I toyed with the idea of going to see Snakes on a Plane last night in order to be able to write a negative review about it with more credibility.
I even considered the idea of making it seem like I went to the theatre with the expectation that the movie would be fun, thus lending my negative review the credibility of an aggreived victim of entertainment industry hype.
But (as should be pretty obvious by now) I have no desire to see the movie, and I do not actually expect it to be fun. In fact, I am 99% sure that the movie is complete crap, even without seeing it.
I have the intellectually honest “right” say the movie is probably god-awful for the same reason that the “prefans” who’ve been psyched about the film before seeing it had the same “right” to expect that the movie was probably going to be awesome. But I think I am more correct than the prefans for two reasons:
- I think I’ve been better at reading between the lines of the movie’s reviews, the previews, and Samuel Jackson’s own statements about the movie: All are unified in stopping noticably short of saying the movie is actually a good movie, usually saying that the movie is, at best, “so bad it’s good” — a genre of movie that I don’t think should be rewarded with unquestioning praise, or for the most part even made in the first place.
- If I have to be told in advance — by the makers of the film, even! — that the movie is going to be “so bad it’s good”, then my anti-marketing bullshit detector kicks in and alerts me that maybe the movie is just plain bad.
What’s worse, the broader movie industry’s embrace of this movie is obviously and depressingly cynical and crass. Watching Samuel Jackson and Jon Stewart talk about the movie on the Daily Show, I couldn’t help but read between the lines a little:
JACKSON: I’m pretending to be excited about this movie just so I can get people to go see it and I can make a ton of money.
STEWART: I’m pretending to be excited about this movie because every time I mention it the audience goes crazy. They love it when I say “motherfuckin”. It’s so easy.
JACKSON: Heh, tell me something I don’t already know.
I mean, the movie’s signature line (“I want these motherfuckin’ snakes off this motherfuckin’ plane!!”) was added to the film after filming was completed in response to the internet hype. The movie was basically “retro fitted” to transform it from crappy b-movie to manufactured popular phenomenon.
Watching “so bad it’s good” movies was never a mainstream thing to do, much less what movie producers actually want their audience to do. When you go to see such a film, you laugh at the movie’s producers (“Did they actually think this was a good idea??”), not with them. That’s the fun of it. But now apparently this has changed. Now a movie can actually wear “bad” reviews as a mark of pride, and can even get movie reviewers to say, essentially, “This movie is bad. Go see it now!”
And as a cultural trend it isn’t even all that cool. Because of the open and widespread movie industry embrace of the flick’s badness, how cool can one be going to see it even with “ironic” intent? It’s like when Urban Outfitters and Abercrombie & Fitch started making T-shirts intended to look like they were found in a thrift store — I just feel bad for the people who are only now catching on to the fashion trend. In short, it’s not only that I suspect that the movie is intellectually inferior, it’s also just plain empirically uncool to jump on a fashion or posture years after it was interesting and hip.
A “Real” Cult Classic (with Snakes!)
As a contrast, let’s look at Ken Russell’s genuine cult classic The Lair of the White Worm. It has all the right elements: (a) some bizzarely interesting characters and surprisingly off-kilter acting (epecially Amanda Donohoe, pictured here), (b) truly terrible special effects, done in earnest but hilariously dated today, (c) weirdness everywhere, from the props and sets to the music score, (d) some absolutely excellently irreverent plot elements the likes of which Hollywood wouldn’t dare make today for fear of boycotts from the Christian right.
Among many other hilarious scenes, it has the best snake-biting-someone’s-dick-off scene ever (something Snakes on a Plane apparently attempts, too). Satanic orgies, Hugh Grant, human sacrifice — all this without any Hollywood-manufactured “so bad it’s good” hype.
The makers of The Lair of the White Worm actually thought they were making an excellent movie, and ended up making something that is surprisingly great in some ways and obviously bad in others — making it interesting to watch on several levels, and thus truly “so bad it’s good”.
Am I snobby? Sure, very much so. I’m an intellectual snob, and probably a little bit of a style/fashion snob, too. What’s wrong with that? The opposite, being uncritical and accepting of what the media tells you you’re supposed to like, is what keeps the really great works of art, those that are “so good it’s great”, from getting made and seen in the first place.
If it wasn’t for snobbery in the animation world, for example, we’d still be living in a world of Hanna-Barbera retardation instead of having mega-popular Pixar hits and widely-available Japanese animated features. If it wasn’t for snobbery, we’d still be watching truly and deeply idiotic TV shows like Starsky & Hutch, The Dukes of Hazzard, The Brady Bunch, and the old Battlestar Galactica instead of The Sopranos, Lost, Deadwood, and the new Battlestar Galactica.
Think of the success of independent films and music in the last 20 years, where mass-market crap has lost significant ground to clearly higher-quality products. In top 40 music, we’ve gone from Poison to Radiohead. In film we’ve gone from The Goonies to Lost in Translation. It was snobbish producers and snobbish fans who gave this new generation of quality entertainment the attention and money they needed to even to exist, flying in the face of the success of the more popular and far dumber products that preceded them. Snakes on a Plane is, I think, a bit of a step backwards.
Fun vs. Good
Jeff Croft argued, as many many others have in defense of bad blockbuster movies over the years, that a movie can be fun without being good — and that there’s nothing wrong with that. He asks the essential question over at Brian Ford’s Newsvine blog: “What’s wrong with making a movie for the experience of it?”
The answer is easy: if a lot of people see the movie, the movie studios will make dozens more like it, and “so bad its good” will become the dominant theme of movies for the next 5 years or more, much like reality TV was dominant for 5 years. Only when people sober up and realize “My God, what have I done? For years I’ve been pretending to have an IQ of 50 in order to be entertained!” will the studios finally wake up and start spending money on “actually good” movies.
When it comes to fun, I think good movies are more fun than bad ones. Maybe I’m too old (I’m 35) to find “fun” in experiencing something completely “bad”. Again, I suspect that the “fun” of seeing thoroughly bad movies is the equivalent of the “fun” of getting drunk with a bunch of friends and getting in a fight, breaking some windows, or sleeping with someone who would normally disgust you. Sure, it was fun at the time, and maybe will lead to a fun story to tell your friends, but really: was it worth it?
I suppose I am likely to hear some lively disagreement on this topic, especially since I am in a way accusing SoaP fans of helping to ruin the quality of movies in general. I look forward to hearing opposing views.
Oh, and I did go to the movies last night. I saw An Inconvenient Truth. An actually-good movie.