August 16, 2006
Fans Sink Fangs into ‘Snakes on a Plane’
WASHINGTON -- To hear some punsters tell it, it's time for Hollywood to "kick asp."
After endless parodies, Weblogs, videos, books, news reports and T-shirts, "Snakes on a Plane" finally opens in the U.S. on Friday with no one knowing quite what to expect from the super-hyped film other than a story about reptiles patrolling a panicky passenger jet.
There have been no advance showings of the $30 million dollar movie after an amazing run of publicity that seems to have the whole wired world contributing ideas to flesh out a story from an intriguing title -- a title producers once seriously thought of changing because it gave the plot away.
Smart moviegoers usually avoid a film released without advance screenings because it can indicate a studio knows the movie is bad. But "Snakes" is unusual. People who have never seen it already call themselves "fans" and many hope it will be awful.
For about a year, bloggers and Web-surfing moviegoers have built a groundswell of excitement for the action flick about an FBI agent protecting a witness whom the Mafia tries to kill via snake bite on a long flight, turning the movie into a pop-culture phenomenon.
"I really think we're on unprecedented territory," said David Waldon, author of "Snakes on a Plane: The Guide to the Internet Sensation," which was published in July.
"You see movies that are hyped like this or even bigger, but almost all of them are based on things that already have a bond with the public, like the 'Star Wars' trilogy."
WHAT'S IN A NAME
The Internet hoopla started with a single entry on screenwriter Josh Friedman's blog last summer.
The film's star, Samuel L. Jackson, threatened to quit when the studio considered changing the title, saying he'd taken the job based on the name. Friedman lauded Jackson, arguing those four words succinctly provided both a name and plot summary, and gave a good indication of its genre.
More than that, he wrote, the title captured the idea of being forced to face situations we dread. No one trapped mid-flight with a bunch of slithering killers can walk away.
The blog's readers and readers of those readers' blogs agreed. In 1999 the Internet buzzed with anticipation of the opening of "The Blair Witch Project." But Friedman's wildfire spread even farther, thanks to fan-created videos posted on YouTube.com, where anyone can post videos shorter than 10 minutes, and the social connection site MySpace.com, where the mostly young users create individualized pages.
"I'm not sure there would have been a phenomenon without these sites," said Waldon. "It's kind of a new wave of do-it-yourself 'Internetting."'
One video mocked typically flashy trailers for action movies with the words "One man will rise to thwart the evil which can only be described as evil," streaking across a screen, followed by drawings of a man shooting a snake atop a plane. Another was a music video called "Baby, baby, baby (Shed yo' skin)," while others had titles such as "Cats on a Plane," and "Snakes on an Elevator."
On blogs and videos, fans invented lines for Jackson, including "I've had it with these snakes on this plane," which they peppered with an obscenity that Jackson used heavily in his break-out role in "Pulp Fiction."
In the past, media companies have squashed such practices on copyright grounds, but New Line Cinema, the Time Warner Inc. (NYSE:TWX - news) subsidiary that is distributing "Snakes," has embraced the hype and the producers even included the line in the movies and used it in previews.
Georgetown University law student Brian Finkelstein, founder of the popular "Snakes on a Blog" Web site was sure he'd be sued. Instead, New Line's Executive Vice President of New Media Marketing, Gordon Paddison, called to thank him.
One fan, though, seems finished with all the hype. The original blogger, Friedman, declined to be interviewed for this article and gave up blogging about "Snakes" for a while, instead writing about his struggles with cancer.
"Look, people. I get it. I'm a great disappointment to you all. We had a few giggles, shared some digital sushi and Diet Coke, we made New Line an extra fifty million dollars and had a good time doing it," he recently wrote. "Cancer can only kill you but a funny blog entry can make Dr. Pepper shoot from your nose."