Mistakes On A Plane

It only took three days, but left on my own, my wife thousands upon thousands of miles away, I’ve become a creepy shut-in. To best meet this profile, I’ve adopted fifty stray cats, taken to drinking my own urine, and developed a raging case of scurvy. Despite my caveman existence and embracing the troglodyte lifestyle, I ultimately had to get out of the house on one or two occasions. New movies beckoned.

No one should be surprised that I had to go and contribute to the opening weekend take of Snakes on a Plane. And a modest take it was, falling many millions of dollars short of where New Line expected the internet hype to take it. It seems internet trolls are even bigger shut-ins than me, and will be waiting to download the latest telesync bootlegs of Snakes from their favourite BitTorrent sites.

My advice to them: don’t waste the bandwidth.

How could they go wrong? You take a cute turn of phrase, make it a literal movie premise, and then throw Sam Jackson into the mix as a hero cop who gets to say “motherfucker” once or twice. It writes itself. Or at least it does once you throw it open to the public. Therein lies the problem.

For whatever strange and obscure reason no one will ever fully understand or fully replicate, the online community seized upon Snakes on a Plane as the craptacular summer event movie of 2006 long before its release date. Amidst all the jokes and parodies and tributes, New Line did something unprecedented in movie history. They took heed of their pre-made fan base.

I've really let myself go.When the target audience started suggesting lines and content via the internet, like a preemptive Rocky Horror Picture Show, reshoots were promptly scheduled and the studio incorporated much of it. The results are what you get when you let a bunch of bloggers write your movie for you. It’s the worst kind of filmmaking-by-committee. It seems the chefs in this too-many cooks scenario have no screenwriting experience at all and therefore neglect little things like setup, structure and payoff.

There are movies that take a silly premise and run with it, and do so extremely well. Another Sam Jackson thriller, Deep Blue Sea, is a prime example. Sharks in a Sealab (as it might be called) runs so fast and hard with its premise, it gleefully breaks every rule of proper cinematic storytelling. But when it does so, you’re left with the definite impression that the filmmakers in charge knew they were setting fire to the rule book because the results are so satisfying. That’s not the case with Snakes. There’s a very distinct difference between good movie crap and bad movie crap. I’ve dedicated much of my life to making this distinction. Good movie crap will kill off the main character of the movie at the beginning of the second act because it’s the most shocking thing they could think to do. Bad movie crap will establish a vicious villain character in the first act, and then forget to ever return to him or show him getting any sort of comeuppance. I’m sure you can guess which movie is which.

But what about the kills? Snakes is a body-count disaster movie after all. You want to know if it delivers, right? Most of the gags seem focused on answering the question, “Where would it really suck to have a snake bite you?” Answers from the peanut gallery where obviously a cacophony of shouted-out body parts. “Nipple!” “Eyeball!” “Penis!” “Ass!” And the studio dutifully threw them all into the picture. Every single one of them. The results are a pastiche of snake sub-species, fang-punctured body parts, and venomous welts. None of them ever really steps up to become “The Signature Movie Moment” you’ll remember to tell your friends about after a good night’s sleep.

If you want to go see a real horror movie that delivers, I highly recommend you make your admission fee offering to The Descent. Even with the truncated North American release ending, it’s the real deal. And it stars more than a few of my kindred pasty-faced shut-in brothers. Give them a visit. It gets lonely in the cave.