It was long ago when I first heard of Snakes on a Plane, that movie that I’m sure you all know about because of the cult following it has already gained throughout the internet. When I found out about it, I couldn’t wait to see it. It just sounded so… bad! A typical example of the sort of idiocy Hollywood has been shoveling for decades.
But now I have decided that I can’t see this movie. It’s become an intentional mockery of itself, for no purpose other than profit. When I see the trailers now I can’t help but see behind the screen all that is wrong with the studio system of film production, and with the Web 2.0 mobocracy.
Here’s what happened to get this movie where it is today: Some brainless money-machine in a development department somewhere discovers that there’s never been a movie about a terrorist plot involving snakes. So he calls up his buddies and tells them they’re going to make a killing if they can get an A-list celebrity to star. They send a treatment over to a screenwriting factory farm, which churns out a rough draft in five days. The script gets sent out to a few A-list agents. Most of them throw it away, or the actors do. They’re not idiots. But Samuel L. Jackson, tired of taking himself so seriously and wishing to relive his glory days of being eaten by a shark, signs on for a lark. The movie takes two weeks to shoot, and another two to edit. It’s in the can by Easter. In the meantime, someone somewhere has leaked that Sam Jackson is working on a movie called Snakes on a Plane. The blogosphere, full of reclusive Monty Python fans hungry for the absurd and anything to distract them from their intensely unhappy personal lives, goes wild. They start making movie posters and putting fake trailers up on YouTube. The studio gets wind of this while the movie is still in production and tries to change the title to something less idiotic, but that’s stopped when Jackson, who is on this ride to make a REALLY BAD MOVIE, DAMMIT nips that in the bud by threatening to walk off the set. At this point the production’s wall of confidentiality is leaking like a New Orleans levee. Within days everyone knows about Jackson’s power play and the studio is forced to keep the working title.
So far this is all pretty amusing. Here’s where it gets more worrisome:
The studio realizes that there’s no way this movie is going to be taken seriously no matter how they sell it or who they sell it to, so they decide to go in the opposite direction. They cut the effects budget in half so it’s impossible to do anything but cheesy CG, they drop in some intentionally ridiculous dialogue and tell the marketing department to sell it as a bad movie. On the web side of things, Wired has picked up the story and now every single blogger on the internet is just about peeing his pants with excitement for how SUPREMELY BAD this movie is going to be. Not wanting to be left out and trying to appeal to a younger, more-hip demographic, Leno has the production’s snake handler on his show. The technocracy is now in a frenzy and the studio’s marketing department embarks on selling the general public on a bad movie. It’s not really that difficult. They’ve done it before. The blogosphere and the studio marketing department keep fueling each other and the frenzy just keeps getting bigger and bigger. In the business, this is called ‘buzz.’ It’s what sells movie tickets.
Question: What’s so funny about an intentionally bad movie? Discuss.
And it IS intentionally bad. This web buzz has been very successfully controlled by the studio. They quite effectively turned it to their advantage. If they had WANTED to be taken seriously—if they were at ALL genuine in their belief that what they were making was worthy of being made—they would have called up YouTube and made them take down all the phony trailers. They would have marketed the film on a more selective scale. But that way, they wouldn’t have made as much GREEN.
Snakes on a Plane is the product of a sick and decaying system run by cynical investors who don’t give a shit whether or not a movie has any merit or integrity as long as it grosses big on opening weekend. Guess what? They just tricked millions of people into paying millions of dollars to see a bad movie that nobody cares about. NOW who’s the idiot?
We need to seriously re-examine our priorities here. Whatever marketing executive thought this would be a good idea, whatever story developers and executive producers sponsored this project to make a buck, deserve to be tarred and feathered and run out of town on a rail, deserve to have this film be such a failure that they are ashamed to have it in their filmography. Snakes on a Plane deserves to be a spectacular flop—to bomb on its opening weekend while everyone points and laughs. It should be the next Gigli. Instead, it will turn quite a hefty profit. The development staff behind this Frankenstein monster will proudly flaunt their involvement in the film, and we’ll be seeing dozens more intentionally bad films from Hollywood in the next five years. I’m not sure if I’ll be able to endure that.
In short: Snakes on a Plane has the potential to be the highest-grossing film of the year, if the viral ad campaign doesn’t lose steam soon. What does that say about Hollywood? But more importantly, what does it say about you, the movie-going public? Because to a filmmaker like me, you seem to be saying that you don’t care about quality.