Snakes on a Plane Ready to Kick Some Asp

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After endless parodies, blogs, videos, books, news reports and T-shirts, Snakes on a Plane finally opens on Friday with fans not knowing quite what to expect other than a story about... reptiles on a passenger jet.

After an amazing run of publicity, the world is dying to figure out what story line the $30 million film will bring to complement its intriguing title -- a title producers once seriously thought of changing because it gave the plot away.

Samuel L. Jackson Picture

Smart moviegoers usually avoid a film released without advance screenings because it can indicate a studio knows the movie is bad. But Snakes is unusual. People who have never seen it already call themselves "fans" and many hope it will be awful.

For a year, bloggers and web-savvy moviegoers have fed an undercurrent of excitement for the action flick about an FBI agent protecting a witness whom the Mafia tries to kill via snake bite on a long flight, turning the movie into a pop-culture phenomenon.

"I really think we're on unprecedented territory," said David Waldon, author of Snakes on a Plane: The Guide to the Internet Sensation, which was published in July. "You see movies that are hyped like this or even bigger, but almost all of them are based on things that already have a bond with the public, like the Star Wars trilogy."

The hoopla started with a single entry on screenwriter Josh Friedman's blog last summer. The film's star, Samuel L. Jackson, threatened to quit when the studio considered changing the title, saying he'd taken the job based on the name. Friedman lauded Jackson, arguing those four words succinctly provided both a name and plot summary, and indicated its genre.

More than that, he wrote, the title captured the idea of being forced to face situations we dread. No one trapped in mid-flight with a bunch of slithering killers can walk away. The blog's readers and readers of those readers' blogs agreed. In 1999 the Internet buzzed with anticipation of the opening of The Blair Witch Project. But Friedman's wildfire spread even farther.

"I'm not sure there would have been a phenomenon without these sites. It's kind of a new wave of do-it-yourself 'Internetting,'" Waldon said.

One Internet video parody mocked the typically flashy trailers for action movies with the words "One man will rise to thwart the evil which can only be described as evil," streaking across a screen, followed by drawings of a man shooting a snake atop a plane. Another video was called "Baby, baby, baby (Shed yo' skin)" while others had spoof titles such as "Cats on a Plane," and "Snakes on an Elevator."

On blogs and videos, fans invented lines for Jackson, including "I've had it with the snakes on this plane," which they peppered with an obscenity that Jackson used heavily in his breakout role in Pulp Fiction.

In the past, companies have squashed such practices on copyright grounds, but New Line Cinema, the Time Warner Inc. subsidiary that is distributing Snakes, has embraced the hype and the producers even included the line in the movies and used it in previews.

Georgetown University law student Brian Finkelstein, founder of the popular Snakes on a Blog website was sure he'd be sued. Instead, New Line called to thank him.

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