>How "Snakes on a Plane" could have been good.

> I picked up the Snakes on a Plane DVD in the $3 bin at Big Lots. I did not expect it to be a great film, but I thought it would be an entertaining and perhaps fun way to spend an evening. After watching it last night, indeed while we were watching it, my husband remarked that we paid $3 too much.

In case you just got out of a multi-year stint in a bio-dome, here’s a brief synopsis of the film. Nathan Phillips plays Sean, a young man who witnessed the violent murder of a Los Angeles prosecutor in Hawaii. He is taken into protective custody by FBI agent Neville Flynn, played by Samuel L. Jackson. The pair board a plane for L.A. so that Sean can testify against the killer.

In the meantime, the killer ordered an assortment of deadly snakes from an exotic reptiles dealer in California, had the snakes loaded into the plane’s cargo hold, arranged a small explosion to free the snakes mid-flight, and sprayed cartons of souvenir leis with snake pheromones, so that when the snakes are freed, they will attack anyone and everyone who got lei’d getting on the flight.

We get no sense of passage of time between the murder and the flight. It didn’t seem like more than a day or two. How did the bad guys fly in a few dozen poisonous snakes (a) without anyone noticing and (b) in time to get them on the L.A.-bound flight carrying the witness? It’s an unnecessarily complicated plot, when a slightly stronger explosive device could have been rigged to take the plane down in the middle of the Pacific, and no snakes would have been needed.

When the snakes get out of the box, they waste no time and quickly spread throughout the plane. A pet cat in the cargo section is violently killed. Then the young couple joining the mile high club in the plane’s restroom are attacked, while flight attendants listening to the screams outside remark what a good time the couple is having. Soon, snakes drop out of the overhead compartments and passengers run screaming while others are gruesomely killed.

The mass chaos makes it hard to follow exactly what’s happening. Many of the victims die gruesome deaths that I think the filmmakers intended to be funny, but it’s just not. One man is urinating when a snake leaps out of the toilet and bites the closest appendage; a women is bitten on the eye by a snake that slipped into her dress while she was sleeping; another woman is screaming when the snake darts into her mouth and bites her tongue.

I didn’t find any of this humorous, just sick and unnecessary. Maybe the filmmakers didn’t introduce us to most of these passengers, because they didn’t want us to care about them; they wanted us to laugh at their deaths. We didn’t even get a lot of background on Flynn, his associate agent, or the witness, Sean, and we got only brief introductions to a few of the other passengers and flight crew.

The rest of the movie is spent trying to correct systems failures caused by the snakes, while attempting, mostly unsuccessfully, to protect the rest of the passengers until the plane can reach California.

“Snakes on a Plane” started with a clever enough concept, and it could have been a decent film.

They only needed three or four snakes that slither around unseen biting unsuspecting passengers and crew. Suddenly people are saying they got bitten by something and dying and no one knows what it is or where it is. That could have created real suspense.

They should have had a smaller plane. The plane they showed on the runway did not look as big as the interior of the plane set, which had two coach sections and an upstairs first class section. A smaller plane would have created a more claustrophobic setting, and fewer passengers would have allowed us to get to know everyone over the course of the story. The body count would have been lower, but the suspense would have been much greater.

Alternatively, if the filmmakers were trying to make a comedy, they shouldn’t have put at risk a cat, a small dog, two young children and a baby. The deaths should not have been so gruesome. It wasn’t written or shot like a comedy, not even a bad comedy.

In the end, investigators in Los Angeles have linked the sale of the snakes to a dealer in exotic reptiles, so Sean’s testimony against the main bad guy isn’t even necessary to convict him of murder. Still, it would have been nice to have a shot of Sean and Agent Flynn looking at a headline saying the killer was going to prison for life or getting the death penalty before we see the happy-go-lucky final shots of the two men surfing together.

The movie cost about $33 million to make and earned about double that worldwide. It probably wouldn’t have made that much had the film not generated a lot of internet buzz months before it came out. It’s a shame that the film didn’t live up to the hype and deliver a decent, well-acted story of terror in the air. With a little attention and thought, it certainly could have.

About Taminar

When I grow up, I want to make movies and write books. Now in my 50s, I wonder if I'll ever really accomplish the dreams of my youth. I have made two short films, one for a college film-making class, the other for an MTV-sponsored contest. I have written short plays that have been produced, and a few short stories and reviews that have been published. I also perform and direct for community theatre. My working life has included stints in local TV news, public relations, retail management and cashier, and for a couple of years, I made the rides go at Walt Disney World. I have two cats and a husband.
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