Snakes on a Plane

| August 18, 2006

“Snakes on a Plane” is snakes on a plane, and a film review isn’t likely to shed further light on the subject, right? After the whack-a-mole bluntness of its title, are there any surprises left in the box? Absolutely not. This movie is no better or worse, no more or less hilarious, clunky, or downright awful and amazing than you’ve been imagining for the last few months of endless Internet hype.
See it in a theater bursting at the velvet ropes with an audience creepily redolent of a Stones concert, and in between all the raucous hoots and hollers, you’ll almost hear a collective sigh of relief: “Thank the Hollywood gods for this film’s thorough lack of pretension.”
So after an hour and a half of Samuel L. Jackson and Julianna Marguilles battling mother#$%-ing snakes on a mother^$%#-ing plane and keeping a mother#$%-ing plot successfully at bay, we can all sigh, agree this B-movie crap was truly one of the most satisfying films of the year, and finally go home and forget about it. Right?
And yet, if we all keep quiet, we might all be able to hear something truly devious slithering underneath the movie’s “Hey, I’m just a piece of dumb entertainment!” skin.
“Snakes on a Plane” seems poised on an unlikely fulcrum of cinematic trend and really does (stay with me now) have the potential to rewrite the art of mainstream filmmaking as we know it. The question is, will it send us back to the bright, surer days of Hollywood past or hurtling into a future of cynically dismal films that will leave our grandchildren asking “What were they smoking in 2006?”
In some respects, after all, “Snakes on a Plane” is a gleeful throwback to disaster films that dominated the ‘70s and ‘90s. By the time Samuel L. Jackson yells what I hope becomes a classic in the near future – “We need to build a barrier between us and the snakes!” – to a potpourri of cardboard strangers From All Walks of Life, it evokes what made ticket holders rally around fun box office fare like “The Towering Inferno.” And by the time a non-character acknowledges that “we all have to work together,” it’s “Independence Day” all over again.
The more likely – and scarier – direction for “Snakes on a Plane” to take us involves, well, us. Much has already been writ about the extent to which freaks and geeks on the Internet “made” this movie. Once the hype train got going via the key (the only?) ingredients, BIG STAR + BAD TITLE!, New Line Cinema realized what an unlikely gem they had at their disposal and amped it up with added R-rated footage and a summer catchphrase admittedly better than “I see dead people.”
Never before has a film garnered this much fevered mainstream attention for being so outwardly bad, and what’s trend-crazy Hollywood to do? Consider this one-and-its-done? Likelier, an ugly “Snakes on a Plane” sequel seems inevitable, and so do a truckload of other films that will try, really try, to up the last box office hit in pure awfulness. The day in 2010 that the marquee reads “Ferrets on a Desk” will be a mournful one for everyone who’s decided they’ve finally had enough.
To take the perhaps melodramatic social prognostication even further, it’s worth considering why an awful movie really would glean this much hype. “Snakes on a Plane” is ultimately appealing because everyone knows he or she’s better than this film, and every laugh is an acknowledgment of our own sneery superiority over a body of collaborative work. Could it be that our own high-and-mighty complex and raging cynicism has finally trumped our need for, pardon the snobby term, art?
It’s no coincidence that the plot involves a Blackberry and a Playstation saving the day. “Snakes on a Plane,” the ultimate idiot savant of movies, is heralding the arrival a new generation, one that understands the power of the Internet, sarcasm, and using both to fuel cinema as pure, junky entertainment and nothing more. It’s hard not to worry if this new merry band of Ironic Internetters has the power to save us from anything else besides a planeful of snakes, or if they’re merely here to party.
I laughed at every single moment of “Snakes on a Plane,” every depraved snake attack, every badass Sam Jackson moment, every audience member who yelled a clever “Mystery Science Theater” retort, just as I was meant to. But under all the sidesplitting guffaws, I couldn’t help thinking, “At what cost?”

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