By Ray Pride
If you must bite heads off chickens, please have the courtesy to swallow.
How did this gleeful anticipation of the end of the world suddenly emerge? (Insert myriad annoying theories here.) What business do trained journalists with poufy hairstyles have going on the air and pontificating about the Rapture and the relentlessly cycling child-pornography-style footage of the murdered child beauty-pageant victim JonBenet Ramsay and “Snakes on a Plane”? (Insert contemporary management theories here.)
Screenwriter William Goldman famously observed of moviemaking, “Nobody knows anything.” But the major movie studios, you’d think from contemporary coverage, know only fear. They’re fearful of the changes in audiences and distribution of films and how it’ll be even less profitable than it is now. As for me, I’m fearful of thinking too specifically about this idea—there are enough grey heads out there already getting remunerated for cyclical thumbsuckers on moviemaking oblivion. I’ve tried to keep at bay the thought of an indeterminate moment that might come once I not longer have a care about the game, when movies—cinema seen in reasonably large rooms with the assembled warm bodies of strangers, lovely gorgeous glowing bright visual artifacts of behavior and captured light—would no longer be artistically responsible to produce or financially plausible to recoup, whether at a studio level in the tens of millions or a persona level in the tens of thousands.
I’d think this was that year if it weren’t so easy to roll eyes at the shrill, manic obits that litter the nation’s metro dailies day after day: death of the critic, birth of the Internet, triumph of the fanboy, the failing of the daily newspaper, the ingratitude of young readers (or non-readers) toward aging ranks of clueless newspaper managers.
Which is not to pass over two other facts: YouTube, a big chunk of this amorphous, emerging, still inchoate future, looks like shit on Mac OS 10.4.7 Safari. Plus: the hilarious, gonzo, over-the-top “Snakes on a Plane” is, speaking if only for B-movie esthetics and adrenaline punches, an indisputably successful, impressively marshaled and incredibly weird, generous bit of schlock that is easily the single most invigorating evening I’ve spent in a movie theater all year, along with a good loud happy audience early Friday at River East. When failed teensploitation movies like “Material Girls” are withheld from preview by studios like MGM, I’m grateful, and I guess I’m also grateful that I got to see “Snakes” with a paying audience there for the ride instead of at an advance screening with a potential fistful of superior souls who laugh at themselves for laughing rather than simply laughing along withy bravura bunkum.
Oh so many articles have killed trees, dulled pixels, closed minds, over the weekend about the film’s box office. I’d rather talk about the friends who were giddy, eyes shining, when they talked about “Snakes,” which functions as both self-aware, self-regarding camp and canny capitalist construct: It’s “entertainment” with glossy production and jokes of binary wit. (That is, turning a thing on its head to salutary effect, but going no deeper, such as the giddy, out-of-the-blue turn in the tale of an apparently gay male flight steward.)
But it didn’t make any more scratch than the average horror item gets from its core teen audience. So, despite knowing plaudits from the learned likes of the New York Times’ Manohla Dargis, everyone from the Wall Street Journal to USA Today to the L.A. Times decides to spend what amount of weekend’s ink that wasn’t poured upon a pervert who claims to have murdered a 6-year-old beauty contestant dolled up by her parents like a child prostitute not even Paul Schrader would have imagined in his most torrid youthful benders: can mere motherfuckin’ snakes on a mere motherfuckin’ plane compete with such… “reality”? (WAIT! “BREAKING NEWS! Suspect drinks champagne on flight to America!” What does ADD stand for? On cable, it’s now “All Dead Daughters, 24/7.”)
CNN and New Line are both part of the TimeWarner conglomerate in the same oligarchic media universe that controls what the average, harried American audience can choose from, whether at an AMC theater or a Best Buy or a Wal-Mart or on Warner Cable, but the carnie instincts of the New Line showmen/showwomen are a far more satisfying spectacle than the smothering of journalism and public discourse and political responsibility. In a crowded theater, the most responsible thing is for Samuel L. Jackson to stand up (on screen) and scowl, saying, “Sporks?!”
Okay, okay, that and the parceling of reels and reels of panic and tumult until the immortal line, “I have had it with these motherfuckin’ snakes on this motherfuckin’ plane!” ‘Nuff said.
“Snakes on a Plane” is now flying. Have a safe and pleasant journey, whatever your final destination.