Snakes on a Plane

August 26th, 2006 Film, Film Reviews, Filmink

Finally, it’s here. That’s supposed to be the feeling among Internet geeks from Brisbane to Beijing and Melbourne to Montreal. An urban legend among film and web geeks, Snakes was one of the working titles for what would have been the PG-rated Pacific Air Flight 121.

Cue an unprecedented amount of movie fan buzz that culminated in fake merchandising, blogs, videocasts and websites, all extolling the virtues of what could be the coolest B-grade thriller of the year.

As the story goes, New Line hurriedly got Sam Jackson back in to record nastier dialogue and amp up the CG-generated frights, blood and leap-out-of-your seat moments. Snakes, in the version now on release, attack parts of the body that will make you wince.

The most famous addition is the now-iconic line by Jackson; ‘I want these motherfucking snakes off this motherfucking plane!’ If you’ve been quick enough to download an unauthorised early rough cut of the trailer, you would have seen the famous line’s PG-rated predecessor; ‘enough is enough, I’ve had it with snakes.’

So it is all it’s cracked up to be after the hiss… sorry, buzz?

If you don’t know and can’t guess from the title (the ultimate in high concept and the reason Jackson apparently signed on), the film starts with dirt biker Sean (Aussie on the rise Nathan Phillips) witnessing a mob hit. Saved from the reprisal by FBI agent Neville Flynn (Jackson), Sean is asked to LA to testify against the fearsome mob boss Eddie Kim.

Despite a decoy plane and the FBI’s commandeering the entire first class deck for Sean, Kim is one step ahead of them. He’s used his network to sneak a crate of pheromone-enhanced Hawaiian leis aboard. Harmless in itself, except the pheromones are there to drive the dozens of venomous snakes also in the crate wild with aggression, and it’s timed to open at the halfway mark above the Pacific Ocean to keep Sean from ever reaching LA. When this convoluted scenario is described as mob boss Kim as ‘our only option’, you know you’re in for some laughter with your screams.

Filling the avionics deck and shorting circuits left and right, the mostly CG reptilian horde makes it way to the cabin floor under the hapless passengers, and the attack on two mile high club thrillseekers in a toilet cubicle is the cue for a mass slaughter.

Director Ellis and his effects team pull no punches. Fangs and venom fly and the cabin is soon a slaughterhouse. The surviving passengers barricade themselves in a galley trying to work out how to combat the slithering menace hunting them into a corner, and we’re treated to some classic schlock-horror tension and scares until the equally outrageous conclusion.

It’s cool, it’s funny, it’s literally a scream as the snakes attack using the exact methods we hope they won’t. There are plenty of jumps as the film gleefully plays on two of our most deep-seated fears, and the result is classic good-time horror that won’t win any awards but makes a change from ‘filmmaker’ movies like 2:37 and Jindabyne.

There’s an over-reliance of special effects, but keeping the genre in mind, giving the whole thing an unreal, larger-than-life air might have been intentional. Filming using a live cast of humans and snakes on a commercial airliner set would have been a logistical nightmare, but a few too many shots (in particular the snakes and the exterior of the jet) are just a little too cartoonish.

But Ellis knows what sort of film he was making. After the explosive fanboy wish list, New Line knew what sort of film they had to make, and Samuel L Jackson was so sure of the film he was making he was the one who insisted on the change back from the official title of Pacific Airlines Flight 121. Like a cartoon for grownups, it’s a guilty pleasure.


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