How fans made 'Snakes' a sssssensation

By , Contributor to The Christian Science Monitor

Film has often been called a collaborative medium. But few movies are as collaborative as "Snakes on a Plane," with its self-explanatory premise that can only be described as "fangtastic."

With its patently ridiculous storyline about 500 deadly serpents terrorizing a commercial flight, "Snake on a Plane" – or "SoaP" as it's commonly abbreviated – has slithered into the consciousness of film fans over the past year. So much so that a Google search of the title generates more than 16 million hits and reveals home-made SoaP paraphenalia such as amateur music videos, paintings, board games, T-shirts, jewelry, and mock movie posters. (Example: "Hamlet 2: Snakes on a Dane.")

Significantly, the online community blossomed spontaneously – a giggly reaction to the movie's title. In response, New Line Cinema has embraced the unexpected attention by inviting musically gifted fans to compete for a slot on the soundtrack. More fundamentally, filmmakers have added more violence, more nudity, and even a line of profane dialogue by fan request. The studio's response to its online fans is unprecedented. If successful, 'Snakes' may inspire Hollywood to rethink how it tailors films for an intended audience.

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Whether or not "SoaP" marks the beginning of a new era of moviemaking, one in which those paying to see the film have some sway over its outcome, depends solely on how much of a bite the film can take out of moviegoers' pockets. Until the box office figures are in, fans everywhere will have to be content hearing their rattle on the silver screen.

Robert Scoble, coauthor of "Naked Conversations: How Blogs are Changing the Way Businesses Talk with Customers," is optimistic that the studio's decision to reshoot five days of film in response to fan suggestions will pay off. "If people feel like they've added something to a movie, and the movie producers listened to them, we're going to be far more likely to take our friends to see that," he says.

Then again, the film itself may not mesh with moviegoers' preconceptions. Until now, many observers have expected the movie to be a self-aware, purposefully campy romp with Samuel L. Jackson placing tongue firmly in cheek for his starring role as an FBI agent who has to learn how to wrangle scaly critters – and fast.

"It's a movie that takes itself seriously," notes director David Ellis. "It's a movie that has a lot of action and a lot of tragic loss of life, but at the same time has a lot of humor. A lot of people have built it up as a cheesy, campy film, but that's not what it is."

Still, there's every chance that the movie may turn out to be of the "so bad it's good" variety – much like that other reptile-themed horror film, "Anaconda."

"I was drawn in the same way everyone else has been – the title," states Brian Finkelstein, a Georgetown University law student who created Snakesonablog.com, a site that draws 5,000 viewers per day. "The concept is so out there. It's a strange idea, and that makes the film interesting."

The studio invited Mr. Finkelstein and other bloggers to meet the cast at July's Comic-Con convention in San Diego. A two-man group called Captain Ahab will have the song "Snakes on the Brain" featured on the soundtrack after winning an online competition sponsored by the film.

"It kind of points to the power of the Internet and in some way the evolution of the Internet," comments David Waldon, author of "Snakes on a Plane: The Guide to the Internet Sssssssssensation." He observes that the movie is built on a bedrock of fan participation that has generated its own viral marketing on sites such as YouTube, Myspace, and Flickr.

Time will tell if a film featuring Jackson screaming obscenities about snakes will match the hype, but the director is optimistic. "I hope that we deliver, and I know that we will," says Ellis.

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