Saturday, 30 December 2006

Snakes on a Plane (2006)

Snakes on a Plane

Prior to its theatrical release Snakes on a Plane received a mass of 'free' internet publicity and hype, thanks mainly to the more juvenile 'movie blog' sites getting carried away by a simple title! The rationale of these sites went like this: "It's got snakes. On a plane. That MUST be good!"

Well forgive me for having more than a couple of brain-cells, but since when has the title of a film been any kind of indication of quality of the finished result? Sometimes I think the world really has gone mad! News that reshoots were hastily planned on the back of all the internet hype, to add 'more of what the fans wanted' set the warning bells off. Gee! Samuel L Jackson shooting new scenes just so he can say 'Get these motherfuckin' snakes off my motherfuckin' plane' really reeks of a quality, well thought-out film, doesn't it?!! The lack of any pre-screenings for critics when the film was finally ready for release seemed to be sending a message loud and clear: this film is a total turkey - avoid!!!! That the film was something of a commercial failure at the box office, in spite of all the childish 'fan boy' hype based on nothing more than a vague idea, shouldn't have come as a surprise to anyone. But then sensible is a word that rarely applies to opinion printed as fact on the internet!

What WAS a surprise was the reaction from those critics who paid to go and see the film so that they could fulfill their reviewing duties. Most seemed to like the film, and watching it on DVD just three months after its theatrical 'failure' I too was surprised at how much I enjoyed it. Sure, this isn't an intellectual exercise in characterisation and plot. But it is a surprisingly consistent and fairly well polished roller-coaster ride, taking the traditions of the disaster movie, presenting them well, and wisely playing it straight instead of going the campy route that could have turned it into 90 minutes of toe-curling embarrassment.

Snakes on a Plane screencap

The film starts with 'pretty boy' biker Sean Jones (Nathan Phillips) becoming an accidental witness to a brutal gangland murder, making him chief witness for the FBI, and someone in need of protection by FBI agent Neville Flynn (Samuel L. Jackson). Flying as a protected witness to the trial in Los Angeles, all hell breaks loose at 30,000 feet when some pheromone-elevated snakes are suddenly let lose to ensure that the witness and his protector never make it to the trial. Admittedly, the basic plot of 'death by snake bite' is rather ridiculous, but the film plays it for real and if you can put the silly pretext behind you the film does a good job of setting everything up for a fun 90 minutes.

The usual stock cast of disaster movie characters make an appearance. There's the badly behaved rapper who's forgotten his roots, the pompous and obnoxious British traveller, the rich heiress with her little dog (I wonder who THAT could be styled on!), the two young boys on their first flight alone, the just-married couple who are keen to join the 'Mile High' club (now I wonder if they'll survive ;-)) etc etc. but guessing who lives and who survives is not as straightforward as the clichés of the genre might imply.

The snakes themselves work well for the most part. Mainly CGI-generated, the film could have been an unconvincing mess, but thankfully there are only a couple of scenes where the snakes look somewhat unconvincing. The plot rushes along at quite a pace, although one flaw of the script is that having set up Nathan Phillips' character as one of the main characters at the start of the film he's given nothing to do once the film kicks into action with the arrival of the snakes.

Snakes on a Plane may not be high art and there's little that's original here, but what's done is done well. There are some nice subtle touches to the script (I particularly liked the 'Of course he's gay' male steward who has a nice pay-off when the plane finally lands in Los Angeles), which is surprising in a film this derivative, and the acting, characterisation and general pace of the film are all better than the 'cheap and nasty' title might lead you to expect.

Snakes on a Plane screencap

For a film as recent as Snakes on a Plane, the DVD is quite generous with its extra's. There's a feature commentary from the director and producers, deleted scenes, also with optional commentary, and several short, sharp but focussed 'making of' featurettes. The trailer and music video are also included, and the high quality transfer nicely round out the package.

Snakes on a Plane is never going to win any film awards, but if you fancy a fun Saturday night in you could do a lot worse than renting or purchasing this 'B Movie' feature. It's never less than entertaining, and as such, comes recommended.

Snakes on a Plane screencap

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