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Snakes on a Plane (David Ellis, 2006)

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  • noelbotevera
    Snakes gone wild Noel Vera It s not exactly the kind of motion picture meant to extend or develop the potentialities of cinema as a medium of artistic
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 31, 2006
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      Snakes gone wild

      Noel Vera

      It's not exactly the kind of motion picture meant to extend or
      develop the potentialities of cinema as a medium of artistic
      expression; instead, it's an expression of an extremely literal
      sort: most of the movie takes place on a plane, and there are plenty
      of snakes on board.

      You know the story of course--or you would if you have haven't spent
      the past year of your life in a cave or desert isle: how the star,
      Samuel Jackson, signed on for the picture; how the filmmakers wanted
      to change the title into something less laugh-inducing ("Snakes! On
      a plane!"); how Jackson objected, and insisted not only that they
      keep the title, but that they pump up the gore and reptile-induced
      violence, and maybe even throw in a juicy nipple or two for the
      toothy villains to nip at; how his efforts inspired a web-based
      campaign to make this movie the single biggest moneymaker this
      summer of 2006.

      Ah ha, ha. Well, it didn't exactly turn out that way. But "Snake on
      a Plane's" saga, from B-movie roots to mushrooming online cultural
      phenomenon could easily have been the result of an extremely
      elaborate, extravagantly expensive Andy Kaufman joke (if Kaufman
      enjoyed limitless resources of cash and influence, and isn't
      inconveniently dead (or is he?)), complete with the ironic punchline
      that the film earned a piddling $13 million on its opening weekend
      instead of the tremendous $30 million predicted (so much for the
      power of the internet). As for the movie itself--well, it doesn't
      live up to the hype. But what movie could?

      It has its moments--oxygen masks dropping down from their overhead
      bins, some of which attack the passengers; a Chihuahua sacrificed to
      slow down a monster python (which promptly scarfs it down--no
      nonsense here about pet dogs surviving a movie); passengers swelling
      up to obscene sizes and oozing foamy fluids of all colors; so on and
      so forth. Of course, much of the picture's appeal--or repulsiveness,
      if you will--depends on whether you're afraid of the slithery
      creatures or you like them (I do; breaded and deep-fried and served
      with plenty of malt vinegar and smashed garlic cloves, they're fine
      eats); if they don't quite make you shiver with fear then what's
      left, essentially, is what camp value and humor you can find in the
      script.

      Ingmar Bergman this ain't; it ain't even good Larry Cohen, who
      despite his B-movie budgets and often pulpy sensibility can be
      counted on to stuff half a dozen brilliant ideas in the horror and
      science-fiction genre into movies only half that size ("Snakes"
      director David Ellis coincidentally directed the 2004 "Cellular," a
      cleverly tossed-off Larry Cohen script about a callow young man
      cellularly linked to a beautiful but endangered Kim
      Basinger). "Snakes" doesn't have the witty black humor of a Cohen
      script (too bad; the movie could have used it), and when it becomes
      solemn and serious (thankfully, not for too long) it flops like a
      ten-ton sponge, but it does get its basic premise set up (snakes;
      plane) with a half-hearted attempt at credibility (meaning they at
      least don't drag aliens (extraterrestrial or illegal) into the
      mess).

      As FBI agent Neville Flynn, Jackson is, in effect, the movie. He's
      the single greatest special effect in the picture, with his goblin-
      huge eyes, his grim slash of a mouth, his ability to project the
      words "mothafucka" at you loud and clear, even without uttering a
      single word, even as an animated character in a "G" rated movie
      (Frozone in "The Incredibles"), even in movies as monumentally dull
      as George Lucas' "Star Wars" prequels; he is, in short, the very
      embodiment of The Man and he will Kick Your Ass if you don't Toe the
      Line. It's a familiar schtick, of course, and part of the appeal of
      Jackson's performance here depends entirely on the possibility that
      you're not tired of it--a possibility that grows less and less
      likely with each and every iteration. Jackson for over ten years has
      been a welcome and amusing presence, but he needs to try and do
      something new.

      The rest of the cast is essentially reptile bait on legs; the snakes
      themselves get front-and-center attention and for the most part--
      when they're sliding up and down limbs, or slipping in and out of
      sleeves and mouths and pants legs, they're sinuously sinister. But
      Ellis' predilection for CGI snakes--more, for low-budget CGI snakes--
      tend to make you laugh more than shriek: most of the snakes wouldn't
      fool a baby (which is probably why one infant sitting in the plane's
      aisle looked so unworried at the big one slithering towards him);
      the plane passengers are about as realistically rendered, so you
      don't care about them either when they're being punctured. Ellis
      should have taken a look at, say, George Miller's fourth segment
      of "Twilight Zone: The Movie" for an idea of how to shoot and create
      suspense in the confines of a plane cabin, and James
      Gunn's "Slither" (or, as mentioned, anything by Larry Cohen) for an
      idea of how to use B-movie genre conventions to wittily ironic
      advantage. "Snakes on a Plane" was enjoyable in a stupid way; could
      have been better, though, in an even stupider way.

      (First published in Businessworld 8/25/06)

      (Comments? Email me at noelbotevera@...)
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