Monday, August 21, 2006

Time out for serious film criticism...

A lot of times, I like to pose as some kind of highbrow aesthete. I can drop intimidating names with the best of them. I can bullshit you at length about obscure artistic movements and fancy-dancy what-have-you. In the past, I have been guilty of snobbery. I like to think I have cultivated tastes, and I take a passionate interest in a great many unbelievably pretentious things. This is only the half of it, though. The truth is that there is no one on earth who is more easily entertained than me. This is my good fortune, I think, since it allows me the best of both worlds: I have a genuine affection for Djuna Barnes and Jorge Luis Borges and Guy de Maupassant, but I love fart jokes and soppy love songs just as much. There’s a lot of things to like in this world, and I do my best to approach each on its terms, not my own.

This is my way of telling you that I went to see Snakes On A Plane today. And that I found it to be perhaps the best film ever made. My previous favorite, War of the Worlds (2005 version), remains a great cinematic achievement, to be sure—I can’t get enough of movies that feature remorseless, incredibly powerful alien beings coming to earth and killing everyone—but Snakes On A Plane is newer, and new things always have an edge when I’m feeling pop.

Now, you might be wondering what makes this movie so great. Well, I’m glad you asked. First off, it’s hard to argue that the idea of a bunch of poisonous snakes loose on a jumbo jet isn’t one of finest concepts for a film since, say, Gremlins. Snakes are scary. Planes are scary. Put them together and you have scary squared, which is very scary indeed. Think of it like this: if the best art taps into universal truths, what could be more universal than not wanting to be on a plane filled with poisonous snakes? Think about it.

Seriously, though, when it comes to creating culture, there is a time to reach for the heavens and a time to fill a plane with snakes. People need to be enlightened and challenged, but most of us don’t have much patience for that. They would be more inclined that way, I think, if artists started to once again direct their vision towards a broader audience, rather than just doing what they do to impress a small claque of critics, colleague and creative writing instructors. This is another blog post, however. What I’m getting at is that B-movies and silly nonsense shouldn’t be written off just for being B-movies and silly nonsense. There is honor in entertaining people; sometimes I think there’s greater value in a well-crafted crowd-pleaser than in pretentious ego-driven hokum that connects with no one.

But I’m not here to talk about aesthetics. I’m here to talk about Snakes On A Plane. And Snakes On A Plane would just be a goofy disaster movie without the performance of Mr. Samuel Jackson. All kidding aside, he’s probably the only actor in America who could possibly do justice to the role of a FBI agent who finds himself in an aircraft overtaken by hundreds of deadly snakes. In my opinion, he raised the movie from just a good idea to something worth spending five bucks to see. When he shouts “I’ve had it UP TO HERE with these MOTHERFUCKIN’ SNAKES on this MOTHERFUCKIN’ PLANE!”, you hear not just a hardworking civil servant expressing the natural frustration that comes from being on a motherfuckin’ plane filled with motherfuckin’ snakes, but also a commiseration that all of us—all across the world—have to deal with our own personal motherfuckin’ snakes on our own individual motherfuckin’ planes. The way I see it, life (the plane) is a glorious and beautiful thing, but we most all also contend with setbacks, disappointments and our own limitations (the snakes). What do we do? Do we crash into the ocean? Or do we do as Samuel Jackson would do: speak up, stand tall and kill all the motherfuckin’ snakes? I think the answer is obvious.

I’m being tongue-in-cheek here, of course, but not entirely. The roles he gets might not be particularly deep, but Samuel Jackson is always a pleasure to watch. That, in my book, makes him a great actor. Likewise, Snakes On A Plane might not be the most brilliant or forward-thinking piece of filmmaking to come out this year, but it’s still a lot of fun. So go see it. We all need to have a good time now and then.