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TODAY

Monday, February 18

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Airbags

Snakes on a Plane, a film starring Samuel L. Jackson and a lot of slithering, CGI-generated, herpetological baddies, opened last Friday. Perhaps you've heard of it? The Oscar-nominated action star chose to participate based on the title and a short pitch, refused to let the higher-ups change the title to Pacific Air 121, and actively courted Internet fans to spread the word and get involved, which resulted in shooting additional footage in March 2006 to bump up the rating from PG-13 to R. The infamous line "Enough is enough! I've had it with these motherf---ing snakes on this motherf---ing plane!" originally appeared in an online lampoon of Jackson's usual ass-kicking movie persona. Several sites and blogs featured daily updates throughout the shoot and post-production, and counted the days or minutes until Snakes hit theaters. New Line Cinema refused to screen the film for critics — which is usually a sign of a subpar product — before its release on August 18, choosing instead to bet on the buzz that has pushed the Snakes hype to at least 35,000 feet. That leads to this question in the recent Entertainment Weekly article "Kicking Asp":

But should fans be allowed any input into the artistic process during the actual making of a film? Jackson offers a qualified yes: ''Films are a collaborative process, and this is the next step. If a film is vying for that mass teen dollar, then yes, they have every right to say: This is the kind of film we want to see. Films of social relevance — well, no.''

Adds Snakes costar Julianna Margulies: ''On one hand, it's fantastic, because it put our film on the map. But it's a slippery slope. If we have to rely on the public to tell us what great work is — I don't know if that's a great idea.''

Interactions between fans and actors, writers and producers used to be limited to fan letters, magazines such as Tiger Beat or Premiere, and the occasional convention or public appearance in the pre-information superhighway days. However, the Internet changed the direction of the entertainment industry. Almost every actor, television series and movie has several different websites, with usually one official page and up to several hundred unofficial sites. The Internet allows an immediacy that encourages everyday people to be critics, an attitude perfectly expressed by a quote from The Simpsons' Comic Book Guy: "Rest assured I was on the Internet within minutes registering my disgust throughout the world."

Snakes isn't the first time Internet fans rallied to influence a film — and with the reaction to Snakes, Hollywood will certainly try to tap into this increasingly involved and vocal market. However, not all fan crusades succeed. Dedicated followers of Joss Whedon's cancelled TV space western Firefly organized a campaign to continue the series on another network. This enthusiasm gave producers enough confidence to greenlight the feature film Serenity, which tanked at the box office. Whoops. (Note: Fan reaction and backlash is even more instant with television shows, but that's another column.)

Since Gapers Block's "Steve at the Movies" decided not to review it ("Nevertheless, I will not be reviewing Snakes on a Plane this week or next week or ever, primarily because I don't do pick-up reviews from the previous week, but also because New Line has actually made going to this movie less fun, not by keeping me from seeing it early, but by concocting some silly story about the fans mattering more. There's only one reason a studio hides this high profile a film, and it has nothing to do with fans."), let me share a few details from the 10 p.m. Thursday night viewing at Evanston's Century 12 Evanston and CineArts 6. People were dressed as pilots, flight attendants, snakes (or were wearing snakes), and one guy was a plane. He wore a white shirt and had cardboard wings with snakes glued to them. One of his friends, dressed as a pilot, jumped on his back and the "plane" ran through the front of the theater, arms outstretched. During the previews, someone in the audience shouted, "When I say 'snakes,' you say 'plane.' SNAKES!"

"PLANE!"

"SNAKES!"

"PLANE!"

This was a party. It made Brew & View and B-Fest look like amateur hour. People threw rubber snakes at the screen. You couldn't even hear the infamous "motherf---in'" line because people jumped to their feet, pumped their fists and screamed the second it started. There was cheering and clapping and booing. We might have this decade's Rocky Horror Picture Show, folks.

Is Snakes a "good" movie? No. There are plenty of implausible scenarios, gaping plot holes and tons of gratuitous deaths. Is it a phenomenal movie-going experience? You're motherf---ing right it is! We won't know how much of a phenomenon until the weekend box office figures are released tomorrow, but the Thursday night screenings generated $1.4 million in 2,500 theaters. That buys plenty of Snake Chow.

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About the Author(s)

As a child, Dee Stiffler was only allowed to watch one hour of television a day. She usually chose Sesame Street. Today, she overcompensates by knowing far too much about the WB's lineup as well as pop culture in general. Email her at pop@gapersblock.com.

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