August 18th, 2006

Catholic Girls

Snakes in a Review

Much as I hate to admit it, I was wrong.

Snakes on a Plane is one of the best films I've ever seen. It's a far cry from being THE best, but I don't think it's off the mark to call it Citizen Kane of our time.

Everything comes together so perfectly: the acting, the shot composition, everything is so perfectly and deliberately rendered that you can't possibly see anything but what director David R. Ellis wanted you to see. It's like having a direct pipeline into his view of the human condition.

I'm sorry, I can't keep this up.

Snakes on a Plane is a better movie than I thought it was going to be. It's a slick, well-directed and well-produced package. Its greatest strength is that it's pretty much exactly what everybody expected, but its greatest weakness is that it's pretty much exactly what everybody expected.

The plot, for those who won't be seeing it or don't care or whatever, is that some guy gets murdered, and some other guy witnesses it. The guy who killed the guy sends some guys after the other guy, but Samuel L. Jackson is laying in wait at the other guy's apartment, and dispatches the guy's guys. The other guy has to fly from Hawaii to Los Angeles to testify against the guy, but the guy puts snakes on the plane under the pretext that-- oh, never mind. Shortly into the movie, the titular snakes are unleashed on the titular* plane, and pretty soon we get to see Samuel L. Jackson (whose level of coolness is so intimidating that I simply can't abbreviate his name to Jackson) doing what he does best... for an hour an a half.

When evil_jim saw Terminator 3: Arnie Meets Jason, he described it by saying that "the climax happened ten minutes into the movie." Snakes on a Plane is like that, except that it starts a little more slowly (let's say, twenty, twenty five minutes). Once the action starts it never lets up, which is good if you like that sort of thing, but it didn't take me long to get bored. Oh sure, it stayed entertaining, but it felt hollow. The entire plot could be summarized in a short paragraph, and you could devote one sentence to the middle hour of the film without losing any important details, which I guess is what makes SoaP differ from, say, the Indiana Jones trilogy. Indiana Jones plays like a greatest hits revue of 1930s' pulp adventure fiction. The action only ever lets up long enough to let you catch your breath, but when it does, the plot advances, which doesn't happen with SoaP. When I imagine the writing sessions for SoaP, I picture the writers sitting under a big sign reading, "Is this wicked awesome enough?" I picture them cutting all the slow and superfluous material from the story, replacing it with action, and then repeating the process until they had a solid hour of pure adrenaline.

Again, that doesn't mean that I wasn't entertained, and it certainly doesn't mean that SoaP didn't have good points. On a technical level, it's some of the best material offered by modern action films. It's very slick and very attractive. The acting is generally good, especially Samuel L. Jackson, who (let's face it) is the only reason anybody wants to see this movie. Neville Flynn is the perfectly archetypal Samuel L. Jackson role, in the same way that Evil Dead's Ash is the perfectly archetypal Bruce Campbell role. I've never had an opinion about Kenan Thompson, but he, personally, has a lot to do with what I liked about his role as one of the rapper's bodyguards. The dialogue is sufficiently tongue-in-cheek, but never so much as to be silly. The snake attacks are silly, but that kind of comes with the territory of the target demographic (i.e., the sort of people who read movie reviews on livejournal).

The only bad points can mostly be summarized briefly by saying that Snakes on a Plane offers nothing more or less than snakes on a plane. Otherwise, I found Trevor Rabin's musical score to be incredibly obtrusive, but I probably pay undue attention to soundtracks, and nobody's seeing it for the music, anyway. Oh, and I was joking before the movie that I'd read that it ends with a big musical number. It doesn't, but I'd probably be willing to overlook its faults if it had.

Most of the audience liked the movie better than I did, I think. The snake attacks and ridiculously portentous dialogue were punctuated by frequent cheers, and the slow parts were improved by anticipatory hissing from the entire theater. I've never been in a theater with so many people so excited about a single movie -- even a bad one -- as I have last night. Interesting to note: I can't remember what trailers were shown before the movie, but they were for action movies of the sort that I would expect to appeal to an audience interested in SoaP. All were met by impatient and annoyed reactions from the audience except for the one for Tenacious D in The Pick of Destiny, which garnered cheers and applause.

All in all, I think Snakes on a Plane will have more longevity than I'd originally expected, but not a great deal more. It's no Army of Darkness, but I can imagine it being mentioned in the same breath as that film and Big Trouble in Little China. It was designed to be a one-shot deal, but Hollywood always finds a way to make a sequel, and I recommend that in the next one, the snakes carry guns and switchblades. For that matter, I think Samuel L. Jackson's character could probably wield a sword and have a cannon attached to his arm without tipping the plausibility scale any further.

In other news, I think the time is right for Mahir Cagri: The Movie, They Ate My Balls!, and The Passion of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.


* Director's commentary: I was setting this sentence up for a joke about where the first victim gets bitten, but my parents read this journal, you know?
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