'Snakes' has rich fangstasy life online
By David Hiltbrand
Knight Ridder News Service
By David Hiltbrand
It's the movie with the silly name that swallowed the Internet. Or maybe it's the movie that swallowed the Internet because of its silly name.
Despite the enormous promotional campaigns being lavished on "Mission: Impossible III," "The Da Vinci Code," "Superman" and other summer Hollywood behemoths, the film that has the digital nation buzzing is a low-budget thriller that won't hit theaters until Aug. 18.
"Snakes on a Plane" stars Samuel L. Jackson as an FBI agent escorting a witness from Hawai'i to Los Angeles to testify in a mob trial. A hit man releases a crate full of deadly snakes on their flight.
Whether you consider it goofy or genius (or both), the movie's evocative title has struck a resounding chord with teens and young adults. Spread entirely by word of keyboard, "SoaP" (as it is known in short-hand on the keystroke-stingy Internet) has unleashed a spoofy tsunami of poster art, mock movie trailers, music videos, gags, games and T-shirts. (Our favorite fan-suggested tag line: "Coffee, tea or antivenin?")
Brian Finkelstein, a 26-year-old law student in Washington who created Snakesonablog.com, a clearinghouse for all things "SoaP," has been amazed at the quality of some of these DIY tributes.
"It's not just some kids hacking around in their basements," he says. "One guy created a fake celebrity audition reel, with (impersonators of) Jack Nicholson, Christopher Walken and other stars doing scenes. That blew me away."
There's even a British rock band named Snakes on a Plane. On their MySpace page, they describe their style as "equal parts abrasive math, improv, kraut and psyche-rock with added melodic relief."
The Web site TagWorld.com is sponsoring a contest in which bands submit songs for the film. So far it's received more than 400 legitimate entries, from folk to speed metal. The winning song, which will be announced June 1, will be included in the "SoaP" soundtrack.
The larger question is why this B movie, sight unseen, has generated such overwhelming interest months before its release.
"It's the combination of an unforgettable title, a reliable action star, and a killer trailer that has been creating huge buzz on the Internet," says Harry Medved, of the ticketing service Fandango. "It's a movie that has to be seen to be disbelieved."
But younger fans insist "SoaP's" popularity is simpler: It's the title, stupid.
"I think the whole appeal is that it's the most honest movie title ever," says Stephanie Wasek, a 26-year-old from Pottstown, Pa., who started a rapidly growing "Snakes on a Plane" community at LiveJournal.com.
After Jackson signed up for "SoaP," the name was briefly changed to "Pacific Air Flight 121" because the studio, New Line, felt that a less-campy title would attract a higher-quality supporting cast. (The film features Julianna Margulies, David Koechner and Kenan Thompson of "Saturday Night Live.")
Jackson hit the roof, grousing to the entertainment Web site Collider.com, "We're totally changing that back. That's the only reason I took the job: I read the title ... You either want to see that or you don't."
The virtual drums starting beating for "SoaP" last year when screenwriter Josh Friedman, who's been contacted but not retained to doctor the script, began trumpeting "Snakes" on his blog.
"It's a title," he wrote. "It's a concept. It's a poster and a logline and whatever else you need it to be. It's perfect. Perfect. It's the Everlasting Gobstopper of movie titles."
The phrase quickly took on a life of its own.
Some of the fan spoofs have taken on legendary status. Chris Rohan, a 19-year-old from Germantown, Md., recorded an audio trailer of "SoaP" as a goof that has become an iPod favorite.
"During my lunch break, I wrote up a skit and I recorded the voices in like 15 minutes," he says.
"I wasn't going to even attempt to do Samuel Jackson so I pulled in my friend Nathaniel (Perry) who is very, very white. It sounded fantastic. I had to do so many takes because we kept breaking into tears from laughing so hard."
In his trailer, Perry imitates Jackson, screaming, "I want these (expletive) snakes off the (expletive) plane!" As the spoof spread on the Internet, Rohan found himself getting interview requests from NPR and the Hollywood Reporter. He received a job offer from a major advertising agency. "It really got out of hand," he says.
All this online hype ended up profoundly influencing the final product. The film was crafted for a PG-13 rating, but the fanboys complained that this would defang "SoaP." So last month, six months after principal photography had wrapped, New Line arranged for additional shooting to give "SoaP" a sexier and bloodier edge and, with it, an R rating.
And it inserted a scene with Jackson uttering the line made famous in Rohan's lunch-hour spoof.