Anaconda: Synopsis

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"An Anaconda has heat sensors. A warm body is not hard to find. It strikes, wraps around you, holds you tighter than your true love and you get the privilege of hearing your bones break before the power of their embrace causes your veins to explode. Then it swallows you whole.

The Anaconda is the perfect killing machine."
- Paul Sarone, Anaconda

Treachery lurks on an Amazon river barge heading unknowingly to its final destination -- an encounter with a giant Anaconda.

The Brazilian Rainforest possesses its own ancient and paradoxical order. A beguiling jewel of a jungle, neon birds glitter in its canopy of prehistoric trees as capricious, nimble monkeys scamper along their branches. Craggy caimans and sinuous serpents slither into the dark Amazon River. Shimmering dawns give way to torrid sunsets. Yet this tangle of life quickly becomes an ominous labyrinth. Danger lurks at every bend of the mighty Amazon and these exotic residents prove to be as deadly as they are beautiful. At the top of this complex and powerful food chain is the largest and most vicious killer snake in the world... the Anaconda.

A documentary film crew enters this mysterious world, armed with cameras, sound equipment and the optimism of the uninitiated. Headed by anthropologist Steven Cale (Eric Stoltz), the crew, including director Terri Flores (Jennifer Lopez), cameraman Danny (Ice Cube), sound mixer Gary (Owen Wilson), production manager Denise Kalberg (Kari Wuhrer) and narrator Warren Westridge (Jonathan Hyde), embarks on a river expedition to find the legendary and undocumented Shirishama Indians, their boat piloted by the colorful Mateo (Vincent Castellanos). Along the way, they encounter Paul Sarone (Jon Voight) stranded on a deserted boat.

A charismatic loner who has lived by his wits in the jungle for years, Sarone engenders their friendship, if not their complete trust. Nevertheless, his professed knowledge of the elusive Shirishama tribe entices them. They follow him down the river, despite their misgivings.

But Sarone has own motives for driving the crew deeper into the river. He is on his own dark quest to track a lethal 40-foot Anaconda, a predator so vicious it has become legend, and he will sacrifice anything and anyone to find this adversary. The expedition becomes a jungle nightmare as Sarone's obsession leads them directly into the jaws of the ultimate evil, and they must use every primal resource just to stay alive.

Columbia Pictures presents Anaconda, produced by Verna Harrah, Leonard Rabinowitz and Carole Little. It is executive produced by Susan Ruskin. The co-producer is Beau Marks. The film is directed by Luis Llosa and written by Hans Bauer and Jim Cash & Jack Epps, Jr. The director of photography is Bill Butler. The production designer is Kirk M. Petruccelli. The film is edited by Michael R. Miller.

Eric Stoltz, who has garnered acclaim for his performances in such films as Pulp Fiction, Mask and Sleep With Me, portrays anthropologist Steven Cale. "Cale is the one who hires the crew to make a documentary about a group of unacculturated Indians up the Amazon whom no one's ever really seen but that have been rumored about for years," the actor notes. "We set out to do one thing, and fate takes over and we end up with a much greater adventure than an of us had planned, or packed for. What happens to this disparate, rag-tag group of people is that they are forced to get along and help each other in order to survive this adventure."

Cale also shares a complicated relationship with the documentary's director, Terri Flores, played by Jennifer Lopez, whose recent film work in such films as Money Train and the forthcoming Blood and Wine and Selena has garnered the young actor international attention. The part appealed to Lopez because it offered an opportunity for her to play a character who finds the steely courage within herself to deal with a danger and treachery she could not possibly have imagined. "Terri starts out as a documentary film director, not an action hero," notes Lopez. "This is her first big job and she really wants to succeed. Then things start to go wrong and she gives everything she's got just to survive. I think some people are stronger than others by nature, but they might not realize it until circumstances force them to find that strength. Through the course of the movie, Terri finds an inner strength she never knew she had."

The crew reaches a turning point when they pick up a man left stranded in the river. The man is Paul Sarone (Jon Voight), and the various members of the crew have different reactions to him. Cameraman Danny, played by film and music star Ice Cube, immediately suspects that Sarone is trouble. "Danny doesn't like him from the very beginning," notes Ice Cube, who has garnered acclaim for his work in such films as On Deadly Ground, Friday and Boyz in the Hood. "Sarone is a stranger. And a thumb on the side of the road or in a boat on the Amazon River is still a hitchhiker. He charms everybody. He can fish, he can cook, he's a river man, but he doesn't fool Danny. The real snake in the movie is Sarone and my character knows it."

Veteran actor Jon Voight, who was most recently seen in opposite Tom Cruise in the blockbuster Mission Impossible and John Singleton's Rosewood, stars as the brutal, enigmatic Paul Sarone, whose fanatical hunt for the giant Anaconda leads him and the documentary film crew he commandeers into a realm of terror. "To me, the Anaconda snake is a symbol of evil," notes director Luis Llosa. "We also have in the film a character who also symbolizes evil, and that is Paul Sarone. When he gets on the boat with the film crew, everything changes. Every character is affected in a terrible way by this man. People who were every-day good people discover that there is a tortured dark side they didn't know they had, but which is brought out by this character. I don't think the documentary crew ever feel comfortable about his presence because of his strange, wild mystery."

Voight concurs, noting that "Sarone shares many characteristics with the Anaconda. He has a strange attraction and a kind of identification with the snake. Everything in nature fits into a kind of puzzle that the snake has its place in. In this film, Sarone has his place in the puzzle. It was fun to play him because he's set up to be a classic villain. One hopes he will become memorable for his particular kind of insanity."

Owen Wilson, who made a memorable feature debut in the quirky hit Bottle Rocket, which he also co-wrote, appears as Gary the sound mixer, whose reaction to Sarone is the opposite of Danny's. "Gary kind of looks up to him, thinks he's cool," says Wilson. "So, Sarone takes him under his wing and uses him as a tool to take over command of the boat."

"At the outset, Professor Cale is in charge of the boat," Ice Cube explains. "He's overseeing the documentary and he's leading the charter. But when things start getting bad, Terri has to take over and all this time Sarone is trying to sabotage the trip. There is a power struggle way before the snake ever comes into the picture."

A turning point in the film comes when the party blows up a dam, leaving a trail of destruction, including the habitat of hundreds of baby snakes, in its wake. "Snakes literally rain down on us," says Wilson. "We've upset the ecological balance of this part of the river, and that's when things start to turn bad."

"There is a subtle message in this film," says Kari Wuhrer, who has most recently appeared in the films Thinner and The Crossing Guard. Wuhrer plays production manager Denise Kalberg. "It says that we're down here in the Amazon messing around with what is the most awesome, incredible power on the planet: the Amazon Jungle. I think that just by showing the awesome beauty of this place, this film might open a few eyes about just what we're toying with when we talk about burning it down. There also could be hidden dangers."

Voight concurs: "Cale and his documentary crew want to go in and find this tribe of people for whom the snakes are guardians. Their egos drive them. Their curiosity drives them. And in the end of the movie, we realize that all the disasters that have accompanied this journey have probably taken place because of an irreverence on the part of the members of this group. Some of them have been noble enough to have the right ideas at certain times. But others are lost in this sacred world. It becomes a story about how people grow to an understanding.

Rounding out the cast are Jonathan Hyde, who most recently starred as the ferocious hunter in Jumanji and the forthcoming epic Titanic, as documentary narrator Warren Westridge; and acclaimed stage actor Vincent Castellanos appears as the colorful Mateo, who captains the boat that takes the crew up the river.

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