Samuel L. Jackson Saw Snakes On A Plane As A Special Kind Of Movie

As Samuel L. Jackson said in the TV edit of David R. Ellis' 2006 hit film "Snakes on a Plane": "I have had it with these monkey-fighting snakes on this Monday to Friday plane!" 

"Snakes on a Plane" was part of a curious cinematic trend in the mid-2000s that might be described as neo-grindhouse. The trend was an attempted revival of a certain kind of exploitation movie that was put back into vogue in the 1990s with nostalgia-driven, '70s-retro fare like "Boogie Nights," "The Ice Storm," "The Brady Bunch Movie," "Jackie Brown," and "Shaft." The last two starred Jackson. Even the 1977 film "Star Wars: A New Hope" saw a few prequels in the '00s (which also starred Jackson), not to mention the popular TV series "That '70s Show" (which Jackson did not appear on).

Following the wave of '70s nostalgia came an attempt to re-create the grimy, low-budget wave of monster and gore films that were the staff of a now-extinct moviegoing experience. One might see neo-grindhouse as an antidote to a rise in digital filmmaking, a logical continuation of evolving reflection on our cinematic past, or perhaps merely another need for nostalgic escape following the horrors of 9/11. Whatever the reason, the '00s saw the release of films like "House of 1,000 Corpses," "Zombie Strippers," "Red Line," "Mad Cowgirl," "Bitch Slap," and sequels or remakes of "Two Thousand Maniacs!," "The Last House on the Left," and "I Spit on Your Grave." And there was, of course, a two-for-one film called "Grindhouse."

In the midst of all this came the ultra-cheeky, self-aware, near-comedy exploitation flick "Snakes on a Plane," a movie which, according to a 2006 interview with Jackson in Entertainment Weekly, was particularly special, evoking the exploitation movies of his own youth. 

It's still called 'Snakes on a Plane,' right?

Jackson recalled that he definitely wanted to appear in the movie both as an opportunity to work with its director and to revel in its playful, eye-catching title. Silly, straightforward, and to the point, the title is the premise. Snakes are on a plane. It's as simple an explanation as "Is It Cake?" Originally, director Ronny Yu was in talks to direct, which Jackson was keen on; Jackson played the lead role in Yu's aggressively quirky 2001 action/comedy freakout "Formula 51." Jackson recalled the conversation he had with New Line Cinema: 

"I thought, 'Oh, s***, I need to be in that!' I saw that my friend Ronnie Yu was directing it, so I immediately emailed him and said: 'Are you really directing a movie called 'Snakes on a Plane'? And he was like, 'Yeah. Why?' And I said, 'Because I want to be in it!' He said 'For real?!' I said 'Yeah! Hell yeah!' He told New Line, and New Line was like, 'Are you sure?' One thing turned to another, and as it happened, Ronnie ended up not doing the picture. They said, 'You still want to do it?' I said. 'It's still called "Snakes on a Plane," right?'"

This was after rumors had arisen that New Line Cinema was threatening to change the title to "Pacific Air 121," a terse and far less exciting title. Jackson seems to have had the stipulation that if the title was changed, he would not have wanted to appear in the flick. New Line made the right decision. Not only did one of the world's most profitable movie stars agree to star, but the title became a meme.

A ridiculous f***** concept

Jackson also saw something very personally appealing about "Snakes on a Plane" that catered to his own personal taste in films: It's brash, dumb escapism. Jackson talked about seeing movies as a youth, recalling the horror movies that filled his theater with raucous, rowdy energy. He recognized "Snakes on a Plane" is the kind of movie to elicit jeering, pranks, and heavy petting from an audience that came to the movies to have fun, not to respectfully and quietly absorb the art of cinema:

"It's all about going to the movies on Saturday when I was a kid, sitting in a dark theater with all my little friends and screaming and yelling and doing s*** to people while the movie's on. Like taking a piece of wire or something and running it up somebody's neck and making them scream. 'Snakes on a Plane' has all the things that were Saturday afternoon matinees for me, like 'The Wolf Man,' 'Dracula,' 'Tarantula,' and 'Attack of the 50 Foot Woman.' It's just a ridiculous f****** concept that's exciting. Everyone is scared of snakes. And a lot of people are afraid of flying. Combine those two fears and you have a pretty good roller coaster for a lot of people to get caught up in."

Jackson was raised in Chattanooga, Tennessee, in the 1950s, so it's likely he frequented one of the town's many drive-ins or theaters at a time when vertical integration had been dismantled, and low-budget indie shlock could find an audience. Jackson enjoyed the movies for the wild community and sense of fun they provided. Jackson's cinematic experience, according to the EW interview, were unpretentious.

Snakes on Brokeback Mountain

Jackson's directness is the proper attitude to take with a light piece of exploitation cinema like "Snakes on a Plane." Jackson saw no feigning in the direction of art. Jackson's attitudes about movies certainly played out in the future, and they were fully formed for "Snakes." Themes of animal exploitation or the state of airline security are absent. All that remains is the simplest and most prurient. To Jackson, there is purity to that:

"It's all that stuff. It's ... a movie. It's JUST a movie. Not everybody goes to movies to get their life changed. Some of us go to the movies so we can forget about our lives for an hour and half. Have some mindless fun. Don't have to worry about the plot. The plot is: Some people are going to get killed. The thing you need to know is that there are some vicious snakes, some victims, and a hero. It's that kind of mindless, popcorn, you-didn't-need-a-genius-to-write-this kind of script. Nobody has to evaluate at Academy Awards time. Okay, maybe MTV Movie Awards time. But the Golden Globes doesn't have to see it; nobody has to talk it up for the Oscars. Nobody has to act like, 'I wouldn't be caught dead in that film!' Fine! Don't go! Wait until they have 'Snakes on Brokeback Mountain' or something! 'Snakes on a Plane' doesn't speak volumes about s***. It just says people are still making movies that people are having fun going to watch."

Given that "Snakes on a Plane" was something of a hit (it grossed $62 million worldwide on a budget of $33 million) — thanks to its brazenness, paired with an enormously campy ad campaign (Jackson recorded automated phone messages one could order for friends) — Jackson appeared to be right. 

Jackson vs. critics

Jackson, perhaps infamously, has nothing to say to critics. In 2012, one might recall, New York Times critic A.O. Scott gave the superhero flick "The Avengers" a lukewarm review. Jackson tweeted: "#Avengers fans,NY Times critic AO Scott needs a new job! Let's help him find one! One he can ACTUALLY do!" Jackson's rant regarding the critical reception to "Snakes on a Plane" is brilliant and is included here in its entirety: 

"Owen Gleiberman, Peter Travers, and all those motherf****** don't need to watch this movie. They need to send some 13-year-old kid with f****** pimples that goes to the mall every Friday to watch movies to review this movie. We don't need those guys talking about this movie. Send some kid to review this. Send a kid to review even 'Pirates of the Caribbean.' Critics don't NEED to talk about 'Pirates.' They KNOW they won't like it. But movies are all about suspending that kind of disbelief and incredulity. Do you critics know how to do that? I would love to be a pirate. I used to go watch Errol Flynn and go, 'Man, I wish I had a sword and could get on a boat and put a knife in my teeth and swing from boat to boat and chop some people up and all that kind of s***.' Critics can't even get to that kind of place. Instead, it's like: 'Once again Johnny Depp wastes his enormous talent'? BULLS***. You know, Johnny's having a GREAT time. He DESERVES to have a great time, because sometimes he expends a lot of energy doing some serious s*** that doesn't make but $150,000. He deserves to have fun, too ... There comes a time when you just want to do some s*** and let it go."

Indeed, Mr. Jackson. Indeed. "Snakes on a Plane" can currently be seen on Tubi and on HBO Max