Before there were scores of blogs on the topic, viral videos, and a Samuel L. Jackson obsession not seen since Pulp Fiction, there was a studio that realized its action-drama had been branded a joke.
With one of the most literal titles since Three Men and a Baby, Snakes on a Plane was facing a dud release due to the fact that the studio thought people were disinclined to spend their money (hard-earned or otherwise) on an improbable premise if it didn’t star Tom Hanks. The plot? The plane was literally infested by snakes. The public did not know much more.
Perhaps trying to trick people into thinking the movie starred Wesley Snipes or Harrison Ford fighting against Eastern European terrorists, the studio was rumored to be changing the title to Pacific Air 121. Come to think of it, that title seemed vague enough to appeal to everyone: It’s a comedy/drama/thriller/sci-fi piece about love/terrorism/best friends/robot mailmen.
On a junket for The Man, when a certain “Mr. Beaks” from Collider.com asked about Pacific Air 121, Jackson said, “We’re totally changing that back. That’s the only reason I took the job: I read the title.”
And this became lore – and deservedly so. The thought of an over-the-top actor like Jackson, who so paradoxically seems to take his job entirely too serious and not seriously at all, uttering the phrase, "Enough is enough. I've had it with the snakes" was all the buzz the movie needed.
The question of whether the movie would be taken seriously has been answered. It’s a joke: a huge, lucrative, and potential franchise-rearing mockery. Thanks to America’s desire to journal nearly all of its thoughts and opinions online, Hollywood could see past their Pacific Air myopia to understand that on August 18, America wanted snakes on some machine of transportation, preferably one that was aloft.
Consumer-generated sites like Snakesonablog.com and viral videos on YouTube.com exhaustively chronicled the history of the movie. In addition to blog love, people have emblazoned their interpretation of the movie, purported quotes, and Jackson stock images onto t-shirts, coffee mugs, and hats, wearing their marketing co-opt with pride.
This has to be one of the best marketing goldmines in cinema history. Wearing a t-shirt advertising a movie (and, in some cases, its debut date) has become hip. Movie t-shirts, previously the bastion of 13 year-old boys and swag turned to sleepwear, could be worn proud. Snakes on the Plane has now even infected 18-35 year-old argot, whereby the title, spoken dejectedly, means, “What are you gonna do?”
As in: Friend: “Man, I’m sorry your girl left you.”
You: “Snakes on a plane, man; snakes on a f-ing plane.”
New Line Cinemas could not even try to keep up with this marketing meme. But, according to published reports that it retooled the movie to up the camp level, the studio was wise to surrender editorial control the masses. The production team even included an expletive-laden line that was suggested by the web community.
New Line also partnered up with social network Web site TagWorld.com for a contest where a winning band would be selected to contribute a song to the original soundtrack. Perhaps it will be the launching pad for The Your Moms singing I've Had it with These Snakes. I did not make that up.
Snakes on a Plane proves what many people have insisted: given the right set of circumstances, your audience (or customers) are better marketers than you. As to how a movie destined to fail became a movie that couldn’t miss, well, man, snakes on a plane.