Silent Venom, AKA Sea Snakes
There’s something I have to confess; I’m not hip. Oh sure, I’m a cool guy, probably the coolest you’re likely to meet, but my knowledge of pop culture is slim to bupkis. Don’t ask me about celebrities. I can only name a handful. If you start singing the chorus to the most popular song on the radio, don’t expect me to harmonize; I probably wouldn’t even know the title. In fact, just the other day I was at Papa Johns ordering a pizza, and the radio was on. The cashier asked me how I liked the song and I looked blankly at her, my expression betraying all the awareness of a lobotomized cow. When she asked me whether I knew of Bruno Mars, I just smiled and shook my head, feeling somewhat embarrassed, as if I had made some faux pas by not knowing who the singer was; for what it’s worth, I’d heard of him, but I didn’t know any of his music. I usually find myself behind the times as well, picking up music or video games that were popular years ago, that I’d probably heard everyone talk about, but that I never got around to listening to or playing. I’m kind of an anti-hipster. I discovered Daft Punk and the video game Portal long after they were cool; I liked the movie Starcrash thirty years after it was released, critically reviled, and then recognized as a cult classic. So can I really make fun of Silent Venom, also known as Sea Snakes, for jumping on the Snakes on a Plane bandwagon three years after Snakes on a Plane was released? Of course!
Silent Venom starts with Dr. Andrea Swanson and her assistant Jake working in Taiwan, catching indigenous snakes. They’re collecting and experimenting on anti-venom for the military because it has important applications in saving lives from like, terrorism, and China, and stuff…sarin gas maybe. They also have a pair of snakes mutated by radiation from A-bomb tests, or something, that are the progeny of a giant snake, who appears only once during movie to eat a nameless snake-handler; said giant snake doesn’t even encounter the main characters, averting typical Syfy Original Picture guidelines which stipulate, “All giant monsters, all the time.” Cut to Lieutenant Commander James O’Neill, played by Luke Perry, who is forced to run one last mission to avoid dishonorable discharge; for the sake of my amusement, I’ll henceforth refer to this character as Commodore Perry. Commodore Perry is supposed to pilot a decommissioned submarine to Taiwan, because the Taiwanese bought it from the US military, but a nebulously threatening gathering of Chinese battleships makes the military antsy. Lieutenant Commodore Perry O’Neill must also pick up the snake-wrangling scientists in Taiwan. See where this is going?
Dr. Swanson and Jake hear that the Army is shutting their operation down, so they need to pack up to leave. They’re only allowed to take four snakes with them for some reason, and they’re supposed to kill the dangerous mutant snakes. Naturally, this doesn’t happen, because Jake thinks he can make big bucks selling the exotic snakes on the open market; he stows all of the snakes and the dangerous mutants in several traveling cases, which incidentally have no air holes because snakes don’t need to breathe. Because the snakes are part of a classified experiment, the crew of the submarine does not check their luggage for dangerous materials; where’s airport security when you need them? All’s well and good until one of the sailors peeks inside a container filled with snakes because he’s curious. I guess the risk of a court martial for looking at classified materials wasn’t enough of a deterrent, but thankfully the snakes are there to teach him a lesson. The crew of the submarine is painfully oblivious to the snakes that are often slithering right between their feet, yet it comes as a surprise to all when sailors start receiving suspicious looking bites and dying. I wonder who’s responsible for that?
Jake finally comes clean to Dr. Swanson, who immediately snitches to Commodore Perry. Although snitching is worthy of death, or so I’m told, and Jake is being totally reasonable and empathetic when he says it’s not their fault if the snakes got loose and killed people, Dr. Swanson feels like it’s her duty to inform the crew that there are motherfucking snakes on the motherfucking submarine. Unfortunately, while Dr. Swanson, Commodore Perry, and Eddie Boudreau, another officer, are on the lookout for snakes, there’s a large Chinese flotilla on the lookout for the submarine. They have to turn off their sonar, turn off the heaters, and be vewy, vewy quiet as they sneak by the Chinese, trying to head to Okinawa. What about the Taiwanese getting their submarine you say? That was like thirty or forty minutes ago. Get with the times, man. Anyhow, their efforts are all for not however, because Jake is the designated asshole. He decides to be a hero and steals the anti-venom for himself, and then he tries to fend off the snakes by swinging a wrench at them. The sound of him banging on the pipes alerts the Chinese submarines to the Americans’ position. What’s more, Jake gets bitten but is unable to administer the anti-venom because he’s too weak from the poison, and thus he dies like a chump. Dr. Swanson and Boudreau recover the anti-venom for the other stricken sailors, but there are still snakes everywhere and a particularly vicious mutant on the loose. Most of the snakes are dispatched with handguns, the most effective weapon to use in an enclosed, pressurized space. However, the big mutant snake can only be taken out by grappling with Commodore Perry, who kills the creature by shocking it with electrical cables he rips out of the wall. The snakes are slain, the Chinese have been eluded, and Commodore Perry retires once he’s returned to shore. It’s time for Perry to head home to see his daughter, so he boards a plane that we see loaded up with a container full of snakes. Dun dun DUN!
Perhaps arguing about the portrayal of Chinese-American relations in a movie about snakes on submarines is nitpicking, but what’s the deal with people being afraid/angry at China? This movie literally equates the danger of China with the danger of terrorists. Even though the threat of the Chinese navy is secondary to the much more immediate danger of poisonous snakes, they’re portrayed as if they’re assembling their warships for an attack, assembling their warships in their own waters mind you. Although I understand that the recent spate of Sinophobia is probably caused by the outsourcing of jobs and manufacturing, it seems like China gets a lot of hate considering that they are our allies, politically and economically. We may decry their abysmal human rights record and we may not like their brand of government, but they’re not our enemies. Even our economic concerns about outsourcing are a side effect of American businesses taking the cheapest route to produce consumer goods; we can curb those problems by fixing our economic policies, not by blaming China. I probably wouldn’t even mention the “scary China” thing in this silly B-movie if it weren’t for the fact that a movie like Red Dawn came out recently. Even though the latter film bombed at the box office, it still concerns me that paranoid anti-Chinese sentiment might be surfacing in America. We don’t need a repeat of the so-called ‘yellow peril’ paranoia.
On a lighter note, how about that timeliness? I understand movies can take awhile to make when you’re trying to get out the most polished script, recruit all the tops stars, shoot the film with ample time, and iron everything out in post. I don’t understand when a low-budget quickie aping a popular film takes three years to release. I’m certainly not faulting the idea. Killer snakes plus trapped humans equals cinematic gold in my mind. Yet, there’s something to be said for jumping the bandwagon too late. I’m sure there were a few disco groups starting in 1979 that know what I’m talking about. It also seems kind of late to capitalize on Luke Perry’s star status, since his greatest exposure was as a teen idol in the 90s. I mean, he was in Buffy the Vampire Slayer and The Fifth Element, but what else is he really famous for? By the way, have you ever heard of this show, Beverly Hills, 90210? I heard it was good, but I never got around to watching it…