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The story is simple. A documentary film crew head to South America and board a boat in search of a long hidden tribe called the Shirishamas who live on the Amazon River and soon encounter a stranded Paraguayan snake hunter named Paul Serone (Jon Voight) who tells them he knows the secret to finding the elusive people, but when the boat’s captain is rendered unconscious, takes command and reveals he is hunting a massive anaconda instead and leads them straight to it and a series of bone-crunching deaths.
Directed by Luis Llosa, it would be easy to say this film is just another silly CGI heavy monster movie and end it there, but surprisingly, this film has a lot to offer and is much better than it sounds with some great actions pieces, stellar work from actors who know the tone very well and make it convincing. There’s some fun and fantastic looking enormous snakes and of course the lush, beautiful cinematography (it was filmed on the Amazon) as well. This is an action adventure that paints in wide strokes but imagines a time and place that provides lots of thrills and even frightens but always stays fun with a sneering villainous bad guy, a gorgeous curvy good girl (Jennifer Lopez in an early role) and a plethora of inventive snake-related anarchy. And like every movie, it has one great moment.
We come to learn that Serone is obsessed with capturing a giant anaconda, of which here in the part of the river grow to such a size they can kill a man instantly, so a live one would be worth a huge fortune. The crew of the ship has already encountered one, which killed two members and tried for a third before the expedition leader, Terri Flores (Lopez) shoots it, saving lives. Unfortunately, this infuriates the deranged Serone who attacks Flores only to be over taken by others and tosses off the boat and set adrift in the river. The price you pay for being a loon.
Serone manages to survive and even catches up to the remaining crew a bit later. He captures Flores and Danny Rich (Ice Cube), the documentary’s cameraman and brings them ashore to an abandoned overgrown facility, tying the two together and pouring monkey blood over them, setting them up as bait for an even larger snake. It shows up right on cue. As it begins to coil around the bound man and woman, Serone attempts to fire a tranquilizer dart into the enormous creature but is foiled by the faulty netting he uses to trap the snake and misses. Now free from the snake’s grasp, Danny kicks at the pulley and gets Serone momentarily snagged in his own net, which gives the snake time to strike again. And strike it does, wrapping itself around Serone and then, of course, swallowing him whole.
The moment is the film’s highlight, a well-directed and staged action sequence that gives the snakes the gravitas the film demands. Following in the footsteps of any big monster movie, the villain falls victim to his own hubris, becoming consumed by the very object of their own blinded desires, a trope we saw start with the King Kong franchise. That Serone is oblivious to his own vulnerability is classic bad guy mentality and Anaconda does good by keeping this trait properly fun. We know he’s going to get his comeuppance, it’s only a matter of time, and yet, it’s still very satisfying when it comes. Watching Serone go to his demise is a great moment.