Benjamin has been reviewing films online since 2004 and has seen way more action movies than he should probably admit to!
What's the Big Deal?
Snakes on a Plane is an action thriller film released in 2006 and was directed by David R. Ellis. The film follows an attempt by criminals to assassinate a witness by unleashing dozens of deadly snakes on board a passenger plane while an FBI agent tries to save everyone. The film stars Samuel L Jackson, Julianna Margulies, Nathan Phillips and Bobby Cannavale. The film is perhaps most famous for the intense amount of interest generated before its release due to the casting of Jackson and the film's title and premise. Such was the interest in the production that New Line Cinema conducted five days of reshoots to incorporate feedback from fans. Despite the popularity, the film struggled to make an impact at the box office with just $62 million earned worldwide. It also didn't strike much of a chord with critics as the film was largely dismissed as an exploitative B-movie but one that just about managed to fulfil its brief.
What's It About?
Motocross rider Sean Jones is practising in Hawaii when he witnesses the brutal murder of a local prosecutor instigated by California-based gangster Eddie Kim. With a large target placed upon him, Jones is quickly put into witness protection by the FBI who plan to fly Jones to Los Angeles to testify against Kim. Jones is escorted on the flight by two FBI agents, Neville Flynn and John Sanders, and the plane takes off without incident.
However, Kim isn't prepared to allow Jones to get to court unscathed. On board the cargo hold of the plane is a crate full of venomous snakes with a time-release, due to allow the snakes free access to the plane before they land in LA. If this isn't bad enough, a powerful pheromone is secretly sprayed onto the leis worn by numerous passengers that whips the snakes into a violent rage. After the power is cut when a viper attacks the power supply, Flynn and Sanders find themselves besieged by countless deadly serpents with only their skills and the cabin crew on board to help them...
What's to Like?
The odds of a film called Snakes on a Plane being a deep and rewarding experience are about as thin as cigarette paper so nobody should be too surprised that this film is about as dumb as they come. But it's a mistake to dismiss it out of hand altogether - after all, there is still some fun to be had here even if it is at the film's own expense. Jackson, who is essentially playing a stereotype of himself, is great value leading the film and delivers the right amount of tongue-in-cheek gravitas the movie demands. It's a tricky balance between being too earnest and being too corny but Jackson just about manages to pull it off. Actions fan will recognise the obvious influence of Die Hard and its countless imitators and the film makes the most of its bonkers premise to maximise the action in its limited setting.
But let's not pretend that this is anything other than some mindless entertainment to munch copious amounts of popcorn to. If you accept that this film is made solely to appeal to action movie fans starved of some half-decent fare then Snakes on a Plane kinda makes sense. There are no allegories or aspirations of greatness here. It's unashamed of its own stupidity and it doesn't care what you think - if you enjoy this type of silliness then why not? I admit that the film isn't to my particular tastes but there is more than enough here for fans of goofy nonsense to savour including the most Samuel L Jackson thing that Samuel L Jackson has ever said on camera before.
- At one point, Samuel L Jackson's agent insisted that the film's title be changed to Pacific Air Flight 121 because his client "couldn't" work on a film called Snakes on a Plane. When Jackson found out, he then insisted that the title stays the same as that was the only reason he took on the part in the first place.
- The film's famous quote that Jackson says (you know, the one involving his apparent favourite cuss word) actually originated online as a prank as part of a parody fan vision of what the film would be like. When the producers discovered this, they insisted on reshoots to include the line in dialogue and change the tone of the film from PG to a more R-rated vibe in line with fan's expectations.
- The film's concept is credited to David Daleassandro, currently an associate vice chancellor at the University of Pittsburgh but was an administrator at the time. He first penned a draft of the script in 1992 and worked on it for three years before trying to get it made. In total, some 30 studios turned the script down before New Line finally bought it in 2004.
What's Not to Like?
Although I really tried to give Snakes on a Plane a good go of it, I can't help but notice some fairly serious flaws. Firstly, the snakes themselves don't look that convincing with some dodgy CG at fault due to the low budget. They also aren't used in a particularly scary way, often just flinging themselves at the camera for a cheap jump scare or attacking passengers in ridiculous fashion such as clamping onto the nipples of a large-chested woman in the middle of joining the Mile High Club. It makes them more humorous than frightening, which also makes a mockery of the film's overall tone of being a serious picture - indeed, almost as if its a horror film instead of a goofy-as-balls thriller.
The supporting cast are entirely forgettable but hardly any of them are given any significant screen time, I suspect because they are uniformly underwritten. All you can remember is Jackson shouting and swearing like the bad-ass he is, as if the filmmakers felt that was all that was required of the picture. It's a shame that they went for such a serious treatment of what might have been a quirky comedy with a bit more effort. This film would still have worked if it aimed for laughs instead of cheap thrills - indeed, it might have worked better. As it is, it's the film equivalent of a fiction piece in a trashy magazine - fun in a bad way but ultimately forgettable.
Should I Watch It?
With a concept as silly as this, Snakes on a Plane wrings the most out of its premise but ultimately can't quite deliver as a competent thriller. It's too goofy for its own good so you never take it seriously as a thriller and it doesn't work hard enough for laughs to function as a comedy. Tragically, it becomes one of those unfortunate films you laugh at instead laughing with and I don't care what any filmmaker says but I don't believe that this is ever the intended outcome.
Great For: fans of bad cinema, generating Internet hype, quickly dissipating Internet hype, meme creators
Not So Great For: anyone afraid of snakes, anyone afraid of flying, anyone looking for a genuinely thrilling action film set on board an aircraft
What Else Should I Watch?
Snakes and airplanes are perfect topics for action movies but they seem to attract some of the more weaker efforts. Plane-based films such as Turbulence, Con Air and Air Force One are just as silly as Snakes on a Plane but work better as an action experience by ignoring the silliness of their central premise and delivering a more solid and exciting product. Snake films can be easily summed up by just one film - Anaconda which does for snakes what Jaws did for sharks. Unfortunately, Anaconda is a ridiculous excuse for a horror film featuring Jennifer Lopez and an extremely hammy Jon Voight battling against an entirely CG snake deep in a jungle. It deserved every one of its six Razzie nominations.
2006 wasn't a stellar year of horror but there were a number of films that might be worthy of your consideration, assuming you're looking for a good chiller. Korean monster flick The Host received critical acclaim when it was granted an international release and was the most successful Korean film of all time for a while. All The Boys Love Mandy Lane is a grindhouse-style slasher film that makes up for its lack of originality with plenty of gore and a star-making turn from Amber Heard. Saw III continued Jigsaw's murderous rampage while the year also saw remakes of The Omen and The Hills Have Eyes, albeit less successfully than their originals.
Samuel L Jackson
Agent Neville Flynn
Special Agent Henry "Hank" Harris
Clarence "Three G's" Dewey
Dr Steven Price
Rick, the co-pilot
|Director||David R. Ellis|
John Heffernan & Sebastian Gutierrez*
Release Date (UK)
18th August, 2006
Action, Crime, Thriller
© 2021 Benjamin Cox