Aviophobia, Ophidiophobia

(In which I discuss two movies that have not been released, but still manage to be late for several bandwagons.)

United 93, a movie about the plane hijacked on 9/11 that didn't reach its target, opens on April 28th; a movie that was at one point provisionally titled Pacific Air 121 will open a mere three months later, on August 18th: Snakes on a Plane.

Now, some might question my juxtaposition of these two films (aesthetically, ethically...); sure, there are surface similarities: both are suspense films with action confined to a plane and a concept the audience knows going in (and a title that says it all), but shouldn't my sense tell me that comparing a work that most people will encounter with extreme earnestness (whether with appreciation or revulsion) to one that can only be taken as the height of cheese is, perhaps, misguided? My response: it's just an attempt at cleverness.

Both films have caused a media buzz. In the case of United 93, the response is not surprising; is it too soon? are we ready for this? is it profiteering? etc. Universal's release of a trailer featuring news footage of the planes crashing into the World Trade Center enflamed the debate, stirring up quite a bit of free publicity in the process. (See Slate's debate on the subject.) Paul Greengrass, the director, also helmed the documentary-esque Bloody Sunday, a film version of an event that, although it occurred over 30 years ago, is still a quite a raw spot in Derry; the experience seems to endow him with reasonable credentials for this sort of project. If the images from the trailer are representative, we can expect a similar cinema verité feel in United 93, and those who are afraid of vulgar sensationalism or sentimentality need not worry. (As David Denby assures us in this week's New Yorker.)

Another ad features Greengrass and family members of the victims (all of whom Greengrass met (see Slate again) before making the film) talking about the movie, and begins with the silhouette of a plane on radar, stirring text, broken audio. These latter bits are borrowed and parodied by a faux trailer for Snakes on a Plane.

Snakes on a Plane (SoaP for short) has, out of a blog entry and a few press snippets here and there, become an internet meme and all-around bizarre phenomenon. (Even NPR took note.) Fan sites abound, as do expressions of enthusiasm so layered with irony that they are indistinguishable from sincerity (even by those who express them). I've bought in wholeheartedly; the use of "Snakes on a Plane" as throw-off phrase akin to "shit happens" is especially appealing.

If Snakes on a Plane can be read in conjunction with United 93, as an opposite and thus related manifestation of a compulsion on the part of the public, maybe the Internet obsession becomes less whimsical. Yes, he says, maybe...


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