“Snakes on a Plane” should’ve been released at the beginning of the summer, providing the lackluster season with the jumpstart it needed. “Snakes” is The Summer Movie of the summer, a fun ride, filled with thrills, scares, laughs, fun dialogue and good action.
Samuel L. Jackson reportedly jumped at the chance to headline this film and I have no doubt this will pay off for him. There is enormous internet buzz about the project and the screening I attended was populated with people with their faces painted like snakes and wearing homemade t-shirts. This film has got to make a boatload of money. Right?
Sean Jones (Nathan Phillips), a twenty something out enjoying the Hawaiian countryside on his dirt bike, when he comes across a bloodied man hanging upside down from a bridge. The man tells him to hide. Soon, Eddie Kim (Bryon Lawson), a gangster, shows up and murders the man but spots Sean as he speeds away. Hiding in his apartment, Sean hears someone jiggling the front door and rushes towards the balcony, trying to escape, when he finds FBI Agent Neville Flynn (Samuel L. Jackson) who has arrived just in time to save his life. Flynn convinces Sean to fly back to Los Angeles and testify against the gangster, but Eddie Kim isn’t about to let anyone testify against him, so he has some of his men on the lookout. Using a private plane as a decoy, Flynn, his partner and Sean take over the First Class cabin of Pacific Air flight 121, making Flight Attendant Claire Miller’s (Julianna Marguilies) last flight hell. She has been accepted to law school and looks forward to never having to say “I’m sorry, you can’t sit in first class, but there is plenty of room in coach”. Shortly after taking off, the snakes get loose and there are a lot of motherf***ing snakes on the motherf***ing plane. As they slither around, all hell breaks loose.
Whether they will admit it or not, studios salivate at the prospect of a ‘high concept’ film, the projects they spend the most money on, devote the most advertising dollars to and book into the largest number of theaters. These projects usually begin with a pitch involving writers comparing too popular films. “It’s Freddy Vs. Jason.” “It’s a female Indiana Jones.” “It’s teenagers Vs. Death”. These simple ideas translate well into advertising and are more likely to capture the attention of a lot more people. I can’t even imagine the reaction when the writers walked into the New Line offices and said “its snakes on a plane.” That’s all you need to know. But what sets some of these high concept films apart, makes them more memorable than others, is the window dressing.
And Samuel L. Jackson is a good start for some interesting window dressing. Showing up moments before Sean would surely be killed; Flynn saves the young man’s life and then manages to deal with just about every obstacle thrown in his way. Throughout, he exhibits the FBI Agent’s toughness, never letting anything under his skin. The writers have come up with some memorable lines for Flynn, but Jackson makes them work, delivering them with his trademark deadpan cadence. The most memorable line was reportedly inspired by an internet parody of the film and added during reshoots. There is never any doubt who is in charge and this character will remain a memorable figure in cinema for some time.
Director David R. Ellis has a lot of fun with the film, taking us on the celluloid equivalent of a roller coaster ride. He realizes the core audience will most likely have a short attention span, they want to see some snakes on a plane. But he has to get things going, introducing us to the characters and setting the story in motion. As he diverts our attention, to the details of some of the characters, he also cuts back to the hold of the plane, and shots of a timer, as it ticks down. We can put two and two together and figure out when the timer reaches 0:00, the snakes will get out.
After the snakes are released, they slowly work their way through the cargo and this causes a lot of havoc with the electrical equipment. The Captain goes down to investigate, meeting one of the snakes. Yet, because this is an isolated event, no one else is aware of the problem yet. Then a couple of passengers, who are isolated from the rest of the plane, meet the deadly beasts. All of this amps us up for the main action, when the snakes enter the main passenger cabin. This reveal is unique, interesting and funny.
When the rest of the passengers realize there are snakes on the plane, the roller coaster car begins speeding down the track, providing a lot of thrills and chills.
Some of these attacks are amusing, some frightening, some just plane gross. Most of them elicit the response they do because we can identify. If a snake bit me there, it would be very painful.
“Snakes on a Plane” is a thrill ride of a movie. The entertainment value of the film is through the roof.
That said, “Snakes” is not a great film. It could’ve been so much better, and so much more memorable, if a little more detail were paid to the window dressing. Beyond the core group of leads, we learn very little about most of the characters. This is the type of film where everyone is established with the quickest, broadest strokes, merely enforcing the comic book nature of the story. Also, because of this, it becomes extremely easy to pick out who will be killed by the snakes. Let’s do a test. I will describe some of the passengers on Flight 121 and you decide which ones are killed during the course of the film; two young boys traveling unaccompanied to visit their mom in Los Angeles, afraid of taking the flight until their father charges the older boy with the care of the younger boy, the co-pilot who, wearing snakeskin boots, hits on every female crew member, an obnoxious British man who isn’t happy about having to sit in coach with the ‘filthy Americans’, a couple traveling home from their honeymoon and the husband has a fear of flying, a new mother carrying her baby in a papoose. I’ll bet you got it right.
Even though his presence is felt in every scene, the villain doesn’t make a reappearance after his first two, brief scenes. Yes, we know he is responsible for the snakes on a plane, and he clearly gets away (how else would they make a sequel), but we never see him again. As the credits roll, picture begins again and it would make sense to see a brief explanation of how he escaped. No, instead we get a music video.
If you are even remotely familiar with the premise of “Final Destination”, it should come as no surprise that Director Ellis, who helmed “Destination 2”, goes to great pains to come up with some elaborate snake attacks. After they attack this body part, and that body part, the attacks start to take a turn and become gory and gross for the sake of being gory and gross, deadening their impact.
These quibbles aside, “Snakes on a Plane” is a great ride and a lot of fun. You will be hard pressed to find a better thrill ride at the movies this summer.