If there’s ever an Oscar for truth in titling, it will go to “Snakes on a Plane.” As zillions of internet fans have noted for months, that says it all. This is the snakiest plane movie and the planeiest snake movie ever made.
The credits list four screenwriters, and I imagine they divided it up like this: “I’ll make a list of places on the plane the snakes will be found, you make a list of body parts they can bite — be sure to include them all, you make a list of items on a plane that can be used as weapons, and you make a list of things that can go wrong on a plane that will make it even more dangerous. Go ahead, throw in a thunderstorm! And don’t forget a big, juicy product placement. Okay, everyone ready — GO!”
There wasn’t much need to make a list of, for example, characters. They just took a couple from every airplane disaster movie: the children traveling alone, the supercilious British guy, the pretty girl with the yappy little dog in her purse, the fat lady with a flask of booze, the kick-boxing champion, the newlyweds with a husband nervous about air travel, the flight attendant on her last trip before starting law school, a germophobic rap star with his entourage, oh, and of course, the tough FBI agents escorting a witness who is going to testify against a very, very bad man.
And there wasn’t much need to write dialogue, with all the suggestions from the internet fans. Yes, the line the fans insisted on is in the film (though clearly a reshoot inserted after principle photography), and a very excited audience joyfully recited along. There was a lot of applause for the snake-o-vision, too, green-tinged shots from the snake’s point of view.
It’s basically a movie about two questions:
1. What is the meaning of life? Oh, sorry, wrong movie. I meant to say, how many places can snakes be on a plane and how many places on a body can they bite? Answer: all of them
2. What items on a plane can be used to combat, destroy, and barricade oneself from snakes? Answer: More than you’d think
These days, when shampoo and cologne are too dangerous to take onboard, it almost feels like a relief to have an over-the-top airplane scarefest like this. There’s a particular reference to current restrictions, as an FBI agent (Samuel L. Jackson) is looking for something sharp and all the flight attendant can offer him is a plastic “spork.”
Jackson strikes exactly the right note, never winking at the camera, simply delivering full-on star power and clearly enjoying himself immensely. Director David Ellis expertly maintains the tension, stopping for some resolution — or even a laugh — now and then. It does not take itself too seriously, but it takes its obligation to entertain seriously and, as far as movies about snakes on a plane go, it’s hard to imagine a better ride.
Parents should know that this is a very graphic, intense, and violent movie with many gross injuries and horrible deaths. A child and a baby are in peril and a dog and many, many snakes are killed. Characters use some very strong language. There is brief nudity and a sexual situation. Characters drink alcohol. A strength of the movie is the portrayal of strong, loyal, and capable diverse characters and women and a sly reversal of gender expectations.
Families who see this movie should talk about how it became an internet phenomenon, with the audience playing a role in determining the movie’s content and even its title.
Families who enjoy this film will also enjoy Die Hard: With a Vengeance (also starring Jackson), 16 Blocks, and Arachnophobia as well as airborne classics like Airport, The High and the Mighty, and Airplane!. For more on this movie, see my blog posts here and here. And if you’ve seen it already or don’t mind spoilers, see this post with a link to the Slate podcast discussion, too.