snakes on a plane (2006)
To truly understand the depth of this film's genius, one must inspect, not only the nuances hidden deep within each frame, but also the larger and more central metaphoric devices employed (with startling power, I might add) in the film's overall narrative. Snakes ... and Planes. Not only does this film utilize snakes to a degree I never could have imagined, but it also announces itself immediately as a front-runner in the world of Plane Cinema. The true genius of Snakes on a Plane is amplified by the strategic use of the film's title as a catalyst to explain, not only the plot, but the film's major philosophical struggle between man-made ingenuity and the savagery of nature. Take for example, one key scene involving the character we will refer to as Gay Flight Attendant Guy. In this scene the gay flight attendant guy has captured a deadly snake, with quick thinking, he places the snake into the plane's microwave and turns it on. His triumphant exclamation of "Who's your daddy now, bitch?!?" solidifies man's seeming dominance over nature's violent wrath. With so much imbedded symbolism laced into each line of dialogue, it's no wonder that the script was the most sought-after in Hollywood, attracting just about every A-list star to try for their spot as FBI agent Nelville Flynn. When such Hollywood hot-shot talents as George Clooney, Ben Affleck and even Steven Segal showed up to the audtitions, however, they were promptly tazered into submission by none other than the original badass himself, SAMUEL L. JACKSON! This was Sam's movie and no one else's. Rightfully so. Kenan Thompson was able to take a brief break from his long-running Broadway stint as Othello in Shakespeare's renowned play of the same name, to add his academy award winning thespian talents to the character of Troy. This film simply has all of the credentials to become this year's best picture at the Academy Awards. Like last year's stellar winner Crash, this film features a large cast of oppressed men and women from every race, color and creed standing up for their rights in extremely realistic situations. Snakes on a Plane, however, takes the renowned subtlety of a meditative film like Crash and takes it one step further, personifying humanity's indifference toward their fellow man with venomous reptiles. Genius. Pure and unadulterated genius. This film simply asks the question that Hollywood has been either too afraid, or simply too inept, to ask for years now: what would you do if you were flying on a plane home from Hawaii as a secret government witness and an Asian mob boss out to kill you secretly planted poisonous snakes in the plane and then unleashed them and your only protection was Samuel L. Jackson? It really is something to ponder, leaving this reviewer with something to chew on for days, and possibly months, after leaving the theater. I applaud this film for having the daring and skill necessary to pose such an audacious question to its audience. Never before has a film so touched me emotionally and stimulated me mentally as well.
Even with the stars, storyline and snakes, this cinematic miracle still hinged on one very important factor: the director. With a film this impressive, it caught the eyes and ears of just about everyone who'd ever held a camera. The most illustrious names of the avant-garde began to knock down Hollywood's door, hoping to get in on what would soon be known as "the greatest artistic masterpiece crafted by human hands". When attempts to re-animate the frozen body of director Orson Welles failed, auteur cinema master David R. Ellis, director of such classic films as Homeward Bound II: Lost in San Fransisco was called in to take up the reins of what would clearly become his magnum opus. In a 2005 interview, French New Wave veteran director Jean-Luc Godard expressed his disappointment in being unable to bring his film career full-circle, explaining that he believed Snakes on a Plane would have been "the perfect companion piece to [his] debut film, Breathless". He went on to add his support for Ellis, however, whom he referred to as "the Mozart of the 21st century". Ellis' experience as a stunt man on films like Smokey and the Bandit, Phantom of the Mall: Eric's Revenge and Harriet the Spy gave him the perfect blend of talent and skill to to take on, not only snakes, but planes as well. Truly, only a directorial prodigy of Ellis' innumerable talents would have the finesse to shoot this film with such an unwavering hand. Notice his excellent mastery of expressionist lighting in the scene where 3 G's is getting freaked out by the little dog. A sequence of throwaway shots to anyone else, but not to Ellis. Even more ingenious is the subtle manner in which he holds on shots of the naked chick, no director of our era can compose boob close-ups quite like Ellis. He is clearly ahead of his time, the magnificence on display here will not be topped for decades to come. He even finds a way to work in a fantastic homage to Hitchcock's Foreign Correspondent, an inclusion that demonstrated both cunning and unsurpassed intellect. If anything could top the direction of Ellis and the sheer power of Jackson, it would be the performances of the film's two title characters: the snakes and the plane. Watch out for a best actor nomination (and almost positively a win) for the cobra snake that bites the little kid. It's facial expression practically tells the entire story, speaking volumes with a single glare. The expression was topped only by its intense and awe-inspiring line delivery derived from a new technique it created known as "method hissing". The cobra's performance is almost outdone by the rattlesnake that gets shot with the harpoon gun, the most moving death scene I've witnessed in years. These snakes clearly have bright futures ahead of each of them. The Plane, however, trumps them all. Displaying immense power, with a hidden vulnerability, The Plane will win your heart as it struggles to keep itself aloft and save the passengers it carries. It brought tears to my eyes during its intimate final monologue to Jackson, declaring that it "could have been a contender, could have been somebody". I thought I knew what heartbreak really was. I was wrong.
It's a film about passion, a film about strength, and most importantly, a film about knowing when to get up, take a stand, and simply say "Enough is Enough". We could all learn a thing or two from Jackson's inspiring portrayal of Flynn. There are some days when I too have become tired of the motherf*cking snakes on the motherf*cking plane, the snake-like burdens that we all must overcome to keep our proverbial planes from crashing and burning. This film transcends mere snakes and mere planes. The superb skill of all involved with the production is evident in every frame of this incredible film. I consider myself privileged to have even witnessed an event of such pure perfection.