David R. Ellis | 101 mins | DVD | 15 / R
You don’t get much more high-concept than “snakes on a plane”, a mission statement of a title if ever there was one. It certainly captured the imagination of online geekdom, who knew everything they wanted just from those four words and famously launched a viral marketing campaign for a film they’d not seen. Ultimately, it’s for that reason it will be remembered, because without the evocative title and the reaction it provoked this would be forgotten quicker than Samuel L. Jackson can utter his Oedipal expletive-laden catchphrase.
The best thing one can say about Snakes… is that it lives up to its B-movie title. Once it gets going it throws lots of gory fun at the audience, like a snake in a microwave, or entirely gratuitous shots of people trampled in panic (which sounds distasteful, but in the context of the film is more amusingly squelchy). It even manages the horror movie’s obligatory gratuitous sex/nudity — courtesy of the Mile High Club, naturally. That’s not to mention the plot, in which a gang release snakes onto a plane (did you guess?) in order to kill an FBI-escorted witness. As assassination plans go, it may just be the barmiest ever, and delightfully so.
However, the plan is flawed — in storytelling terms at least — because snakes don’t actually do much. They drop from ceilings, they slither, they bite… and then you’re pretty much done. When the legless beasties eventually turn up it’s quite good… for a couple of minutes. But a couple of minutes do not a feature film make, so every length-inflating trick is whipped out to boost the running time. The first crime is an irritatingly long opening: a seemingly endless preamble reveals what crime the witness witnessed, why he’s being transported, and how villainous the villain is — but all the average audience member wants is to get on that plane!
But when they finally board there’s a series of establishing scenes to get through. There’s even a full version of the safety demonstration — no one likes the safety demo normally, never mind in a film! This bit at least serves to introduce an array of characters ready to be killed, but as few of their stories go anywhere most should have remained faceless victims. These scenes on the plane feel like the opening, and may have been less interminable if they weren’t preceded by all that needless preamble. It’s especially pointless because, by the time the plane inevitably lands, the makers seem to have forgotten they introduced a villain in the first place.
In between, those snake ideas (drop! slither! bite!) run their course sharpish, so the viewer is treated to an array of stock Plane Disaster Movie scenarios. An investigation on the ground! Something needs fixing in the hold! A non-pilot has to land the plane! Chopping 10 to 20 minutes wouldn’t hurt any — it should be short and efficient — or, instead, putting the same screen time to better use by bringing a resolution to the villain. Normally the plane landing would be a perfect point to end — you want snake-based slaughter, and then you want out — but after the persistence in setting other stories in motion those really ought to be finished.
Snakes on a Plane is as much of a B-movie as the title implies. This seems to be what disappointed some when it was finally released, yet at the same time is clearly the vibe the makers were going for all along. Perhaps a greater problem is that it still sounds like such a good — snakes released on a plane to kill someone? That’s utterly loopy! It should be crazy and great! But it’s treated with too much seriousness, as if the makers are struggling to convince us this is actually a plausible notion in the real world — which it patently isn’t.
Nowhere near bad enough for the infamous “so bad it’s good” classification, nor good enough to rise up on genuine merits, it is instead largely unremarkable though passably entertaining. Perhaps it should’ve been left as just a title.
Channel 4 are premiering Snakes on a Plane tonight at 10pm (hence why it rises above the eight other still-unreviewed films from 2008 today).
(Originally posted on 17th January 2009.)