be having so much fun that it’s infectious. His dodgy ponytail and strange inflection seem to say, “Look, Jon Voight is just going along for the ride and enjoying it, you should too.”

We tend to look back rather fondly at B-movies. Film fans talk about those kind of films with a strong whiff of nostalgia, and we flock readily to any number of affectionate homages and throwbacks. We look at films like Star Wars and The Raiders of the Lost Ark and Jurassic Park, and point out how directors like Spielberg and Lucas are “reclaiming”that sort of campy and corny old entertainment, producing it for a new audience. However, as much as we might look at these films as something like an evolution of the B-movie, their genetic code seems quite different. They might borrow story elements or the occasionally cheesy shot or reference, but they are all well-produced movies with high-quality production and top-tier talent. The very definition of a B-movie is that it doesn’t have any of those characteristics.

Cabin fever...

Although it does feature Jennifer Lopez, Ice Cube, Jon Voight and Owen Wilson, Anaconda feels much closer to the actual level of those B-movies, rather than an attempt to graft some of their more recognisable elements onto a summer blockbuster. All the elements are there, from the dodgy set-up to the poor special effects (the CGI looks terrible) to the contrived and arbitrary conclusion. In the same way that The Expendables felt more like an actual crap eighties action movie, rather than a nostalgic throwback to one, Anaconda feels like a proper B-movie, rather than a more conventional movie with similar elements.

I kinda like it, despite the fact that it’s trite and predictable, and that none of the characters feel like characters, and the CGI is dodgy. I admire the cheesy monster movie aspects of it, and the cheesier moments, like a half-digested crew member taking the time to wink at Jennifer Lopez as he dies. Despite the ropey CGI, I actually like some of the practical effects work. The snake looks really good in close-up, even if the effect is ruined when larger shots call for the use of more modern special effects.

Shot on location?

I admire that Anaconda isn’t an attempt to build a good movie with references to old cheesy creature features, but is instead a bona fides effort to construct a cheesy creature feature on its own terms. There’s a strange honesty in that, and a pulpy enjoyment to be hand, if you can go along with it. It’s not great – I wouldn’t even argue that it’s good – but it can be enjoyable, if you’re in the right mindset.

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One Response

  1. I really like your distinction between a throwback to b-movies versus actual modern b-movies. Never thought too much about that distinction, but it’s very interesting.

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