In many ways, the 1997 monster film Anaconda is an incredibly dumb movie but let’s give credit where credit is for. Whoever was in charge of casting this movie managed to assemble the most unlikely group of co-stars that you would ever expect to see in a movie about a documentary crew who run into a giant snake while sailing down the Amazon River.
I mean, let’s just consider the most familiar names in the cast. Jennifer Lopez. Ice Cube. Jon Voight. Owen freakin Wilson. I mean, it’s not just that you wouldn’t expect to come across these four people all in the same movie. It’s that they all seem to come from a totally different cinematic universe. They’ve all got their own unique style of acting and seeing them all on the same small boat together is just bizarre. You’ve got Jennifer Lopez, delivering her lines with a lot of conviction but not much sincerity. And then you’ve got Ice Cube coolly looking over the Amazon and basically daring the giant snake to even think about trying to swallow him. Owen Wilson is his usual quirky self, delivering his lines in his trademark Texas stoner drawl. And then you’ve got Jon Voight.
Oh my God, Jon Voight.
Voight plays Paul Serone, a Paraguayan who says that he can help the documentary crew find an isolated Amazon tribe but who, once he gets on the boat, basically takes over and announces that he’s actually a snake hunter and he’s planning on capturing the biggest anaconda in existence. It takes a while for the snake to show up. When it finally does, it’s actually a pretty impressive throw-back to the type of cheesy by entertaining monsters that used to show up in drive-in movies back in the 50s and the 60s. But really, the biggest special effect in the movie is Jon Voight. Wisely, Voight doesn’t waste any time trying to be subtle or in anyway believable in the role of Serone. Instead, Voight gives a performance that seems to be channeling the spirit of the infamous Klaus Kinski. Voight growls, snarls, and glares as if the fate of the world depended upon it and he rips into his Paraguayan accent with all the ferocity of a character actor who understands the importance of being memorable in an otherwise forgettable movie. It’s as if Voight showed up on set and looked at what was going and then said to himself, “Well, Jon, it’s all up to you.” Serone is really a pretty vicious character. I mean, he literally strangles a character to death with his legs! But, thanks to Voight’s crazed energy he’s still the most compelling character in the movie. It’s really scary to think about what the film would have been like without Voight shaking things up. Along amongst the cast, Voight seems to understand just how silly Anaconda truly is. Voight takes a rather middling monster movie and, through sheer force of will, manages to make it at least somewhat entertaining.
Personally, I’d like to see a remake of Anaconda, one that would feature the same cast but would be directed by Werner Herzog. Just imagine if Herzog had told the story of that trip down the Amazon. Gone would be the bland dialogue and rudimentary character motivations. Instead, we’d have Jennifer Lopez slowly going insane while hundreds of monkey lay siege to the boat and Ice Cube musing on the never ending conflict between man and nature. Herzog’s Anaconda would probably be just crazy enough to keep up with Jon Voight’s performance.