Every serious fan of films that are so fukking terrible that they are entertaining by accident, at some point in their life, asks themselves whether it is possible to make a film that is so terrible it is awesome on purpose. Films that have come out of production so terrible that they are often more entertaining than most “good” films by accident are legion. Often, it is merely a matter of things going horribly wrong, or people in key positions failing at their job. But hysterically terrible films that were made that way on purpose are so rare, so difficult to find, that it is even a matter of debate as to whether they really exist. The only example I can think of is a Roger Corman production of Fantastic Four that was shot in 1994 and not intended to be commercially released. The only reason it even exists is because certain people held the rights to make such a film and wanted to retain them, which in turn necessitated making an actual film. The total budget of that piece was a mere one and a half million dollars, which in 1994 terms is not even enough to hire enough people to make a two minute superhero film trailer. (For those who doubt this, Terminator 2 was released commercially the previous year, with the kind of special effects that would be required to photo-realistically render Mr. Fantastic’s signature abilities. Even if you leave out Arnold Schwarzenegger‘s average salary around the time, that equates to around seventy to eighty million dollars.)
For the record, I have not seen that version of Fantastic Four. I have, however, seen both of the Fox-produced Fantastic Four films that star Jessica Alba as Susan Storm. Shit they be, but someone in there clearly thought they might have a chance to make something worthwhile. They would not have cast a man like Michael Chiklis as Ben Grimm if that were not the case.
Which brings me to the subject of this writing. Although it is a matter for debate whether the makers were really trying to make a film that was so stupid that it was brilliant, the premise and content of Snakes On A Plane suggests as much. And even as “long ago” as 2006, nobody in the world spent thirty-three million US dollars making a film with the intention of the result being terrible, or more accurately, impossible to market effectively. So as a result of all these elements, Snakes On A Plane tends to come across as being more of an experiment in publicising a film through the use of the Internet. Given that the film grossed sixty-two million and a small amount of change in the US box office in spite of all the effort that was made to publicise it online, I think that New Line Cinema had reasons to be disappointed. It was one of an at the time ever-growing string of failures from the New Line stable, and in 2008 New Line Cinema was merged with Warner Bros., a sad fate considering it was one of the few remaining independents at the time.
So what brings Snakes On A Plane closer to being a deliberate attempt to make a film so bad that it ends up good than anything anyone else had tried before? Well, first off the mark is the premise. An ordinary lad by the name of Sean witnesses a gangster by the name of Eddie Kim beat a prosecutor to death. The first place Sean runs to is not the police or even a payphone to call the police, but his home. Well, okay, nobody said that surfers out on holiday had to be smart. Sean soon finds members of Kim’s little Hawaiian mafia converging upon his residence. But an FBI agent by the name of Neville Flynn, aka Samuel L. “Muthafukkin'” Jackson comes along and rescues him, taking him to police headquarters where it is decided that a plane will be commandeered and Sean will be brought to Los Angeles in the company of two FBI agents, one of whom just happens to be Flynn.
So, as any idiot with a hyperaggression problem would do, Eddie Kim (Byron Lawson) decides that rather than doing what a cold, calculating mafia boss would do and pay someone to sabotage or bomb the plane that Sean is getting on, he goes all out and puts a bunch of snakes in the plane’s cargo hold. And not just any one type of snake, either. No, Eddie pays a person big money to get snakes from all over the world and put them on this plane. Since collecting a worldwide bunch of snakes, importing them to a landmass where they do not occur naturally (one of the Hawaiian islands), and taking the trouble to get them smuggled onto a plane results in one long chain of evidence against you, Eddie obviously does not come across as the most rational of mob bosses in the world. During one sequence, he asks one advisor if they think he would try this if he had not exhausted every other option. I am seriously inclined to think that by “exhausted”, he means thinking about it for two seconds and then deciding “nah, this idea is not retarded enough, I do not want to do that”. And by “every other option”, he means something as elaborate as paying people to throw firecrackers down the plane’s toilets.
But I digress. When you come to a film that is called Snakes On A Plane, you do not come expecting intelligent gangster decisions or plot ideas that make perfect sense. No, you go in expecting Samuel L. Jackson to say “fukk” a lot, people to get killed by lots of exotic reptiles, and a certain devil-may-care approach to storytelling. Oh, and people being bitten in sensitive places by snakes is an expectation if you are a complete pervert like this little black duck. Haha. But anyway, I am not going to go much further into the plot except to say that the often-quoted “I’ve had it with these motherfukking snakes on this motherfukking plane” line really does look like it was shot two years after principal photography was shut down and cut into the finished film with a meat cleaver.
What I will talk about here, however, is the manner in which Snakes On A Plane is said to have “failed” at the box office. Failure at the box office is a relative thing, and involves some complex math calculation. For starters, you have to understand that whilst there was a time when showing films in theatres was profitable, it was so long ago that even people as old as my male parent (he turns sixty this year) probably do not remember it. Edward Jay Epstein has written at length about the realities of the film business, so I definitely recommend acquainting oneself with his work if you want to better understand some of the things I am talking about here. But for now, the basic points one needs to understand is that films that make a genuine profit at the box office are so few and far between that they have names like Pirates Of The Caribbean or The Dark Knight. Even most of the Star Wars films do not actually belong in this category. What is important to know is that whilst box office revenues are basically holding static or even declining, the costs of making and distributing films have been exploding for most of the past six decades. As a result, in the early 2000s, it was widely known amongst Hollywood accountants that in order to be considered to have broken even at the box office, a film must gross at least twice what it really cost to make the film in the first place. So if a film is said to have cost fifty million to shoot, it only breaks even when it has grossed a hundred million.
Another couple of realities of the box office that Tom Cruise fans in particular do not want to acknowledge is that for the purpose of calculating the break-even point, only the US and Canadian box offices, also known as the domestic market, really count. Even other English-speaking territories such as England, Australia, and New Zealand are not taken into consideration. This is because with the cost of distributing a film to those places, a film has to make even more to be considered to contribute to profit.
You might wonder why this is. Well, in a nutshell, way back in the late 1940s, many of the tricks of the trade that the studios used to increase their profit margins were declared illegal by the U.S. Justice Department. The story is a long and technical one, but the end result is that the film studios’ collective arms were twisted to make them sell their interests in theatre chains, which at the time was the only way to distribute films to audiences. Theatres that showed films and the studios that made them were now separate businesses, and the business was cut-throat to say the least. Now, the best way to sum up the result this has on the modern market is that theatres do not simply show films out of the goodness of their hearts. They take approximately fifty cents of every dollar that the film is said to gross at the box office. If these theatre chains smell a film that is not likely to net either party a profit, they will sometimes even demand more. So the next time you see an idiot go on about how this or that film made X million dollars, or worse yet X million dollars worldwide, rest assured that their ignorance of how the industry really works would be amusing if the matter were not so serious.
Getting back to Snakes On A Plane, one thing that needs to be understood is that the whole “everything must be online” culture that is starting to permeate world media was not nearly as prevalent then as is the case now. But New Line Cinema was expecting big things from Snakes On A Plane as a result of it. So much yapping had taken place online about the film that for one reason or another, New Line were expecting at least a four times the production cost gross. Which is not entirely unreasonable given that the production cost was, again, all of thirty-three million (Terminator 2, the first film with a hundred million dollar production budget, was made some fifteen years prior).
What the ignoramuses in the Everything Online culture do not seem to get is that when Human beings seek entertainment, and are asked to pay for it, they seek quality. And I do not mean what the Everything Online morons call quality. I mean quality of a sort that simply cannot be delivered in existing online conditions. So to see a big “yeah, this film is going to make lotsa money because we publicised it ooooooonline!” blow up in New Line Cinema‘s face to such an extent that they were for all intents out of business a mere two years later would have been funny if not for the fact that it means competition in the entertainment industry has been reduced even further. In case you did not notice yet, I hate the Everything Must Be Online culture.
Snakes On A Plane has also been the subject of many somewhat mockingly-proposed sequel ideas. Camels On A Submarine, Spiders On A Train, and so forth. Even Samuel L. Jackson has gotten in on this sport, with a joking prediction that the film would win the MTV Movie Award for Best Film. It was phrased, “No movie shall triumph over Snakes on a Plane. Unless I happen to feel like making a movie called More Motherfucking Snakes on More Motherfucking Planes“. You have to hand it to a guy that is that immodest even in a humourous context. You can read the place I got that quote from here. But by far the best proposal for a sequel to Snakes On A Plane to date is the one implied in this image that I stole just for this article: Snakes On Every Plane. Just think of it.
Airplanes have long been a target for terrorist strikes, hostage-taking, and other sad artifacts of a world in which everyone is fighting over a limited amount of resources. This was the case long before the terror attacks of September 11, 2001, and it will remain the case in September of 2101 unless a radical change in the Human species occurs between now and then. And if you are going to be stupid in the story that you tell, it is best to go all-out. So why not a film in which a mad asshole who is so offended that women are allowed to go outside unsupervised during daylight hours (this could be any kind of male from a number of different places) decides to plant snakes on every plane he can? Obviously, shooting the shots required to sell the illusion that every plane currently in the sky around the world is struggling with snake infestation is going to be a challenge, but the beauty of this idea is that it can be used as an excuse to show all kinds of neat mid-air collisions and other malarkey the like of which every disaster film aims for.
So, in summary, if you have not already seen Snakes On A Plane, go and do so. It will not make you laugh by accident, but it is an entertaining waste of a hundred minutes, and contains some lessons (albeit small ones) for people who want to tell stories for more than just a hobby.
Those who have taken the time to read what has ballooned out a long way from its intended length, thank you.
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