I don’t watch a lot of stuff on The Sci-Fi Channel. (Oh, okay! SyFy, if you insist) They manage to come up with one or two watchable series a season, maybe three in a really good year. I liked all the Stargate series, especially Atlantis. The most recent one, Stargate: Universe… I’m trying. I loved Warehouse 13; I sort of miss Painkiller Jane; Eureka is a little bit of fun sometimes but I don’t miss it at all when it’s on hiatus. Sanctuary – I can take it or leave it. And of course there was Battlestar Galactica; don’t get me started on that. SyFy, overall, is hugely disappointing. A whole channel devoted to science fiction and what do we get? Hours upon hours of Ghost Hunters and bad horror and disaster movies.
I almost never watch the “SyFy Original Movie” on Saturday night but when I saw the ad for Sea Snakes I remembered seeing something about the “mockbuster” movie Snakes on a Train and had to laugh, “Hah, another one.” (They actually used the line “Snakes on a Sub” in the commercial for Sea Snakes) Unfortunately for whatever intellectual reputation I might have had, I also had to watch it and, darn it, I enjoyed the silly thing. Sometimes a real good bad movie is exactly what you want.
I have not seen Snakes on a Plane. I tried watching it once when it aired on one of the cable channels but only made it through maybe as much as the first 15 minutes before I decided it was not worth the two hours of my life I was about to give up so I can’t compare the two movies but, based on the fact that I did watch all of Sea Snakes I can’t help but suspect that it was the better of the two movies.
There is a certain movie formula which I’m sure has a name already but since I don’t know what it is I’m going to give it the somewhat clumsy acronym WAGD, for We’re All Gonna Die. (To be more accurate it should be We’re Trapped and We’re All Gonna Die but that would make a really terrible acronym.) In a WAGD movie a group of people is trapped somewhere – in a boat, a submarine, a plane, a space ship, a snowed-in ski resort – and something or someone is killing people one by one. These deaths generally follow a certain pattern, with some variation. The first two people to die are clearly expendable. They’re red-shirts – characters we never have a chance to get emotionally attached to. The third person to die is the black guy. Yes, sorry, that’s always the way it is. He might not always be literally the third but soon after the clearly-expendables have been killed, the black guy is going to get it. (Exception: If the black guy is played by a big name star he might have a chance.) He isn’t counted as just another one of the clearly-expendables because he is usually allowed a little character development. He is a nice guy and may have a useful skill which the other characters will miss. Next, any number of “Oh No He Can’t Die” characters will die, including a woman if there is more than one woman in the group. Finally, the last person to be killed is the one guy we really want to see get it – the dangerously stupid guy.
Sea Snakes was not the best example of a WAGD movie but it generally followed this pattern. A disgraced Navy officer, played by Luke Perry is given one last mission – to take an old, decommissioned submarine to its final resting place. In route, they get orders to pick up a research scientist and her assistant on a remote island near Chinese waters. The subject of their research? Snakes, of course. An extremely lame and unlikely premise all the way around but what made it not a good WAGD was that most of the characters fit in the clearly-expendable category. There wasn’t enough character development for the viewer to get attached to any of them. Even the Dangerously Stupid Guy was merely pathetic – not someone you could really enjoy hating.
Still, Sea Snakes was a fun bit of escapism and I don’t regret wasting my time on it. Now I’m thinking maybe I should take a chance on more SyFy movies. Maybe what the world needs is more good bad sci-fi movies. Maybe that’s the way to world peace. Instead of shooting people and blowing up stuff, everyone stay home and watch people dying on TV.