Internet inspired film frenzy


by Mike Kroll


A new movie is being released at a special showing in Galesburg Thursday night at 10pm at Kerasota’s Showplace 8. Snakes on a Plane, an off-beat action/horror movie staring Samuel L. Jackson, hasn't won over critics but it seems to have become a cult phenomenon even before its debut. It’s the first major movie to be rewritten (at least partially) by Internet users.

The plot of the film is simple. Jackson and actor Mark Houghton play FBI agents charged with escorting a key witness (Nathan Phillips) to a court appearance in a high profile criminal case. They travel by commercial airliner (obviously) on which an assassin has planted a huge crate of venomous snakes rigged to release the 500 snakes while the plan is in mid-flight. Our heroes must save themselves and their witness while simultaneously organizing the flight crew and passengers to combat the deadly snakes.

A simple but compelling concept that couldn't have a more descriptive title but that began life as a low-budget, low-expectation movie. The impact and direction of this project was forever altered  by the power of the Internet.

Beginning with a quirky story by a college administrator and originally titled “Venom,” the idea was initially rejected by everyone in Hollywood in 1995. But author David Dalessandro, a fund raiser from the University of Pittsburgh, persevered and in 1999 the early script was rediscovered by MTV/Paramount. The script was rewritten and rewritten a number of times as reflected by the long list of screenwriters. One of the Hollywood screenwriters who was asked to work on the script, Josh Friedman, wrote an entry about the film on a blog before turning down the opportunity and the rest is Internet history.

Even before a final script was ready or the film was cast bloggers on the Internet had begun the frenzy about Snakes on a Plane. While the studio making the movie was taken over by New Line Cinema people on the Internet were creating their own songs, posters, and even parody trailers and short films based on the concept of Snakes on a Plane. So much of this Internet activity was going on that there were competitions and the studio wisely decided not to get heavy-handed about the abuse of their intellectual property and turned this interest into a promotional juggernaut. Ironically, all this free publicity had created a heightened level of expectation for the film that the director was convinced about meeting.

 New Line Cinema originally completed filming Snakes on a Plane in September 2005 but decided to incorporate some of the Internet inspired ideas into the film. This past spring an extra week of filming was completed and director David Ellis re-edited the film. What was once a PG-13 became an R rated movie and a number of new lines and story ideas gleaned from the Internet was added to the film. New Line Cinema announced in July that advanced screenings of the movie would not be available to critics before the public release Friday but that late night “advanced screenings” would be available at selected theaters nationwide Thursday.

Perhaps nothing is more illustrative of these changes than the Samuel L. Jackson line that has become synonymous with the movie but originated with an Internet audio parody.

“I've had it with these mother f-----g snakes on this mother f-----plane! “

The already iconic Jackson has himself enjoyed the unexpected development of cult status for this movie but he isn't the only recognizable actor in the film. Joining him is actress Julianna Margulies of the television show ER who plays a resourceful flight attendant and  character actor Mark Houghton (who plays Jackson's FBI partner) will look really familiar even if you don't recall his name.

Many speculate the the absurdness of the plot is responsible for the huge prerelease popularity of this film. But the fact is while no major airline allows snakes in their cabins a number do permit snakes to be shipped as cargo, exactly what is done in this movie (although I doubt that any airline has ever shipped 500 live snakes aboard a passenger jet). During filming of the movie approximately 400 live snakes were purchased for use but by the time filming completed that number had increased to nearly 500 by “nature's plan.”

The fact is this film is no more absurd than that of many other movies and television shows available today. What is unique to the movie is the great title. At one point the studio honchos considered changing the title to Pacific Air 121 or Flight 121 but Jackson and others on the film balked loudly. Reportedly Jackson told the studio that the only reason he agreed to do the movie was the title. Finally, after Jackson had made numerous public comments during television and print interviews deriding the notion of changing the title the studio relented and left the original.

If the filmmakers continue their string of dumb luck with this movie, a prediction Jackson made on the MTV Movie Awards this past June just might become true. "I'm here tonight to present the award everyone's been waiting for: best movie. Now, this award holds a special place in my heart because next year I'll be winning it for Snakes on a Plane. Now I know, I know that sounds cocky, but I don't give a damn. I am guaranteeing that Snakes on a Plane will win best movie next year. Does not matter what else is coming out. The new James Bond... no snakes in that! Ocean's 13... where my snakes at? Shrek the Third... green, but not a snake. No movie shall triumph over Snakes on a Plane. Unless I happen to feel like making a movie called Mo' Motha-f----n' Snakes on Mo' Motha-f----n' Planes."