Recently, I decided to read the novelization of Snakes on a Plane while I was on several packed flights. Your opinion of the novelization will largely depend on how dumb of an idea you think that the premise is, or how much that you enjoyed the movie. Either way, the novel tries to take a crazy idea and attempts to legitimize it. The book succeeds on numerous levels. Doing the most that it can with its source material. I happened to enjoy both the film and the book quite a bit. The book definitely made my travels more enjoyable because it had me daydreaming about a python dropping on the head of an annoying passenger a few rows behind me.
Over ten years after the movie’s release, it never quite became the cult classic that it said that it would become. I remember all the marketing and internet buzz about this silly movie titled, Snakes on a Plane. It was primed for cult status. In the end, it was little more than a Sci-Fi (or SyFy if you’re nasty) Channel original movie. It was full of ridiculous dialogue and unbelievable CGI snakes. In spite of it all, the film starred Samuel L. Jackson. It was his star power combined with the idea of seeing him fight, and cuss, a plane full of snakes that really got everyone’s attention and saved this film from going unnoticed or direct-to-video.
If you had never seen the movie, the simplest explanation of the plot is spelled out in the title. There are venomous snakes on an airplane, and they are biting everyone. The snakes being loose on the plane were not the result of some shipping accident or a failed attempted at smuggling exotic snakes. Those would have been more likely, and boring, situations for a movie of this type, but the real cause is a wild fever dream of a setup. This whole situation starts with the murder of a prosecuting attorney in Hawaii by a Triad crime boss and the beach kid that witnesses it.
The witness gets scooped up by the FBI and is entered into the Witness Protection Program until he can testify in LA. They place him on a commercial flight with a couple of FBI agents. So, instead of hiring a legit assassin, or putting a bomb on the plane, the Triad put a bunch of different deadly snakes from all over the world in a crate that can be opened remotely. Also, most of the passengers were given leis that were treated with pheromones that will drive the snakes to act like they are on “crack.” The mixture of different breeds of snakes makes for a unique problem of finding the right antivenoms and being able to get them to the right passengers by identifying which snakes had bitten them. The goal is that the plane never makes it to its destination and that it will look like an accident. The criminals definitely get credit for thinking outside of the box.
Both the movie and the novel follow the same plot with very little difference between them, but the biggest change is the cannon fodder. In the film, many of the characters go unnamed, don’t have any lines, and are not given any real motivations. They only exist to add to the body count and to die in horrible but entertaining ways for our amusement. The book, however, gives every single person depth and dimension outside of being a sacrificial lamb.
The author of the novelization, Christa Faust, turned an hour and forty-nine-minute movie into a book that is over four-hundred-pages long. This is especially impressive to me because none of the scenes that were added or any of character changes felt like padding to me. Some of the plot holes in the film are addressed, and characters get a chance to shine before they meet their doom.
An early example of this is the two love birds that go to the lavatory to join the Mile High Club. In the movie, two attractive people with minimal dialogue get to the restroom then are almost immediately attacked by a serpent other than a trouser snake. In the book, these two characters are given a sweet love story about a whirlwind romance between a professional skateboarder and a guitarist that met at a music festival. The guitarist is a shy introvert in an all-girl rock band playing the festival and is encouraged by her friend to talk to a cute skater. She wrestles with her shyness the whole time until she begins talking with him, but they both quickly realize that they were meant for each other. This all climaxes with their tryst in the restroom. Their newfound love makes their untimely deaths all the more tragic.
There are plenty of other examples of characters getting a deeper look into their personalities and backstory, but my favorite one is the cat. The movie only shows that there is a cat in a pet carrier in the cargo hold next to the crate full of snakes. You see a snake slither into its carrier, you hear the cat hiss, and then the cage shakes violently. In the book, the cat is named Mr. Wong, and he is an asshole. There is a large part of a chapter told from his perspective, and he becomes a plot device for one of the other characters on the plane later on in the story. This cat went from sight gag in the film to a character that I was rooting for in the book.
If I have any gripes with the novelization, they are very minor. For instance, I started to question if product placement in novelizations was a thing because of how often that the refreshing soda, Dr. Pepper, was mentioned in the book. Referencing real world products does help to ground the story, but at one point I was under the impression that the sole beverage for this world was the soda with a taste like no other with its twenty-three unique flavors, Dr. Pepper. I drank three Dr. Peppers on my flights, was this a coincidence? I think not.
The biggest complaint that I have is with the treatment of the male steward in the book. In the film, his sexuality is questioned because of his slightly effeminate behaviors and the stereotype that was associated with guys working as stewards at the time. He references having a girlfriend that everyone completely dismisses as not being real. So, at the end of the movie when his smoking hot girlfriend runs to embrace her love after he just survived a life and death ordeal, it was a little funny. It also may have tried to send a message about assumptions and stereotypes, but I’m probably giving the movie too much credit. In the book, his character is literally described as a bisexual slut that will sleep with anyone. There are no questions about his character, and his character is written as a stereotype and does not come across as a parody of those stereotypes.
I know that I am getting old because the year 2006 does not feel like that long ago, but it’s been over a decade since Snakes on a Plane was released on the world. Back then, 9/11 was only five years behind us and it still was very fresh on everyone’s mind. The thought of terrorists being on a plane was a common fear. The heightened security made flying even more of a hassle. I think that Snakes on a Plane hit at just the right time to be a kind of catharsis for the United States. It let us all laugh, scream, and cheer at a horribly unrealistic situation that was taking place on a plane, during one of the scariest periods to fly, and let us watch people overcome it.
Reading the book and watching the movie so far away from that time, they both show their age a bit. Introducing a new person to either version, they will probably not get as much from it today as opposed to being there, in the beginning, and being swept up by the all the buzz while dealing with the issues of the time. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t try to spread the word about this wannabe cult classic.
Seriously, I will recommend the novelization of Snakes on a Plane to anyone that is looking for a fun read and nothing more. If you don’t have time to read a four-hundred-page book, then I say check out the movie. In some ways, the book is what I wished the movie would have been. One thing that the book will never have, no matter how hard they tried to describe the character like him, is the charm and charisma of Samuel L. Jackson. There is no substitute for hearing him speak that infamous line but I think this is a perfect way to end this post, “I HAVE HAD IT WITH THESE MOTHERFUCKING SNAKES ON THIS MOTHERFUCKING PLANE!”
Novelization by Christa Faust
Based on the Motion Picture
Story by David Dalessandro and John Heffernan
Screenplay by John Heffernan and Sebastian Gutierrez
Publication Date: July 11, 2006
Fun Fact: In Japan, it’s title is “Snake Flight.”