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In-flight safety 

Snakes on a Plane isn’t the only film you’ll never see while you’re travelling by air. Carsten Knox unpacks a few more.

Producers of the internet-hyped Hollywood movie Snakes on a Plane must be rubbing their hands together. The arrest of 19 air bomb conspirators in the UK has renewed anxiety around air travel, and it’s not hard to imagine some fast-talking studio-head saying snakes are a metaphor for our fear of airborne terrorism.

As if there is any depth to be plumbed with a movie called Snakes on a Plane, that Samuel L. Jackson says “just might be the best motion picture ever made! It’s that good!”

One thing you can be sure of: People who are flying anywhere in the next few months won’t be seeing Snakes on a Plane as their in-flight entertainment, or anything else that might make them feel at all uncomfortable about being stuck in a steel tube, breathing in the recycled flatulence of over a hundred strangers. Imagine the crackly intercom announcement: “The pilot’s switched off the seatbelt signs. Today’s in-flight movie will be...United 93, dramatizing the airborne terrorism of September 11, 2001. Enjoy!”

Not likely. In fact, airlines probably have a list of movies that will never, ever be shown on commercial planes.

Any list of that sort would start with the obvious ones: The grandparents of airliner disaster pictures, Airport, Airport 75, Airport 77 and Airport 79: Concorde. The movies are remembered as notoriously cheesy excuses for older stars to cash cheques, including Burt Lancaster, Dean Martin, Charlton Heston and James Stewart. The gag-filled Airplane! and Airplane 2: The Sequel!, both pictures that spoof the ’70s disaster movie trend, would also be close to the top of that no-fly collection.

A few airborne thrillers would be included, such as last year’s Red Eye, with the fetching Rachel McAdams tussling with the sinister Cillian Murphy, or Executive Decision, with Kurt Russell and Halle Berry, and brief support from Steven Seagal. Also, Con Air, with John Malkovich as a killer who hijacks a prison transport plane, facing off against Nicolas Cage’s buff hero. Airlines would fly clear of Jodie Foster in Flightplan and Bruce Willis in Die Hard 2, both of which involve air travel and dire situations, but both are stinkers and should be avoided even on the ground.

Then there are those dramas that feature an air disaster somewhere in the plot: Fearless, starring Jeff Bridges, which starts with his character walking away from a crash, convinced he’s invulnerable. Tom Hanks must be, having somehow survived the intense Fed Ex jet crash in Cast Away. Jimmy Stewart is also a survivor in the classic Flight of the Phoenix, as is Mikhail Baryshnikov in White Nights as a Soviet defector on a plane that crashes back in the motherland. Fight Club would never be shown on a flight as it has a pretty scary hallucination of a plane crashing. Speaking of hallucinations, Twilight Zone: The Movie includes a vivid segment starring John Lithgow (in a part originally played by William Shatner in the TV show) about a air traveller who sees something creepy on the wing. Though few would remember it, The Medusa Touch would be on the list: Richard Burton plays a man who can make disasters happen with his mind, and does repeatedly, one involving a jet crash.

But what about the less obvious pictures, featuring characters behaving badly around airplanes, if not on them? For instance, Catch Me If You Can, with Leonardo DiCaprio pretending he’s a pilot, or The Aviator, with Leo again, this time as Howard Hughes, an actual pilot who pretends he’s not obsessive compulsive. Pushing Tin might be another, with Angelina Jolie and Cate Blanchett distracting John Cusack and Billy Bob Thornton from their jobs as air traffic controllers. What about The Incredibles? It has a pretty intense scene involving a plane. Or this summer’s Superman Returns and the scene where Supes catches a jet in midair and lands it safely at a baseball game?

The fact of the matter is, with security measures tighter than ever before and technology advances allowing for computer- precise navigation, air travel is statistically safer than it’s ever been, much safer than the drive to the airport. Still, there’s less chance of Snakes on a Plane being shown on a commercial air flight than Sam Jackson misplacing his personal sense of style.

Snakes on a Plane is in theatres now.


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