Reality Conditions

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Snakes on a Plane

I saw it a few days ago. I loved it. It will probably become the cult film of the decade, and one of the few cult films -if not the only one- that was created to be a cult film.

This post is not a film review. (What review do you need? The title together with the main actor say everything: there is a plane, it is full of snakes, and Samuel Jackson has to battle them, end of the story.) It is a reflection on an aesthetic problem the movie presents. The movie is not a normal mainstream action/horror film. It is not a normal class B action/horror film, either, though it is much closer to being one; the difference is that its intention is to provoke laughs. A parody of normal class B action/horror films, then? Not that either; a parody film has moments which are clear satirical jokes, that are there to prompt the audience into laughing with the film, at the victim of the parody. Snakes on a Plane (SoaP), by contrast, has no such parodical jokes; its comic relief moments -in the conventional sense of the term- are few, commonplace for action movies, and rather unfunny. And yet one finds oneself laughing through the whole film -but laughing at the film, not with it.

What SoaP is, in a nutshell, is a typical cheesy, cliched, über-class B, bad action/horror film that is so cheesy, cliched, über-class B and bad that it provokes laughs. Seeing it is the same kind of experience as gathering with geeky friends to see Plan 9 from Outer Space just to laugh at it. The only difference is that SoaP is made deliberately to be laughed at. And only by acknowledging this can one say that the film is brilliantly executed, and indeed a masterpiece. It does not omit one cliché from the list: the cast of characters includes a sadistic Asian mobster, an effeminate male flight attendant, a slutty female flight attendant, another flight attendant on her last flight before retirement, a young couple that meet a gruesome death as punishment for dabbling in Sex & Drugs, and a snobbish passenger that meets an even more gruesome death as punishment for being obnoxious (among many others -I mean, both clichés and gruesome deaths). The plot is full of holes, the dialogue is predictable, the jokes are unfunny, the snakes are unrealistic (but still scary enough to not make the film an overt parody, something it never turns into) and even the shooting seems badly edited at many moments, especially in the scenes added by pressure of the Internet fans (like Jackson's already classic line "I've had it with these motherf**king snakes on this motherf**king plane!") . Everything is carefully crafted to look and feel like the Platonic archetype of the cheesy class B movie, and succeeds in showing almost no sign of postmodern self-awareness; of course it is really full of it, and that is the joke, but it is not obvious from how the movie looks -it is only obvious considering the cultural context in which it is aired and the unique publicity camapign behind it. If I saw the same movie on TV, and subtracting the actors and modern cultural and technological references, I would easily believe it to be a honest, really bad class B action movie from the early 80s.

And there is where the aesthetic problem lies. The same film, produced in 1981 is an awfully bad one, and produced a quarter-century later and with the contribution of Internet fans is an excellent one. But shouldn't the criticism of a work of art consider it intrinsically, without reference to the circumstances of its creation?

Leaving that question for you to ponder, I conclude with a advice: Don't even think of going to see this movie to the cinema alone, or even worse, seeing it later on DVD completely alone. You should go watch it with all your geeky friends -preferrably, after "getting in the mood" by talking days or weeks about what an inspired, supremely silly premise for a film this is, and discussing endless variations on its title (Kangaroos on a transatlantic? Tarantulas on the Popemobile? You get the idea.) And then, when you see the film all together, I bet you will not be able to resist laughing at every scene starting from the titles. Nor will you want to.


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