The camera swoops over the ocean as the song "Lovely Day" plays in the background. It is, indeed, a lovely day. Glorious even, especially as the coast of Hawaii pops up on the horizon, inviting beaches and lush vegetation making you immediately want to leave the theater to go on a vacation. And then, simple enough, the white letters appear: Snakes on a Plane!
That's right. Last night I ventured to the Regal Union Square for the 10 PM very first showing of the film that most industry professionals consider the litmus test for modern internet marketing. Snakes on a Plane, the Samuel L. Jackson starring, horror/airplane disaster flick that caused film web sites and bloggers to create an incredible amount of hype from the moment the title and star became known. Distributor New Line Cinema decided to test the true power of movie internet buzz; can films become huge hits simply through web-anticipation in much the same way as bloggers and the like have revolutionized the way bands break in the music industry? It's well known that when a film isn't screened for critics, it's usually because the distributor is attempting to entice some audience to theaters before the film can be panned in the press. But in the case of Snakes on a Plane, New LIne proudly withheld the movie, and dare I say ... rightly so, but not for fear of reviewers.
Don't get me wrong; plenty of critics will despise this film, or some who seem to enjoy it (like the Post's Kyle Smith) might think what makes Snakes on a Plane probably the most entertaining movie of the summer (and could wind up being the same for the entire year ... yeah, that's what I'm saying) is accidental. There is nothing accidental in Snakes on a Plane, just like there is no fear in New Line's decision to let crazy audiences of teens and 20-somethings be the first to see the film at 10 PM screenings last night. As Jackson said to Jon Stewart on The Daily Show earlier this week when asked about the fact that critics weren't given the chance to review the film, what more does anyone really need to know. It's snakes. On a plane. Or rather, as has already become Jackson's character FBI agent Nelville Flynn's catchphrase, "I've had it with these mother fucking snakes on this mother fucking plane!"
Don't get me wrong, part II: Snakes on a Plane is not for everyone. I'm sure there are plenty of people who wouldn't want to waste their time or who simply wouldn't want to get the joke. It is most definitely a "bad" movie. But I would venture to say it is one of the most well-made "bad" movies I have ever seen. Snakes on a Plane isn't like (or trying to be) a classic horror/gore film in the mode of the original Halloween or A Nightmare on Elm Street, but neither is it a film that wants to be scary but rather is simply laughable and tiresome like ... well ... every other entry in the Halloween or Nightmare on Elm Street franchises. Instead, Snakes on a Plane sits firmly in the tradition of Evil Dead II and especially Tremors, films that reveled in the cheesiness of their conventions, the ludicrousness of the situations, the hyperunrealism of the dialogue by managing to satirize their influences rather than spoofing them. They're films that go a step beyond what was attempted (successfully I might add) in the first Scream which was always knowing but still wanted to scare. They go way beyond the simple slapstick of a Scary Movie. They don't just smile at you; they wink, and nod and laugh along with you, never apologizing but also never pretending to be anything other than they are. Snakes on a Plane manages to parody -- honoring and worshipping but never ridiculing the best of the 70s grindhouse, while throwin in bits of an 80s cop/legal TV show feel. (The Cobra Starship video
And that's what we have here. This movie is simple: there are snakes; they are poisonous; they are dangerous; and if we follow Samuel L. Jackson, the baddest badass around (no offen se to either Van Peebles), we'll come out of it alive -- just like the witness he's sworn to protect. The screening I attended was (as I'm sure was also the case at most others) almost like a Rocky Horror experience, except in this case, nobody knew what was coming. Maybe the screaming at the screen from the audience would have been funnier had they actually seen the movie before. (19 or 20 year old male film student sitting behind me: yes, I got all your references, Airplane! and otherwise. You're not funny. At all. That's why every time you opened your mouth, there was no reaction. Please keep that in mind next time you think ... of anything.)
There actually is a story here. In fact, the story of Snakes on a Plane is at least as interesting, way more imaginative, and much tighter (ridiculous elements and all) as that piece of crap Miami Vice. (Yes, I actually have started three posts to express my distaste for Michael
Bay's Mann's -- whoops, that was a slip, I suppose -- latest, but I haven't posted any of them because they're just not coming out well. Like movie, like post I suppose.) Some surfer witnesses a crime lord bashing in the skull of a prosecutor. Jackson is sent to protect him, literally coming out of nowhere to save him the first time from the baddies. They get on a plane from Honolulu to LA so the witness can testify, but of course, the bad guy was able to learn which flight and arrange to have a whole slew of poisonous snakes shipped into the cargo hold. Then, having flowers and leis sprayed with a pheromone that will make all the snakes go crazy and attack. Every stereotypical archetype (or maybe it's archetypical stereotype) is on this plane. When the timer counts down that the audience knows will release the snakes, the chant of "3 ... 2 ... 1 ..." grew louder until there was an explosion on screen as well as one in the audience -- an outburst as everyone excitedly yells, "SNAKES!!!"
There's no fat to trim in this storyline. There's no message to this movie -- although one of the better lines from the audience was, "See something, say something!" There's only great deliberately cheesy acting, lots of venom, a fantastic boa constrictor meal, some puss and venom, some sex and nudity, some wonderfully crafted effects (sometimes also wonderful in their cheesiness) and, maybe best of all, snake p.o.v.! Oh yeah ... and David Koechner who makes just about every movie better. What more could you want?
Well ... Jackson with a taser. Jackson with a broken bottle on a stick. Jackson with a fire extinguisher. Jackson with a homemade flame thrower. Jackson with a gun. Jackson with a harpoon gun! That's what I mean ... don't ask. Just sit, and grin and laugh, and maybe once or twice you might even jump. The only way New Line could possible ruin this movie is by making the sadly inevitable sequel. But as far as things go in the year 2006 ... I can't wait to see it again!