Case Number 10549

SNAKES ON A PLANE

New Line // 2006 // 106 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Daniel MacDonald (Retired) // January 2nd, 2007

The Charge

Airline food ain't what you gotta worry about.

Opening Statement

It was an Internet phenomenon long before it hit the screen, thanks to a fantastic title and the involvement of Samuel L. Jackson (Pulp Fiction). Unfortunately for New Line, the online interest didn't translate into boffo box office success -- did the buzz just not connect with the mainstream moviegoing audience, or did the film fail to live up to its exceedingly high expectations?

Facts of the Case

After witnessing a murder in Hawaii at the hands of a brutal mob boss, Sean Jones (Nathan Phillips, Wolf Creek) is whisked into protective custody by badass FBI agent Neville Flynn (Samuel L. Jackson). Flynn plans to take Jones back to Los Angeles to testify, and arranges to sneak his charge onto a commercial flight to fake out any potential assassins.

Unfortunately for the passengers on Pacific Air 121, word gets out that Jones is on the flight -- and to ensure he'll never get to testify, so are hundreds of poisonous snakes, set to be released once the aircraft passes its point of no return!

The passengers, including a hypochondriac rapper and his entourage, a crotchety rich fellow, a Paris Hilton-wannabe, and a feisty stewardess (Julianna Margulies, Ghost Ship), will have to work with Flynn to ensure they can stay alive until returning to ground.

The Evidence

Much was made, prior it the picture's release, of its huge interest within the Internet community, and the fact that blogs, forums, and fan sites actually led to the crew returning for additional shooting after the film was finished (including the addition of Mr. Jackson's famous R-rated dialogue, which appeared in an early online spoof). While some analysts called the movie's performance a bomb, this is an unfair assessment of what was still a pretty modest production. Really, did anyone making it expect a horror thriller starring, Samuel L. Jackson aside, a group of C-list actors to do better than a $35 million domestic gross? It'll surely clean up on DVD, as the hype alone makes it a must see for genre fans, so I'd call this one a success. And I guarantee that without the free advertising online, there wouldn't have been nearly the public awareness that there was.

Now, I have a fairly strong phobia of snakes. In times of stress, I tend to dream of the slithery bastards, and when encountering the real thing (which has happened from time to time, living in rattlesnake country as I do) I tend to turn into a scared little girl.

And so it was with some trepidation that I approached Snakes On A Plane. Like most people with phobias, I'm fascinated by that which scares me most, and so I wanted to see the picture, but I wasn't sure exactly how disturbing it would be. Fortunately for me, the snakes of Snakes On A Plane are mostly not particularly realistic CGI, so I made it through the film in one sitting.

Snakes On A Plane is about the most perfect title for a thriller ever. In four words, it sums up exactly what you're in for: there are snakes on a plane, blending two of North American society's most common fears. The title is clearly the biggest asset to the film, as it instantly sums up the plot, and divides those who are interested from those who aren't. To paraphrase Samuel L. Jackson on the commentary, if you want to see snakes, and you want to see a plane, this is your movie.

As you can imagine, a healthy suspension of disbelief is needed to enjoy the picture, as the premise itself is wholly ridiculous. In one scene, the mob boss is questioned on the phone about his plan, and his response is to the effect of, "Haven't I exhausted every other option?" Really? This was the last resort? Yeah, that's the tone here, so don't be looking for any sense of realism.

But if you can get into it you'll find Snakes On A Plane to be a fast-paced, really fun ride for an hour and forty-five minutes. It's got all of the standard elements of the disaster thriller, including the FBI calling in the area's top snake expert (played with hilarious sincerity by Todd Louiso, High Fidelity) to help solve the central dilemma from the ground. Every character is a stock archetype, but none ends up exactly as you would expect, which adds a nice unpredictability to the picture. Samuel L. Jackson is, of course, the stand out, injecting his particular brand of cool into every line, and significantly upping the cachet of the entire production. But everyone involved commits to the spirit of the film, making ancillary characters almost as entertaining as the awesomely named Agent Neville Flynn.

There are a wide variety of creative kills, from the cringe-inducing to the laugh-out-loud, and the death toll is nearly equal between snakes and people. Horror fans should appreciate the creativity at work, both in who dies and how it happens: Jackson uses a wide variety of instruments to deal death to the lowliest of creatures, while the snakes themselves never bite the same way twice. Things aren't nearly as gory as I was expecting, but blood is most definitely shed. Overall, Snakes On A Plane delivers what you're expecting based on the title, and should keep you entertained.

If you like the movie, this New Line Platinum Series DVD will float your boat. First off, picture quality is solid, giving an accurate representation of the shadowy, green-tinged cinematography of Adam Greenberg (Terminator 2: Judgment Day). And the sound, especially the DTS-ES 6.1 mix, is reference quality, with airplane turbulence and snake rattles coming at you loudly from all directions, with lots of bass and an aggressive use of the surround channels.

A more amusing than average gag reel is included, as are ten wisely deleted scenes (although Julianna Margulies could use as much additional screen time as possible), and the music video that graces the end credits with a few minutes of behind the scenes on its making. The "Pure Venom" making-of featurette is an alright look at making the picture, if a bit lightweight, while "Meet the Reptiles" made me wish (sort of) more real snakes made it into the final cut. "Visual Effects," surprisingly, gives a cursory look at how the various snake effects were achieved.

The most entertaining extras are the audio commentary, featuring director David R. Ellis and Jackson, and the "Snakes On A Blog" featurette. The commentary offers plenty of amusing anecdotes, behind the scenes information, and Samuel L. Jackson being cool. "Snakes On A Blog" explores the Internet phenomenon sparked by an Ain't It Cool News article about the movie, and features interviews with key webmasters and bloggers who were on the crest of the publicity wave. The sheer amount of spoof videos, comic books, etc. that surfaced is staggering, and much of it very, very funny. You may even want to watch this featurette prior to the film itself to put you in the fun-loving mindset to truly appreciate Snakes On A Plane.

The Rebuttal Witnesses

Listening to the dialogue and thinking about the plot points, it's pretty clear that writers John Heffernan and Sebastian Gutierrez (The Big Bounce) had their tongues firmly planted in their respective cheeks when scripting this film. Unfortunately, director Ellis sometimes seems to have been trying a little too hard to make it "cool," and when the tone strays, the picture suffers.

The biggest problem is the CGI snakes. As anyone who is afraid of snakes can tell you, their deliberate, smooth, and slightly odd movement is part of what makes them so dang frightening. They just keep coming, slithering single-mindedly toward their prey, not especially quickly but with a seemingly unstoppable sense of purpose. But rather than trusting the inherent creepiness of real snakes, the reptiles in Snakes On A Plane have been enhanced, making them fast, aggressive, and full of personality. While this might sound good on paper, it really sucks the air out of the concept. I understand that snakes are essentially untrainable, so it was inevitable that certain CGI shots would need to be employed, but there's way too much of a good thing here. And what I really don't understand is how the director and visual effects supervisor are so convinced that viewers can't tell the difference between the real and fake snakes -- on the audio commentary, there are plenty of comments like "You can't tell, but that's CGI," when yes, you can. Even "Kong," the 22-foot python featured in a couple of scenes, has digital enhancements, as if a serpent that big needs anything to be scarier.

A related problem is the distinct lack of suspense present here. From the moment the snakes are released, they're on the attack, with little buildup. Again, if the snakes were moving slower, with their distinct creepy crawl, a lot of fright could have been added pretty easily. I think more suspense would have increased the audience beyond hipsters, and ultimately made for a better viewing experience.

Lastly, the geography of the plane is somewhat confusing. It's a large aircraft, with the first class and cockpit upstairs, but there is little work done to establish exactly how everything is laid out, which lessens one's ability to keep track of where the passengers are in relation to the snakes. A tracking shot following a passenger through the plane, or some similar device, would have been helpful here.

Closing Statement

Snakes On A Plane is a lot of fun, and is well worth seeing -- especially with a group of friends to yell at the screen with you. While there are certainly areas for improvement, it also could have been much, much worse, so I'm recommending this one.

The Verdict

Not guilty.

Review content copyright © 2007 Daniel MacDonald; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC

Scales of Justice
Video: 94
Audio: 98
Extras: 86
Acting: 80
Story: 80
Judgment: 88

Perp Profile
Studio: New Line
Video Formats:
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic

Audio Formats:
* DTS 6.1 ES (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 EX (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)

Subtitles:
* English
* Spanish

Running Time: 106 Minutes
Release Year: 2006
MPAA Rating: Rated R

Distinguishing Marks
* Blooper Reel
* Ten Deleted Scenes
* Music Video (Includes Behind-the-Scenes)
* Commentary by Samuel L. Jackson, Director David R. Ellis, and Others
* "Pure Venom" Featurette
* "Snakes On A Blog" Featurette
* "Meet The Reptiles" Featurette
* "Visual Effects" Featurette
* Trailers and TV Spots

Accomplices
* IMDb
http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0417148/combined

* Official Site
http://www.snakesonaplane.com/