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“What’s in a name?” Shakespeare asked, and New Line Cinema’s answer is: Well, plenty. A name alone was enough for Wired magazine already to have declared “The Best Worst Movie of the Year,” even though nobody’s seen it yet. Samuel L. Jackson, its protagonist, reportedly didn’t even read the script before taking the role. And when rumors of a title change, to Pacific Flight 121, made their way through forums and chat rooms, all hell broke loose. That’s what’s in a name.
So, what is it? Snakes on a Plane, of course. Care to venture a guess as to the plot?
Due in theaters August 18, SoaP, as devotees like to call it, arguably could be dubbed the first “pre-emptive cult classic.” Google it, and you’ll get more than 10 million hits, ranging from homemade spoof shorts with stick-figure drawings to trailers spliced together from previous Jackson films or love songs inspired by the movie’s storyline.
Merchandise is abundant. T-shirts at CafePress.com poke fun at the title’s simplicity via literal translation, with a nest of snakes squirming atop the roof of a commercial airliner. UrbanDictionary.com has already adopted the phrase “Snakes on a Plane” as pop-culture vernacular, a euphemism for “Shit happens.”
The SoaP phenomenon is all about the power of the Web. This newfound symbiosis between celluloid and cyberspace has set a precedent for interactive influence on the future of Hollywood. New Line is hosting an online music contest, with the winner’s entry to be featured in the film. Director David R. Ellis even returned to the set during postproduction to add five new scenes—taking the movie from its original PG-13 to an R rating and meeting the fan base’s expectations. Rumor has it that one line of dialogue in particular was added to appease online groupies. Suffice to say it makes use of Jackson’s typecast propensity for Oedipal profanities.
The film’s premature popularity might be construed as a public sigh of relief. Though it may appear to follow the lead of, say, Scary Movie with its brutal titular honesty, Snakes on a Plane is more than mere pastiche. And less. This tongue-in-cheek title serves only to reference itself. Its eager fans are applauding the film’s ability to see itself in context and acknowledge what it really is: an overtly sensational action flick with a hyperbolic, inane plotline. In short, they’re showing prefatory appreciation for a really bad movie. About snakes. On a plane.
Rest assured, New Line’s motivations for anticipating the inevitable “What’s it about?” aren’t entirely philanthropic. Taking full advantage of the comedic hype, and projecting earnings of $30 million during its first box-office weekend, SoaP should be laughing at itself all the way to the bank.