Directed by David R. Ellis, 2006
Snakes on a Plane delivers. Period.
That’s the only question anyone wants answered after months and months of hype machine out of control. So if that was all you wanted to know, you can stop reading now.
It seemed there were only two possible outcomes. Either Snakes on a Plane was going to be so pathetic that its misery became the enjoyment (read: Tail Sting) or it was going to be so off-the-wall (read: Eight Legged Freaks) that its oddball antics would win horror geeks over, but probably leave regular theater goers scoffing it up. I don’t think anyone was ever really in the camp that David R. Ellis would serve up a movie that wasn’t just decent, but was actually honest-to-God good filmmaking.
First, for some qualifiers. When I say good filmmaking, I’m not talking Battleship Potemkin – I’m not an asshole – I’m talking filmmaking so precise in its goal that its successful execution has to be admired. Making an entire theater burst into simultaneous applause mid-movie is not an easy thing to do.
Second, think of Snakes on a Plane as a launching point for Samuel L Jackson’s character, Agent Flynn, to get into all kinds of crazy ass heroics. Think of him as a new John McClane. But if Blanks on a Blank becomes a template for a series of Flynn misfortunes, just like the Die Hard series, then Snakes on a Plane isn’t the equivalent of the first Die Hard. It’s more like Die Hard 2. Now depending on how much you hate Die Hard 2, that may seem like an insult, but it isn’t. Renny Harlin may have directed it, and it may not take home the trophy, but that’s one fun flick – and that is exactly what Snakes is.
As their title implies, John Heffernan and Sebastian Gutierrez’ script promises snakes on a plane and it provides snakes on a plane with all the accompanied chaos. Sure, you could have sat down and made a list of all the scenes that would probably end up in the movie (mile high club, dead pilots, flight systems failing, etc etc), but there is still plenty of crowd pleasing surprises. And what is familiar never feels as filler as it really is. Though the additional, R-rating requisite nudity woven into the aforementioned mile high club scene lingers far longer than it should and threatens to become just plain awkward (Did I really just complain about seeing a great rack for longer than I needed to?)
The CGI work on the snakes, which is probably something like 93% of the shots, is functional, but it never looks all that real and often times does revert to Anaconda-era digital. However, once you get used to their far-less-than-real aesthetic, your brain shuts off and just enjoys the mayhem.
And the mayhem does not disappoint. The gore is on hand, and while it may be dumbed down in nature (going for the shocks, rather than the nightmares), it is impressive and often times completely unexpected. There are enough pauses in between fits of serpent hordes for the movie to calm down and let in some fresh air, which really helps maintain genuine interest in it even as Sam Jackson does a horror-patented, Airplane equivalent of ‘finding the generator’.
And speaking of Jackson, to say he is the glue that holds Snakes on a Plane together would be like saying Jesus was kind of a good guy. Samuel L. Jackson is everything to this movie. With anyone else in the role it wouldn’t have worked. Period.
The supporting cast is great. Julianna Margulies is charming and attractive as the main stewardess. Kenan Thompson proves that he’s just a little bit better than his TV work. Plus, there are some great appearances by Lin Shaye and David Koechner. The only exception is Nathan Phillips (the guy from Wolf Creek), who couldn’t act scared if someone just shot him in the kneecap.
The movie has a really fun, energetic score by Trevor Rabin, which honestly surprised me. I was expecting to hear a Clear Channel sponsored soundtrack, so to have an original, instrumental score felt like a special treat.
And then of course there is David R. Ellis. The man really knows how to please an audience. Sure, the title, the absurd script (which makes perfect sense within its own logic, but not Earth logic) and Samuel L. Jackson did a lion’s share of the work, but the movie wouldn’t have been as invigorating as it was without the guy responsible for that jaw dropping pile-up scene in Final Destination 2.
So yes, Snakes on a Plane is more than a good-because-it’s-so-bad movie. It’s not even just a guilty pleasure, it is genuinely entertaining. Whether that will last through the ages or not is an entirely separate matter – it could certainly have been improved upon – but as a means for having an absolute blast at a packed movie theater, you can do little better these days than Snakes on a Plane.