Snakes on a Plane

I know I promised we would talk about more aquariums this week but I have to interrupt my planned schedule for a brief discussion of the event of the summer, the moment we've been barely been able to wait for; the release of Snakes on a Plane. There's an expression in Hollywood that you may know; high concept. Every studio is looking for a high concept film, something that can be described in just a couple of sentences, for instance the movie Speed was described as Die Hard in a bus. This method of pitching films can get so self referential that you end up with cases like when the studio exec had run through Die Hard on a bus, in a boat, on a plane, and supposedly ended up suggesting making Die Hard in a building, coming full circle. So there you are, you've got all these people searching for a script that can be described in as few words as possible and they hit the mother lode when they came up with SoaP. To quote screenwriter Josh Friedman's seminal blog entry, "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."

Josh is absolutely right. What more do you need to know before you go and see this film? Nothing, it's all in the title because it's a very basic mathematical equation; snakes + plane = mayhem. It's going to be scary, it's going to be intense, it's going to be funny, it's going to be crazy and it's going to be something you won't soon forget. Then you add Samuel L. Jackson, star of, well, just about everything and you have a product that can, and did, create the perfect storm in the interweb communities. He has an enormous amount of charisma and he has this quality that makes him seem like the perfect leader in a disaster. Given the choice between the Red Cross and FEMA or Sam Jackson in a catastrophe I'll take Sam. When he says he'll get us out safely I believe him. So now we have this terrifying situation and we have a hero to save us. We can relax and really enjoy the scary parts.

This film has gotten a huge amount of attention because of something that makes it pretty special; the way the online community reacted to news of the film and the way the makers of the movie responded to the fans. Super genius and infinite monkey Josh Friedman started it all when he wrote a funny and entertaining blog entry about his experience with the film and how the concept had become a philosophy for him. (If you haven't read it already do yourself a favor and click here. In this post he said the one line that we all expect Mr. Jackson would say (a line I can't repeat in a family column) and the next thing you know it seemed like every site you clicked on was talking SoaP and there were millions of fan sites and contests and parodies and it all happened very, very quickly. The studio listened and went back to shoot a few more days of footage and included the immortal line everyone wanted to hear. Then the offline community started to talk about the movie and I don't think they quite got it. I read a really kind of snarky article in a popular weekly news magazine that gave me the impression the author actually sprained his neck looking down his nose at the whole thing. I've seen quite a few people say this has to be the worst movie ever because the studio was coerced by the fans and anyone who would write to order like that can only end up with a terrible finished product.

But I totally disagree. This is old thinking. If you're a comedian you've got your audience right there in front of you every night and you can tell what needs to be cut, what should be expanded and what needs to be reworked. The more shows you do the better you are because you're constantly rewriting and honing your performance. But traditionally most art isn't like that, you work in a void and you don't get a lot of feedback until you're finished or almost finished. How exciting is it that we live in a time where we can say, "gosh, wouldn't it be nice if this happened in this film?" and someone listens? How exciting is it for the film's creators to not be in the dark and to know right away that what they're doing is working well enough to grab the attention of so many people? I think it's wonderful.

But what about the film itself? How good is it? Well I was lucky enough to go to an early screening and I can tell you that it exceeded my expectations, which were pretty darn high. The only way I could have been more frightened would be if the snakes were zombie snakes and everyone they bit started coming back to life and rampaging through the cabin. Yeah, then I would have had a heart attack for sure and pity the poor people who work at the movie theaters who would have to come in between showings to clean up popcorn boxes and the bodies of everyone who died of fright. It just wouldn't do. Luckily for them and me there was little to no zombieism to be seen. But warning if you plan to take your kids, there is plenty of gore and there were a couple of scenes that were too intense for this viewer; one of my teenage sons had to tell me when it was safe to uncover my eyes and look at the screen again.

Next week we'll bring you aquariums part two but first we have a one-sentence review from Luke who is commenting on his recent trip to Six Flags in Maryland. Luke says, "My favorite ride was the Mind Eraser because it has a lot of sharp turns, twists and upside-down loops; it was a lot of fun." Have you got a one-sentence review you’d like to submit to Quality Time? Send it in to me at feedback@qualitytimeweekly.com and I'll run the best ones. You may focus on just about anything that fits a family entertainment format; games, movies, books, music - the sky is the limit.