It’s sort of unfathomable how one thing that we do in the midst of a life can easily become that which defines us at the end of that life. For David R. Ellis, Snakes on a Plane is apparently that thing and that is unfortunate.
All day today, I’ve seen stories about Ellis’ death in a hotel room in Johannesburg at the age of 60 and many one of those articles have mentioned little more than that disappointing Samuel L. Jackson film when discussing Ellis’ career.
Now, of course, the loss of life is the true tragedy here. This is a father and surely a friend to many, a man who is now gone, but for some reason, the less than comprehensive tribute to Ellis’ life work bothers me so.
Maybe it’s because there isn’t likely a person reading this or any of the other articles about Ellis who haven’t, at some point, enjoyed a film that he was involved with either as an actor, a stuntman, a stunt coordinator, second unit director, or a director.
Check out his resume, this is a guy who did stunt work on Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Smokey and the Bandit, V, Baywatch, Scarface, Lethal Weapon, and Fatal Attraction. A talent who headed up the second unit for Ridley Scott (Master and Commander), The Wachowskis (The Matrix Reloaded), Chris Columbus (Harry Potter and the Sorcerers Stone), Barry Levinson (Sphere), Kevin Costner (Waterworld), Mel Brooks (Life Stinks), Philip Noyce (Patriot Games and Clear and Present Danger), and others.
When he had the chance to direct his own films, Ellis headed up Final Destination 2, The Final Destination, Celular, Shark Night 3D, and of course, Snakes of a Plane.
All told, Ellis poured 2/3 of his life into being a film rat, working on nearly 100 pictures in one capacity or another, and yet it is sadly unsurprising that most of the intricacies of his career and his life are absent from these antiseptic acknowledgments of his death. I lump this article into that group too, because this isn’t a truly adequate tribute either because such a thing is an impossibility.
Whether we remember one thing or twenty things about Ellis, or anyone else that passes or has passed, we can never fully comprehend a full life with mere words and shorthand. There is so much that will forever remain undiscovered, so much that will fade away over time as people forget and our contemporaries join us in everlasting anonymity. I guess that’s what bothers me most of all, one day, in some small town newspaper or community bulletin blog, I’ll be remembered for my own Snakes on a Plane and not the countless other and better things that I did (and hopefully will do). Oh well, add that to the list of inevitable things.