Snakes on a Plane Review

You know, I usually provide the ol’ synopsis for all you good readers out there, but this time I’m not going to bother. After all, you’d have to have been buried pretty deep somewhere in the past six months or so to have let this little beauty escape your eyes and ears. I can honestly say that I can’t recall a single other film that has amassed such a unique following. Forget Star Wars, Transformers, James Bond - none of these have managed to generate the kind of massive response going on so little information. Snakes on a Plane, the title alone, truly demonstrated the power of the internet; people voiced their opinions and expressed their excitement before even an ounce of footage was leaked. For that reason it surely was bound for cult success, though funnily enough one suspected that the film would be a great box office pleaser based on such unbelievable reactions. However, the Sam L. Jackson vehicle didn’t come close to holding a candle against some of the bigger hits of 2006. Nonetheless there’s no doubt that on home DVD that’s where it’s going to reap the rewards and thrive off an extremely loyal community.

With all that said it’s clear that there is also one major drawback to all of this and that’s overkill - hype beyond hype. Could Snakes of a Plane ever hope to live up to expectations? Well to be fair it never really tried to, that is until New Line took an unusual step in ordering new material to be shot in order for the film to attain an R rating, as opposed to its projected PG-13. But it’s doubtful that the makers intended this outrageous response to begin with. So the ultimate question is does it deliver? Well that depends on whether or not you can switch off your cynical side for two hours of your precious time. Sure, it achieves what it sets out to do, but it’s difficult to not begrudgingly admit that in the end it’s tinged with some canyon-esque plot holes

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how does Flynn find Sean, when Sean never reported what he saw? How does Kim find the correct plane to put the snakes on, thus knowing about the decoy plane? How would they even know which anti-venom to administer when each victim would have no idea what type of snake bit them? And so on...
and a few drawn out sequences. David R. Ellis is certainly the right man for the job though. In fact he’s one of the best directors working today who can successfully work the suspense/thriller angle, and considering he’s directed very few films in the past few years that’s not bad going. He manages to hit the mark when focusing on the main task at hand, which is snakes attacking helpless victims, and sure enough he ramps up the tension for most of the movie’s middle act when the venomous outbreak e‘scale’ates. And boy, do we get some tasty (nasty) stuff. The film is surprisingly gratuitous, not only in terms of how many snakes are actually on screen - in addition to embellishing a couple with razor teeth for example - but also in the way they choose to end their victim’s lives. There’s quite a lot of inventiveness on display and by no means am I going to spoil the best ones, and there’s even some morbidly funny sequences that manage to shock in equal measure. The only downside is that the film heavily features CGI, a lot of which works tremendously well, while others areas lack an extra polish and give away the trick quite easily.

But the film does trail in areas: there’s a long introduction which sets up the mayhem, before Jackson and Phillips pop in and out, while various passengers are introduced. And that’s the trickiest part of the film, not knowing for sure if we’re meant to sympathise with these people or not. There’s an obvious intent to establish the main participants, but there’s very little beyond depicting stock, clichéd characters that go so far to offer parody, such as the pompous English man, the rich socialite and the successful and egotistical R&B singer, to name a few. Worse still is that our central protagonists are equally devoid of great personality. Samuel L. Jackson does what Samuel L. Jackson does best - kicking arse and looking cool doing so, while delivering the occasional witty line and proving that he’s the badass man with the plan. But that’s about all there is to him. Likewise Wolf Creek’s Nathan Phillips isn’t too shabby, but he’s pretty much left on the back burner once he boards the plane. He does struggle a little with the required American accent - his Australian tone creeping in here and there - but copes relatively well with the burden of starring alongside some huge names. Unfortunately he’s left to grin like a besotted fool for most of the duration, and no matter how hard he tries toward the end his emotions end up running dry. But he can’t be blamed with such slight scripting; it’s somewhat expected of a film that’s only really interested in loads of snakes. It is nice though to see Julianna Margulies in a prominent role here, and indeed she makes for a likeable heroine whose relationship with Flynn ends up being one of the movie’s most predictable outcomes.

I should say that although many of the supporting cast members only get brief moments to shine they serve up some solid characterisation. Some are meant to be hated and others we want see survive the whole ordeal. Despite the actors playing their roles well the end results are hit and miss. Ellis occasionally hits the right mark and elicits the correct response from the viewer, such as the
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passing of Grace (played effectively by Lin Shaye), after doing a heroic deed, or the disappointing deaths of adoring couple Ashley and Tyler (Emily Holmes and Tygh Runyan respectively)
but there’s a general feeling throughout that we know who is going to survive by the end. In that respect Ellis could have and perhaps should have done more to surprise us. Kenan Thompson is far too likeable in his role, so he’s a given, as is the mother (Elsa Pataky) and child and the two young boys, the latter of whom comes close. But the film makers never push it that far, choosing to play it out quite routinely, rather than get truly daring with their overall delivery.

However - when all is said and done and criticisms have been made Snakes on a Plane is still a very fun ride that doesn’t pretend to be anythign else. Instead it offers a tongue in cheek approach, layered with several pop-culture references and nods to other similar films such as 2005’s Red Eye. At the very least it promised thrills in the air and certainly it’s unlike any other film that’s about people on an aeroplane. Moreover it’s gratifying that New Line were daring enough to risk losing a lot of money in favour of bringing back the long lost, hard rated action thriller, which hasn’t enjoyed itself nearly as much in recent years as it did back in its eighties heyday. It’ll be interesting to see if studio attitudes continue to change in this way, but going solely off Snakes on a Plane’s current international gross it looks like we might be heading back to the comfortable land of PG-13. Whatever the case Snakes on a Plane has left its mark and doors wide open and has already proven to be a major influence; see Snakes on a Train, or don’t, because it sounds crap. Sequels abound? Probably. I’m off to submit my pitch for “Dentists in a Sweet Shop”. Bye.



Snakes on a Plane is presented with an anamorphic 2.35:1 aspect ratio. The transfer itself is a little up and down. Exteriors fare very well, aside from some edge enhancement and minor aliasing, with natural colour reproduction and Ellis’ deliberate looking high contrast, which blows out the skies and gives off an overly sunny feel. When the action begins on the plane and things become tighter the transfer tends to struggle a little bit more. Contrast is reset to normal and black levels are very rich, but it does become very dark at times and due to various special effects it doesn’t always achieve its max potential. Some scenes which feature heavy CG work (such as the Anaconda attack on a particular passenger) are slightly overlit, and the seams are obvious as the effects crew have had to match that lighting, but in the process make things appear too obvious. There are also a lot of smoke effects on display and we end up with a fair amount of banding as a result, in addition to some fine grain which feels better adjusted. Otherwise detail is pleasing, being particularly striking in faces for close up shots and flesh tones and interior colours offer a natural quality throughout.

The sound department makes up for any misgivings in the visual stakes. In fact we’ve been very spoiled with a choice of three tracks: Stereo Surround Sound, Dolby Digital 5.1 EX and DTS ES: 6.1. Unfortunately I cannot provide you with a proper summation of the DTS-ES track, but I can say that 5.1 EX offering is very impressive. Up until the movie becomes genuinely exciting the surrounds feel pretty standard, being that they only need to rely on a lot of dialogue and a couple of action-oriented scenes early on. When the snakes come out the movie livens up and makes full use of the surrounds; make no mistake - those crafty buggers will have you jumping a couple of times thanks to some well placed rear effects. The bass is suitably deep and really steps up a gear when the tension onboard become increasingly heightened, such as the plane hitting major turbulence, which causes some good rumbling effects. There’s a lot of nice separation in the form of screams and things flying and knocking about all over the place, which helps to conjure that desired disorienting experience and induced sense of panic. Dialogue is perfectly handled, being clear throughout, even during heavy moments, which in all makes this pretty much an outstanding effort.


Kicking off the bonus features is an audio commentary with Director David R. Ellis, Samuel L. Jackson, Producer Craig Berenson, Associate Producer Tawny Ellis, VFX Supervisor Eric Henry, and 2nd Unit Director Freddie Hice kicks off the bonus features. The participants cover plenty of ground, from conception onward and in and out they talk in length about the film’s title and internet fan reactions, to who they’re clearly grateful. There’s a splendid amount of enthusiasm and love for the finished product and the gang discuss just about every important aspect of production, throwing in a few gags and anecdotes along the way and rarely pausing for breath as they enjoy watching the feature again.

Next is a gag reel (4.39), which isn’t burst out funny but offers a few good chuckles, followed by a collection of extended/deleted scenes (12.13). These also come with an optional commentary by David R. Ellis, Associate Producer Tawny Ellis and Producer Craig Berenson. The discussion mainly comes down to trimming or cutting scenes for length, as well as trying to establish certain characters a little better. The trio also joke around and avoid going into any great detail.

The Documentary section is where you’ll find the bulk of the worthwhile material. Starting off with “Pure Venom: The Making of Snakes on a Plane” (18.02), we find a standard feature. This goes in to the genesis of the movie and works its way right through to the end of production, featuring input from key cast and crew members as they discuss various elements including writing, casting, production design, cinematography, special effects, snake wrangling, lighting and CG. Overall quite a compact piece, but informative enough for its length. “Meet the Reptiles” (12.55) focuses on the snakes, which have been handled in the feature by expert Jules Sylvester. He discusses his background in reptile handling and how he came to end up working in Hollywood. It’s also a very informative piece in that he goes on to talk about several species and how they get by in their environment. He also touches upon casting the right snakes for the job and equally as important getting the actors to work well with them. He also chucks in a couple of stories in relation to how vicious some species can actually be. The “VFX Featurette” (5.18) is short but surprisingly detailed enough to get a solid idea of how CG is achieved on a major production. The visual effects crew take us through the various elements that go toward creating a final scene. This includes designing 3D cameras, using layers, capturing realistic animations, studying their subjects, creating wire frame models, compositing and more impressively using discreet CG that has absolutely nothing to do with snakes, which is quite a surprise when we see them. Finally we have “Snakes on a Blog” (10.04) which goes on about the raving internet community. Here we have input from several bloggers who set up websites to talk purely about Snakes on a Plane. It also looks at New Line’s fascination with the huge response and how they encouraged the fans to keep drumming up excitement with their whacky ideas and so forth.

Trailers follow next and these consist of a teaser and two theatrical trailers which follow the themes of “Unleashed” and “Phobia”. We also get five TV Spots which go along with the massive hype angle, as well as an easter egg in this section in the form of a safety video.

The last bonus feature is a look at the music video “Snakes on a Plane” by Cobra Starship. First we get a behind the scenes glimpse at the making of (8.54) which goes into how it all began, with interviews from the individual members of the band, who are also members of their own projects: Travis McCoy (Gym Class Heroes), Wiliam Beckett (The Academy is…), Gabe Saporta (Midtown) and Maja Ivarsson (The Sounds). Following on from this is the music video in its entirity.


The original intent was to switch off and enjoy Snakes on a Plane for what it was, but it’s quite difficult at first to overlook its dodgier aspects; I still feel that the script could have done with a little tightening in areas and that there are moments where you feel like skipping a chapter, but overall the film makes for simple entertainment. It’s destined to become a cult fave for sure and I don’t expect to see its like - including the amazing promotional campaign - for quite some time.

7 out of 10
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out of 10

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