All your base are belong to Snakes on a Plane

by Glen Baity

I knew a guy in high school who was obsessed with sporks.

Follow me here.

It just one day started out of the blue: Every time he opened his big, stupid mouth, it was, ‘Spork spork spork, man, sporks are great, they’re the greatest invention of all time, sporkedy spork spork spork.’ He collected sporks. He always had a spork on him, in case of an emergency that – oh, I don’t know – required him to poke what he was spoonin’.

It was annoying, one of those arbitrary, “Gee-ain’t-I-zany” attention-getting things that people sometimes do when they’re off their Ritalin. It’s ‘funny’ because it’s not funny. Y’know – that crap.

‘Sporks! How delightfully random! I love the spork guy!’ said my classmates. Me? I hated the spork guy.

I hadn’t thought about this nitwit since 1998 until I heard about Snakes on a Plane.

In the speed-of-thought world of the blogosphere, a jokey grassroots movement like the one that formed around this film almost has a backlash built in. Call it the poisonous influence of ironic praise: All the pre-release accolades heaped on this movie were at once remarkable, arbitrary and really, really dumb. I had the chilling thought that, if the spork guy had had access to broadband back in the mid-90s, he could’ve stoked the fires of a multi-state, pro-spork movement.

So when I think about the hype surrounding Snakes on a Plane, what I’m really thinking about is an alternate universe in which Spork: The Movie outsells Superman Returns at the box office. In my mind, it’s just another random thing that some random dude started hailing just because. Kinda funny at first, not so much later. Especially after that dude networked.

But back to reality. This film’s title, which is totally stupid and also, admittedly, really great, is its big selling point. What’s it about? Well, see, it’s about these snakes. They’re on a plane. And it stars Samuel L. “Yes they deserve to die, and I hope they burn in hell!” Jackson, going all Ezekiel 25:17 on some (expletive deleted) snakes on this (expletive deleted) plane.

If none of that persuades you to part with your eight dollars, move right along. All of the above is really all there is to it. It’s ‘funny’ because it’s not funny, a cinematic spork in the eye of filmgoers who prefer their movies vaguely, rather than overtly, bad.

The sliver of plot not contained in the title deals with a guy named Sean, a Honolulu surfer who witnesses an execution-style murder perpetrated by notorious mobster Eddie Kim (Byron Lawson). FBI Agent Neville Flynn (Jackson) has to keep Sean alive long enough to testify against Kim, and the two set off on a commercial flight to Los Angeles, with John retained in protective custody.

Airport security being what it is, Kim can’t use a bomb to make this witness disappear. Thus enter the snakes, hopped up on pheromones, terrorizing the unsuspecting passengers in various, sort of amusing ways.

The only big surprise here is that, for all its lunkheaded scripting and flat, uninteresting camera work, Snakes on a Plane, is a perfectly okay little action flick, fast-paced enough to distract you from the fact that it’s a one-note thriller at best (though the title trumpets that fact defiantly). Everything about it screams ‘solid C+’, from the frequently awful lines (“The higher you aim, the further you fall!”) to the recycled cardboard characters to the cheap-looking CGI snakes (though I should note that the rubber ones appear to be top-of-the-line).

And then there are the bloggers, who worked over an earlier draft of the script, and whose subsequent recommendations were employed into the final cut. That by itself isn’t remarkable – a focus group is a focus group is a focus group. But usually that process has the effect of watering down the more ‘offensive’ aspects of a director’s vision, making it safer for a bunch of hypothetical viewers who were unlikely to see the film anyway.

What happened with Snakes was quite the opposite. I’m not sure if a focus group has ever recommended more gore and profanity, but at least the people suggesting it were, for once, part of the film’s target audience.

And it’s here that we part ways with the ‘spork’ analogy, or at least see its silver lining. I’ll grant that on the surface, Snakes on a Plane is a poor example of the positive impact the internet can have on the movies we watch, but think about it: How much better could movies be if Hollywood requested input from people who were interested in the film in the first place?

Despite all that, I don’t know that this film was the one anticipated by its YouTube-addicted fans, who seemed to think it would be a modern Airplane! (it isn’t). Sure, the idea sounds hilariously bad, but it’s not that funny. Hardcore advocates might ultimately wish the film had been much worse, the better to justify their expectations. The hype alone will be enough to give this one a much bigger opening weekend than it would’ve received otherwise, and anyone who happens on it by accident could very conceivably be entertained. Be warned, however, that if you’re simply curious about all the fuss, you’ll probably walk away confused, if not annoyed.

“Spork’d,” I call it.

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