Saturday, August 19, 2006


Snakes on a Plane lacks ambition, substance, character development, a coherent plot, stellar performances, realistic dialogue and craftsman-like direction. And those are just a few of the things it gets right.

This weekend's inevitable box office champion has achieved the impossible: it is the most over-hyped movie of the decade so far and yet somehow manages to actually live up to it all. But honestly, it's not hype that's all too difficult to live up to since all that was really expected of this movie in the first place was:



  • SNAKES on board the PLANE

  • SAMUEL L. JACKSON screaming "MUTHAF---ER" at least 20 times

No, it's not perfect -- Samuel L. Jackson would have had to drop at least 15 more "muthaf---ers" for that to be the case, for a start. But what SoaP has done is create the ultimate 21st century movie (so far).

It has cemented the summer of 2006 as the mainstream coming-out party for mashup culture (begun by the overwhelming acceptance of Gnarls Barkley) by overtly stealing so many raw materials it may as well have been made by a veteran YouTube-posting "I made this trailer out of scenes from the Brokeback Mountain trailer and footage from The Ten Commandments -- and the song is Toxic by Britney" director. It steals its opening murder scene from classically awful cop shows like T.J. Hooker. It steals the introduction of the characters on board the plane from every film in the Airport series. In a triumph of postmodernism, it also steals its attitude towards these characters from the disaster movie-spoofing Airplane!. It steals its horror from Anaconda, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and virtually every other movie that's ever featured a snake.

Beyond the theft and derivation, it made the best of its pre-launch hype by actually incorporating the internet-posted ideas -- or more appropriately, demands -- of its target audience into the final movie. After countless artists and musicians tried and failed in the 1990s to create malleable artistic structures within which the audience could participate and collaborate (like any number of failed "interactive CD-ROM" titles by the likes of Todd Rundgren, David Bowie and Peter Gabriel), SoaP finally succeeded in using fan input to create some of its best moments, giving the audience ownership of a movie like never before.

But enough of the pseudo-intellectual bullshit, because SoaP is just frigging hilarious, plain and simple. And it's much better enjoyed in a crowded theater filled with people who are in the mood to watch some crap and who aren't afraid to tell the screen about it. When I saw it last night the crowd was extremely vocal, including the middle-aged woman who sat two seats away from me and didn't seem to quite grasp it all (she went from talking out loud at Samuel L. Jackson's character and laughing along with the audience at the beginning of the movie to saying things like "Why they laughin'?" once the stunningly poor attempts at poignant death scenes began happening, as if she couldn't grasp that this was actually funny instead of tragic -- as if in her head she was thinking "The sad music's on, you can't laugh now!"). Like The Rocky Horror Picture Show, SoaP works best as a communal experience, so do yourself a favor and hit the most crowded theater you can -- preferrably one filled with people whose necks are draped with stuffed snake toys and whose "We Got Snakes On A Plane!" t-shirts are hand-made.

There is a veritable laundry list of brilliantly awful moments to be lauded, but far and away my favorite ingredient in it all had to be the "snake vision" sequences. Nothing says "this muthaf-ing snake is looking at me" like a blurry kaleidoscope in green duotone. Absolutely priceless (although the two instances of passengers drawing while on the plane are a very close second for me, especially considering the fact that one of the characters is a small boy and the other is a grown man and the quality of their drawings is suspiciously similar).

As Anonymous A said after we'd left the theater, it was almost a let-down that we didn't find ourselves forced to walk through a Snakes on a Plane-themed gift shop before being able to leave the theater like you are when you go to a big-budget museum exhibition. And that sums up the feeling you get if you approach this movie the way it should be, with your brain turned off and ready to be just another mindless consumer for the next hour and a half: it is a cultural event that lacks culture. Don't get upset by the non-stop Red Bull and Sony electronics product placements; don't worry about the fact that there are holes in the plot you could fly the muthaf---ing plane through. Just do what the movie poster tells you to do and you'll be fine.


Blogger Crispinus said...

I dunno. When Sam spoke that line -- you know it, we all know it -- I felt not like the fans had pwned the movie, but that they themselves had been pwned.

I appreciate your claims of audience interactivity, which are no doubt bolstered by your viewing experience in a raucous theater. Myself, I saw it at the local drive-in with my nauseated spouse -- how much more insular can you get?

I think there's a fine line between listening to the fans and pandering to the fans, and the filmmakers definitely went the second route. Not only did they adopt the immortal line, but they shifted their entire ethos from PG-13 to hard R. For what? For a few "muthaf---as"? Serpents biting cocks and nipples?

Did the fans who lobbied for this film not realize they were actualizing the suits' wet dreams? It's not as if the tweaks to the film were made solely for the sake of improving the movie. The premise of the almighty dollar was there from the beginning: if we, the suits, build it their way, they, the fans, will come. They did, and we did. So is the tail really wagging the snak--er, dog?

I've always hated the practice of movies "sponsoring" segments of television shows, as if the film were a sentient being who decides it needs some exposure, and ponies up the cash to buy itself some airtime.

But now a movie has gone one better. Although I ponied up the cash to see it, SoaP has treated me like its muthaf---ing whore.

11:38 AM  
Blogger John Eats said...

I think context had a lot to do with my reaction. If I had seen SoaP for the first time in an empty theater devoid of any crowd excitement, I most likely would have been sickened by what a crass, craptastic movie it was. Instead I saw it with a group of people who applauded every crappy line and laughed at everything that was funny but wasn't meant to be.

In no way am I making claims that this was a "good" movie, but I think it offers a suitably absurd experience to engage an audience willing to be seduced by its idiocy. And it certainly is idiotic, don't get me wrong.

I agree that the changes made were solely meant to blow the lid off the box office receipts, but as we've seen this didn't quite work out that way. But I honestly think it's a better movie than it would have bene without the changes, because instead of toeing the line of crap versus art, they full-on stepped across it and embraced the crap. And if it had been made with any pretense towards "art," it would have died a death. As it is now, it's the kind of movie that will grace the midnight slot at countless arthouses who will show it with a wink and a nod.

Not that that's necessarily a great thing, or even a good thing, but I'd rather see something beautifully cruddy than something that chokes on its own seriousness. Because really, the premise is snakes on a muthaf---ing plane. How could it be otherwise? How could there not be gratuitous, idiotic nudity? How could one-dimensional characters be taken at all seriously if they encountered snakes on a plane and didn't spout off a few "muthaf---ers"? Oh well.

I'm just curious if anyone will try to repeat this "phenomenon" now that it didn't make truckloads of money.

12:45 PM  
Anonymous Michael said...

I also feel a certain Rocky Horror thing going on here. When I saw it, the audience definitely said several lines along with Sammy L. Also I can imagine people standing in front of the screen acting out their favorite 'snake bite in a naughty place' scene.

Something that I found particularly brilliant about the film was the fact that although many claim that there was no character development, I would argue the opposite. Like you suggested in your post so much is stolen from other movies here-- including the characters. The characters don't need to be developed because we have seen them all before in other movies/tv shows. This was especially true of Sammy L.'s character but also for just about all the rest. The annoying british first class passenger. The annoying rich girl with small dog. The annoying guy who is afraid to fly.

2:05 PM  
Anonymous "A" said...

This is definitely an audience-participation movie.

Before long there will be standard things to shout at the screen, throw, wear, etc., that every college-age kid will know.

Instead of suffering through a screening of Rocky Horror Picture Show during freshman orientation (that movie needs a rest) kids will be throwing Red Bull empties at Snakes.

Oh, I also predict there will be a Snakes II, and it will be a m-fing flop.

(On preview, what Michael said.)

2:35 PM  

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