What does Snakes on a Plane have to say about western civilisation?

This style is familiar:

Snakes on a Plane comments on western society’s hypocritical view of sexuality, and its repression of said sexuality through the symbolic use of snakes representing western society.

The most obvious example of sexuality in SoaP is the actual sex scene. This is an important facet of the movie, because the people having sex become the first victim of the snakes. This simple first act already lays out the snake’s hatred for sex. Western society’s (the snake’s) disdain for sexuality becomes more and more obvious as the specific targets of the snakes takes focus during the movie. While the background attacks are given no great importance, the targets that deal with sexuality are. The breast, the genitals, the tongue, the buttocks, and even the eye are all popular signs of sexuality in today’s society. While the eye, at first glance, may seem a-sexual, in fact the eye can be used as a primary tool of sexuality. When one person sees another of the opposite sex, they subconsciously (and sometimes very consciously) observe their figure to determine their potential virility. Even this kind of unconscious sexuality can get you killed in today’s society. Snakebites on the neck also appear as a motif repeated throughout Snakes on a Plane. While this might seem normal, in fact, it is a subtle nod towards a lover gently kissing his companion’s neck. In all these attacks, the bites kill or injure. This shows western society’s hatred for any open sign of sexuality.

I’ve no idea whether this is serious, but it feels like a school essay and is a great example of how to get good grades in the humanities 🙂 I used to produce this kind of thing all the time in my English Lit. classes, which seem stranger the older I get. As I remember it, there was a sure-fire way to succeed in English Lit.:

  1. Read something ‘meaningful’. Let’s say it’s ‘The Life and Loves of a She-Devil’ by Fay Weldon.
  2. Find vaguely related concept in other literature, preferably classic. Fay Weldon’s main character has similarities to Hans Christian Anderson’s Little Mermaid, for example.
  3. Extrapolate wildly. The author’s clever use of water in this scene symbolises the cleaning of sin…The tragic ending is an ironic juxtaposition…etc.

It doesn’t mean anything, but examiners love that stuff. What you must never do is criticise the text. I found the feminist theme in She-Devil to be muddled and nonsensical: irony heaped upon ambiguous metaphor leading to nothing much. I had problems with the classics, too: Hamlet’s age changes from late-teens to early-thirties as the play, which takes place over a few months, progresses. Clever metaphor for maturing, blah blah, but this is a stage production, not a novel, and I never understood how this could work in the theatre with a real actor. My teacher wasn’t too bad and I could get away with asking this kind of question in class (although I never did about Hamlet – it’s entirely possible there’s a valid answer there), but it was always clear that in coursework or exams I was to stick to doctrine and gush over the language, draw inferences, make up analogies, etc.

Fair enough, but as a result I lost interest in the subject. I came out with a good grade but no desire to study it further. I guess I was starting to realise that literary criticism is entirely subjective, which wasn’t ever suggested by the A-Level. There really were right and wrong answers, which is just silly. The subject put me off reading anything ‘high-brow’ for years, as if the snobby attitudes were somehow the fault of the texts.

It’s possible that hindsight is cruel. There may well have been teachers with a genuine love of literature who simply wanted to share this with their students. Maybe the examiners would have reacted favourably to questions – maybe I just gamed the system. But it’s hard to see the concept of examining people on the meaning of literature as anything but bizarre. Really, you need only make any vaguely cogent statement in grammatically correct fashion to get full marks – how can two viewpoints be compared objectively? I sometimes wonder whether the subject makes more sense at university-level, but not for long.

This isn’t meant to criticise the SoaP essay, which I admire greatly. I don’t think I’d ever have come up with that analogy.

Showbiz Wednesday (plus some cows)

Tom Cruise has been dropped by Paramount because “his recent conduct has not been acceptable”. There are rumours that he stormed into their offices and locked himself in a cupboard.

Bob Dylan is ranting about modern music being tuneless. Everybody thinks the next generation has no musical taste. Looks like he’s just another bitter old guy – what a shame.

Remember the guy who was mistakenly, and endearingly, interviewed on BBC News? Somebody’s thinking of making a movie about it. Seems rather odd – there’s really enough material there? – but interesting nonetheless.

The BBC has refused to broadcast a radio comedy show because of a sketch involving Rolf Harris painting Mohammed cartoons. The reason given was “anxieties over taste and decency”, not that they’re cowtowing to crazy people.

Madonna and her husband are lobbying the government with a proposal to treat nuclear waste with magical Kaballah water. According to The Times a BNFL spokesman said “the scientific mechanisms and principles were just bollocks, basically”. I have a suspicion that there’ll be real scientific breakthroughs in the dispoal of nuclear waste before too long. There are bacteria capable of breaking down radioactive material, and it seems like we just need to figure out how to use them to our advantage.

Tom and Jerry cartoons are to be edited to remove scenes of smoking, after an Ofcom investigation into a crackpot concerned viewer’s complaint. I think we can all agree that this is pretty stupid.

Somebody released two rattlesnakes at a screening of Snakes on a Plane. Hmmm. Lauren?

And, just because it’s great, cows have regional accents! In Germany they say möö. Scientists, however, are sadly behind the times when it comes to cow knowledge.

Samuel L. Jackson on Snakes on a Plane on the Daily Show

Samuel L. Jackson on The Daily Show, promoting Snakes on a Plane. Many *many* bleeps.

For those who don’t know the story behind the clip, this time eight months ago the only information available was that there existed a film called ‘Snakes on a Plane’ that starred Samuel L. Jackson. From this it was decided on the blogosphere that, naturally, Samuel L. Jackson would say “Enough is enough, I’ve had it with these motherfu*kin snakes on this motherfu*kin plane”. For that is what Samuel L. Jackson does. In response the director went back for reshoots and added in the scene. I am so looking forward to seeing this film 🙂

I was highly entertained by the Snakes on a Plane voice messages you can send here. SLJ recorded a huge number of names and alternative phrases so you can send a reasonably personalised message.

On Critics

Speaking of wanky critics, here’s a piece from yesterday’s Guardian on Snakes on a Plane:

The most keenly anticipated film of 2006 is almost certainly going to be one of its worst. No possible cinematic good can come of a plot which revolves around an attempt to assassinate a mafia suspect, travelling under FBI protection, by smuggling several hundred deadly vipers, adders and constrictors aboard the aircraft transporting the miscreant to trial. This film – and nobody is pretending otherwise – will suck.

Excuse me while I gag. No possible cinematic good? Is there some magic scale of goodness of which I’m unaware? What is it about cinema that inspires people to take it so goddamn seriously?

The Snakes On A Plane hype, originated entirely by people with no financial stake in the film, and who know it will be atrocious, may well mark the point at which the internet age’s demented love of irony has mutated into active collaboration in the cretinisation of our culture.

I just can’t stand this kind of elitist preaching. The cretinisation of our culture? In the past I’d have lapped this up. It made me feel superior, that I understood things beyond the reach of the average person. I was full of crap, and so is this.

The point of any film is to entertain, and that’s it. Some may aim to inform, but this has to be done by entertainment. I personally like it when movies make me think, or create clever allegories to real-world problems, or have dialogue that sends shivers down my spine, but plenty of people aren’t interested in these things. I also like to be able to relax for a couple of hours and watch people saving the world. I’m damn well not going to be ashamed of this, but there are plenty of critics who appear to think I should be. The only reason to claim that one kind of film is objectively better than another is to make yourself feel superior. Cinema has the power to educate and to inspire, but no obligation to do so. It’s meant to be fun, for crying out loud!

Of course it’s fun to argue about the rights and wrongs of films, but the above goes beyond enjoyable banter into creating a superior clique that truly understands what is good and bad in cinema, and laughs at those who disagree. If the aim were to enhance people’s enjoyment, I wouldn’t have a problem, but it’s not. The idea here is to make people feel ashamed. “You liked Mission: Impossible: 2? What a prole!” And that’s appalling. There is nothing more virtuous in creating The Godfather than there is in creating Snakes on a Plane. The purpose of both is entertainment. It should be obvious that there is no right/wrong when it comes to art, and pretending otherwise serves only to drive wedges where society needs bridges. If you want to set your baseline so that anything made purely to entertain is worthy of your derision then go ahead, but please don’t presume to tell everybody else that they’re wrong.

I feel better now 🙂

Snakes on a Plane! The Trailer!

It all started when screenwriter Josh Friedman posted about a film he’d been asked to work on called ‘Snakes on a Plane’. They wanted to rename it ‘Pacific Air Twenty-One’ or something, but pressure from the star, Samuel L. Jackson, resulted in the original name staying.

Snakes. On. A. Plane.

It’s just genius. What more do you need to know? Like Josh says:

It’s a title. It’s a concept. It’s a poster and a logline and whatever else you need it to be. It’s perfect. Perfect. It’s the Everlasting Gobstopper of movie titles.

“Snakes on a Plane” has apparently become synonymous with “that’s life”. That’s just the way it is – snakes on a plane.

And now there’s a trailer, and it’s everything you could ever hope it would be. The first thing you see is Samuel L. Jackson saying:

Enough is enough. I’ve had it with these snakes.

Followed by many, many snakes. Amock. On a plane.

I’m looking forward to this one.

Update: Ben points out this article, which contains the following paragraph:

The [fan-created trailer] uses a Jackson sound-alike shouting, “I want these motherfscking snakes off the motherfscking plane!” Soon, the growing legion of fans added their voices as they demanded that that phrase also appear in the movie. Apparently, the studio got the hint. When Ellis assembled Jackson and others for the recent shoot, the filmmakers added more gore, more death, more nudity, more snakes and more death scenes. And they shot a scene where Jackson does utter the line that fans have demanded.

I can’t decide whether that’s very cool, very funny, entirely dumb, or all three 🙂