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Pet Store Stand-ins
You’ve seen it on the big screen, now buy it at the local pet store.

Firewalker

Firewalker

This low-rent action-comedy buddy flick, a lame atrocity courtesy of Chuck Norris and Cannon Films that, for some reason, is uncontaminated by firewalking (or continuity, or coherence), has a couple of snake scenes meant to represent some homogenized extruded Native American spiritual product. Both feature, as far as I can tell, boa constrictors, which are at least native to the vague area Norris, Gossett and Company appear to be operating in (geography is not a strong point of this movie). In the first scene, the villain appears to be performing some sparkly native magic with a snake — it’s probably meant to evoke the Hopi snake dances, but this is nowhere close in meaning or appearance (or snake used). In the second scene, a young woman sent to kill our heroes apparently transforms into a boa as a way of escaping.

Live and Let Die

Live and Let Die

Snakes make several appearances in this, possibly the most morally objectionable of the Bond films (as opposed to merely sad and risible). In one of the opening scenes, a man is bitten to death by a snake during what is purportedly some voodoo ceremony. The snake appears to be an Emerald Tree Boa (Corallus caninus), though I suppose it could also be a Green Tree Python (Morelia viridis) a long way from home — I’m not that good at telling the difference. Although a tree boa’s bites are pretty nasty thanks to its long sharp pointy teeth, it’s decidedly nonvenomous and would not kill with a single nick. The snake makes a second appearance toward the end of the movie, along with a number of other snakes kept in a coffin; those snakes include Boa Constrictors (Boa constrictor), Burmese Pythons (Python molurus bivittatus) and a few colubrids that are probably rat snakes. It goes without saying that pythons don’t belong in the Caribbean.

Neither, for that matter, do Speckled Kingsnakes (Lampropeltis getula holbrooki), one of which threatens Bond in his bathroom about half an hour in. Now I’ve kept two speckled kings, and while they do have a tendency to chew on your fingers, they’re quite harmless; Bond’s dispatching of said snake with an aerosol fireball is wholly gratuitous. It wasn’t even all that big a kingsnake.

Natural Born Killers

Natural Born Killers

Killers Mickey and Mallory stumble across a den of rattlesnakes and are bitten. The photography is fast and furious in this scene, but it’s possible to make out that most of the snakes in the medium shots are Western Diamond-backed Rattlesnakes (Crotalus atrox), which is an appropriate choice. In the grainy, blurry, black-and-white closeups of snakes striking, I think they substituted in a harmless Bullsnake or Gopher Snake (Pituophis catenifer); they have similar coloration.

Then they’re off to a drug store to get some rattlesnake antivenin — or, as they call it, “snake-bite juice.” It’s sold out on the shelves, so Mickey goes for the pharmacist, who manages to blurt out, “Don’t carry it. Hospital,” before he gets shot. Here’s the thing: antivenin isn’t stocked by pharmacies, and it would never have been available on the shelves. It’s always administered in hospitals: bite victims would have to be monitored for an allergic reaction to the antivenin, which might be deadlier, in some cases, than the snakebite itself.

The Golden Compass

The Golden Compass

People have animal familiars in the world of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy, so it’s no surprise that some people have snakes. Presumably, only the evil people do, because that’s the bad rap snakes get. In one scene we see a computer-generated cobra; in another, a member of the Magisterium holds his familiar during their meetings. As we can see from this still from the movie trailer, it’s clearly a Corn Snake (Elaphe guttata), and a damn pretty one besides. If the animal familiar reflects the person’s personality, then this individual must be very much like a Corn Snake: laid-back, a prodigious fornicator, and someone prone to fouling his dwelling after someone has just cleaned it. (Time to clean the Corn Snake cages again.)

Women of the Prehistoric Planet

Women of the Prehistoric Planet

The Adam-and-Eve plot twist was already old hat when Women of the Prehistoric Planet was released in 1966, a movie strangely uncontaminated by prehistoric women. In a scene that in no way has anything to do with foreshadowing, one of the expendable crewmen says, after an encounter with a giant stock-footage iguana that they lasered into burning papier-mache, “If that’s the way they grow lizards around here, I’d hate to run into a snake.” And wouldn’t you know it, a snake shows up mere minutes later — after all, you can’t have a transparently bad science-fiction take on Adam and Eve without a snake, can you? Even if it’s a big, menacing snake … well okay, it’s a half-grown Boa Constrictor that, once shot by a pocket crossbow, magically morphs into a rubber snake that looks nothing like it. Still: eek. Amirite?

Best viewed in the Mystery Science Theater 3000 version: can’t be too careful.

A Series of Unfortunate Events

A Series of Unfortunate Events

Dr. Montgomery Montgomery’s reptile room features a menagerie of snakes and other reptiles: some computer-generated, like the Incredibly Deadly Viper, and some real. All the real snakes seem to be albinos, like the albino Burmese Python (Python molurus bivittatus) wrapped around Billy Connolly’s neck and the amelanistic Corn Snake (Elaphe guttata) I think I briefly saw in one shot. Then there’s Petunia, who is completely harmless and so, not milkable, but is almost certainly either a Queretaro Mountain Kingsnake (Lampropeltis ruthveni) or one of several possible subspecies of Milk Snake (Lampropeltis triangulum); my best guess is a nelsoni — again, an albino in either case. At least there were no egregious instances of snake blinking as occurred in the original book — or in the Harry Potter movie.

P.S. Little udders?!

Snakes on a Plane

Snakes on a Plane

Admit it: you’ve been waiting for this one. Much has already been written about the snakes behind Snakes on a Plane, and the questionable snake behaviour and biology has been debunked elsewhere; I wrote something shortly after I saw the film myself. The key points:

  1. The real, live snakes were harmless and handled by stunt doubles or extras; the venomous snakes were either computer generated or shot in isolation.
  2. The real snakes were common pet-store varieties; I spotted Corn Snakes (Elaphe guttata) and several kinds of Common Kingsnake (Lampropeltis getula) and Milk Snake (Lampropeltis triangulum), for example.
  3. The aggressive snake behaviour was attributed to pheromones sprayed on leis, which is creative nonsense. Pheromones will make snakes horny at best, and no one pheromone would have the same effect across so many different species.
  4. The movie correctly points out that snakes aren’t normally that aggressive, hence the pheromone plot device.
  5. The computer-generated snakes were larger than nature — and faster. No matter how pissed, most snakes don’t move that fast. Except maybe mambas (Dendroaspis) and coachwhips (Masticophis), and I didn’t see any of those.
  6. Antivenom is easier to find than that.
  7. Snakes are illegal to keep in Hawaii.
  8. Pythons never eat fully grown adult males. Well, hardly ever. Yappy little dogs? Total python food. (At least I can hope.)

Battlestar Galactica: “The Hand of God”

Battlestar Galactica:

While briefing the press on the fleet’s dwindling fuel supplies, President Roslin starts hallucinating snakes on her podium. Lots of snakes. We have no idea what Caprica’s ophidiofauna looks like, so the show’s producers have had to make do with terrestrial standins. And there are quite a few of them: a Ball Python (Python regius); Sinaloan and Pueblan Milk Snakes (Lampropeltis triangulum sinaloae and L. t. campbelli, respectively); at least three Corn Snakes (Elaphe guttata), in albino and normal flavours; a leucistic Texas Rat Snake (Elaphe obsoleta lindheimeri); and California and Mexican Black Kingsnakes (Lampropeltis getula californiae and L. g. nigrita, respectively). All of which have been bred in captivity for decades and can be found at your local pet store. Though deliveries to the Twelve Colonies have been rather interrupted recently.

The Lady Eve

The Lady Eve

I must confess that The Lady Eve is one of my favourite movies, and it’s not just because the romantic male lead played by Henry Fonda is a herpetologist. (Two words: Eugene Pallette.) It’s a wonderful and cinematically significant romantic comedy by Preston Sturges. You really should see it.

In the opening scene, Charles Pike and his bodyguard Muggsy are leaving the Amazon with “Emma”, a “rare type of Brazilian glass snake” that mysteriously can be fed “just a couple of flies, a sip of milk and perhaps a pigeon’s egg on Sundays.” (An impossible snake diet.) Emma’s Latin name is given as Columbrina marzditzia, but Emma is in fact played by a Western Longnose Snake (Rhinocheilus lecontei lecontei). Rarely kept in captivity nowadays, but quite a gentle species, and one readily found in southern California.

Later, once Pike has returned home, he asks his butler whether he’s seen a Crotalus colubrinus. (“With pink spots,” Muggsy adds.) “I rejoice to say that I have not, sir,” the butler replies, walking away — with what appears to be a Corn Snake (Elaphe guttata) wrapped around his ankle. Crotalus colubrinus is not only imaginary, it’s an oxymoron if you know your Linnaean binomials.

Star Trek: The Next Generation: “Night Terrors”

Star Trek: The Next Generation:

“Night Terrors” is usually regarded as the weakest episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation’s generally strong fourth season: Troi’s “WHERE ARE YOU?” must therefore be seen as the TNG equivalent of “WHERE IS SPOCK’S BRAIN?” In brief, the entire crew is generally going nuts and hallucinating on account of being denied REM sleep. Riker’s hallucination involves finding a mess of snakes in his bed. (Uncharacteristically, the rishathra-obsessed Riker does not try to seduce them.)

The snakes are, of course, of the usual pet store varieties: I spotted a California Kingsnake (Lampropeltis getula californiae) and a Ball Python (Python regius); other species are harder to identify for sure, though they might be more kingsnakes, and possibly duller subspecies of Rainbow Boa (Epicrates cenchria).

The Empire Strikes Back

The Empire Strikes Back

The Yoda action figure that we all played with as kids came with a bright orange snake, but you really have to look hard to spot a snake in the movie. It’s there, briefly, in the scene in Yoda’s hut, and — look at that — it’s a California Kingsnake (Lampropeltis getula californiae), second only to the corn snake in pet popularity. But it doesn’t come in orange.

Other scenes. When Luke enters the cave on Dagobah, there is a small Burmese Python (Python molurus bivittatus) to his left (plus an interesting monitor of some sort, but this isn’t Lizards on Film). And the snake Luke pulls out of his X-wing’s, um, intake (?) before takeoff is an Eastern Kingsnake (Lampropeltis getula getula).

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