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Jun 4, 2009

Celebrating Great Terrible Performances: Jon Voight in Anaconda

To say that I (ironically) love Anaconda as much as something like Bloodsport or Road House would be a bit of an overstatement, but there's no denying that it's a comedy classic that's eminently watchable along the lines of a Starship Troopers. While Troopers gave us Casper Van Dien, though, Anaconda gives us Paul Sarone, as brilliantly, awfully played by Jon Voight.

Some of the younger folks may not know this, but Angelina Jolie's father has been nominated for four (4) Academy Awards, winning one (for Coming Home in 1978). He was nominated very early in his career for the Best Picture-winning Midnight Cowboy in 1969, and the 70s were good to him, including roles in Deliverance and Catch-22. But not long after Coming Home, something happened - his career practically came to a standstill, and he acted in just five films during the 1980s. I won't pretend to know why, as I'm unfamiliar really with the details of his personal life and the quality of those 80s films, but clearly he was no longer a hot property at the end of the Reagan Era.

You'd think by looking at his resume that some solid TV work (including Return to Lonesome Dove) and a role in Michael Mann's 1995 crime epic Heat were the main factors that led to his resurgence. But, knowing that he is in fact Jolie's father blows that theory out of the water. 1995 marked the release of Jolie's Hackers and her entrance to the national spotlight; a renewed interest in her father (and her rocky relationship with him) was not far behind.

However it happened, the mid-90s clearly marked a hot zone for Voight, as Heat led to Mission: Impossible which led to Rosewood which led to supporting roles in nearly two dozen high-profile films over the last 15 years. In some he's been terrible (Transformers, Pride and Glory), in some he's been decent (Enemy of the State, Zoolander), in some he's been downright appealing, making for a tremendous love-to-hate bad guy (Varsity Blues, Holes), and in all of them he's seemed to be unable of anything but overacting.

But the best of that appealing category came directly after Rosewood - Anaconda, in which Voight portrayed a vicious Paraguayan snake-hunter. Voight is at his overacting best (worst), giving a tour-de-force performance as a bad guy that's so over the top, so hateable, that you end up loving him (and the movie, by proxy) all the more for it. He oozes evil, admitting to a complicated scheme to trap a 40 foot anaconda using a bunch of outsiders that he didn't even need for the job, essentially kidnapping them along the way, and never once batting an eye when one of them bites the dust - and there is considerable dust-biting.

You know what, though - my words just can't do it justice. If you haven't yet, see the movie. Know that it's terrible going in and enjoy the hell out of it, particularly the brutally bad CGI (it was 1997 after all) and the scenes with a young Owen Wilson, as well as a showcase of sneers and entertaining lines from Ice Cube in one of his first acting roles. But most of all, enjoy Jon Voight as an evil Brazilian throwing monkey blood on Jennifer Lopez and Ice Cube, with an accent that makes John Malkovich's turn in Rounders seem subtle by comparison.

In the meantime, here are some choice quotes from the film, set to shots of Voight. Enjoy:

Danny: What's this?
Paul Sarone: Anaconda skin.
Danny: There's snakes out there this big?
Paul Sarone: This skin is three or four years old, whatever shed it has grown since then.

Paul Sarone: Westridge! Take my gear up to the pilot house.
Warren Westridge: I'm not your bloody poodle!
Paul Sarone: What are you saying?
Warren Westridge: How dare you presume to order me about?
Paul Sarone: Presume? How you like I presume to throw you in the river? You like that presume? Huh? Take it upstairs.
Warren Westridge: Thank you.

Paul Sarone: Imagine something this big captured alive. That's worth a lot of money, Gary.
Terry Flores: Jesus...
Paul Sarone: Please people, don't make me out a monster. I didn't eat the captain Mateo.

Paul Sarone: Never look into the eyes of someone you kill, they will haunt you forever. I know.

Gary: There's something down there.
Paul Sarone: I know.
Gary: No, I really MEAN it.
Paul Sarone: I really mean it, too.
(note: this bit of dialogue may not seem like much, but it really has to be seen and heard to be appreciated.

Got a suggestion for the next Celebrating Great Terrible Performances? Let me hear it.

14 people have chosen wisely: on "Celebrating Great Terrible Performances: Jon Voight in Anaconda"

wiec? said...

you are dead right, Voight deserves some kind of praise for that performance. i haven't seen that movie in ages but the best is when he finally gets his and he throws Lopez that little wink. terribly creepy.

Fletch said...

Thanks - I caught it the other day on TBS. The bad part is that they edited the f*ck out of it, taking a lot of the best parts out, including Voight's farewell. That was a disappointment. Still, I hadn't seen it in some time and it's really a wonder to behold.

By the way, I'd been to your site before, but never noticed the Random Picture Day site. Love it and have subscribed. The ones for the last four days cracked me up, especially the T.Hanks one.

Shubhajit said...

That was a great read. But was he that bad? I think my views about Anaconda would be along similar lines as yours. I know it is a classic bad movie, but I also remember full well that when I'd watched the movie as a young boy I was thrilled by it. That's one of the reasons for not attempting to watch the movie once again, lest I hate it. But c'mon, Voight was really evil personified - he was that bad (in a good way, that is) :)

By the way, that reminds me - I need to watch Midnight Cowboy soon.

Clive Dangerously said...

When I was six, my dad took me and my siblings (one older, two younger) to the movies. I said we should go see this, but he thought Volcano would be more appropriate for two grade schoolers and two preschoolers.

To this day, I still don't know which one would have been the right choice... why didn't we just leave?

Fletch said...

Shubhajit - it's a very fine line between camp and brilliance and atrocity here. I guess I like to think of it as a combination of all three. Judging by how bad he's been in some other films, I don't know if I can really buy into the idea that Voight knew this was going to be a campy movie and therefore amped up his performance. Either way, I adore the outcome, so I guess it doesn't matter.

Clive - yeah, the Right choice would have definitely been to leave, but, even as bad as Volcano is, it sounds like your dad made the Better choice - no way that Anaconda is suitable for a bunch of kiddies. Then again, there's a pretty gnarly scene in Volcano where John Carroll Lynch pretty much melts slowly into the lava.

If only that movie were more enjoyable, I might ironically love it, too. But no dice - it mostly stinks. Never did see Dante's Peak, though...

Gwen said...

I think this is the ultimate great terrible performance. I never get tired of watching Anaconda. Especially the part where he gets eaten by the snake.

I can't think of any other great terrible performances in particular. But everyone in Deep Rising is so bad it's good again. Love that flick.

Fletch said...

I have not seen Deep Rising! Hacky director? Check (The Mummy's Stephen Sommers). B-grade star? Check (Treat Williams). Future bigger stars amongst the co-stars? Check (Cliff Curtis, Djimon Hounsou).

Sounds awesome. Though, oddly enough, the plot summary ("A group of heavily armed hijackers board a luxury ocean liner in the South Pacific Ocean to loot it, only to do battle with a series of large-sized, tentacled, man-eating sea creatures who have taken over the ship first.") kinda reminds me of Sunshine, even though it shouldn't at all.

Sounds interestingly bad I'll definitely keep an eye out. Also sounds like a cousin to Ghost Ship (which I also never saw).

Hokahey said...

Gwen -

I love Deep Rising too! Lots of action and gore. Famke Janssen is awesome as the gutsy thief. Treat Williams and Kevin J. O'Connor provide many comic lines. "Do you have to be born with asthma or can you just get it?" I watch this movie at least once a year.

Also, Fletch, I love Anaconda but I like Anaconda 2 even more. I thought it was funnier, and I love the scene when the boat goes over the falls.

I'm a big fan of bad (and good) monster movies.

Anybody seen the recent Primeval (straight to DVD)? Love it!

Daniel Getahun said...

It's taken me a few days to recover from the excitement of seeing this again - we were obviously watching TBS at the same time, multiple times. Although I've never profiled this as an Underrated MOTM, it's basically why I started that feature.

I've received flack for years from my friends for loving this movie, but I know deep down they love it just as much. Heck we quoted lines from it like every day after it came out.

I never did see the sequel for fear that it just couldn't be as good without the same cast, including Voight. Though with Hokahey's recommendation I might have to consider.

Man, that last screenshot says it all...

Fletch said...

Hokahey - yeah, I'm with Daniel in that I've also not seen the sequel. Can't say that I've avoided it, but it's not like I've sought it out, either. I imagine that the acting and effects are (somehow) worse, but so long as the comedy's there, it's worth it.

Daniel - your love is true and good. Don't listen to the flak; you, like me and many silent others, are able to appreciate fine art and foreign films, but at the same time can get an even better high from trash like Anaconda or Road House. Mrs. Fletch just doesn't get it, no matter how much I try to convince her.

And yeah, that last shot of Voight is the best. The quote (the "I really mean it, too" one) probably doesn't read all that well to those that haven't seen the flick, but it's probably my favorite line in the movie, with Ice Cube's "snakes out here dis big!?" one a close second." Oh, and the way Voight says "Gaaaa-ree." And....

Daniel Getahun said...

Dude, that exact Ice Cube line was all mine back in the day.

I think Mrs. Fletch just needs to give it another look...

Reel Whore said...

I know, I'm hella lame for just reading this, but kudos sir, for a great (bad) selection. Just seeing his ugly mug reminds me of that crazy accent and the horrible acting he did.

det.trupo said...

Man,2 bad I missed this discussion.well Anaconda was the first time i saw voight,and i really liked it,ALL thanx 2 him.He seems to be aware of what kind of corny flick this is and just really enjoys himself. I think hes constantly on the edge of overacting and when the scene needs it,he goes overboard.I think its a great performance in its genre, And Voight DIDNT come back to life cuz of jolie.In 95 she was by no means a star and though past his prime,his resume was a guarantee for a comeback,if he played it right.Well,he never really made it back,but 2GoldenGlobe(Ali,Rainmaker)noms n an oscarnom. since 97 puts deniro n pacino at shame. M:I(decent there) Rainmaker(really good)Ali(unrecognizable n great) P.harbour(yeah i know,but HIS performance was right-on)Pride n glory(good) compare dat 2 88 min. the recruit,rightous kill,hide n seek,rocky n bullwinkle,showtime....So while he was overrated in his youth i think its the opposite now. And seriously,his face isnt that charasmatic,but he compensates with mostly good acting. Oh and dummy...u forgot to mention that he WON AN OSCAR for runaway train.1985

hanum said...

quite scary movie...