November 12, 2006

It's time for calm reflection about... "Snakes on a Plane."

Rob Walker is pretty smart in this analysis of the "Snakes on a Plane" phenomenon. (Note: the phenomenon ≠ the film.)
“I always feel kind of bad for them,” [Brian] Finkelstein says now of the film’s marketers. “They make this kind of action movie, and people get a hold of it” and create a tremendous amount of attention and awareness that “doesn’t actually match the movie,” he says. “You could see where they tried to make the movie a little more campy, to meet expectations.” But there was still a fundamental genre disconnect. “They were in kind of an awkward position,” he says.

The most obvious precedent for “snakes on a plane” as blockbuster phrase was not “Blair Witch Project” but “all your base are belong to us,” a badly translated phrase from a Japanese video game that a few years ago became the inspiration for many, many Internet-spread jokes, gags, Photoshop riffs, computer animations and T-shirts. The game was something called Zero Wing, but nobody mistook the “all your base” thing for “citizen marketing” or even an expression of fandom. In fact, most participants in the “snakes on a plane” phenomenon were not fans “collaborating” with New Line. Instead, they were a disparate ensemble collaborating with one another on a separate work. New Line didn’t get a free ride from these creators; if anything, the creators got a boost from New Line: The movie promoted the hype more than the hype promoted the movie.
The movie promoted the hype more than the hype promoted the movie. Is this the way things will be in the future, with "instant, mutable, unmoored" doings on the web taking the place of thought-out cultural productions like movies? I wonder.

There's something about getting absorbed into the web that changes the whole structure of your mind, I think. (And I acknowledge the theory out there -- I read it on the web! -- that, in my personal case, I'm simply crazy. So don't go by just me.) I have lost all taste for things that are planned out and long. I no longer want to sit through anything. Once there's a script that's going to be followed, I'm looking around for something to click to see what else is happening.

ADDED: And as soon as I'm halfway into expressing some theory, I get antsy and look for a "publish" button to hit before any more time passes.

17 comments:

peter hoh said...

I'm wondering if these days, a company would want to avoid being associated with a memorable, and mutable, tag line.

If anything in the 80s went viral, Wendy's "Where's the beef" campaign went viral, but not to the extent that it turned into something that bit the company in the ass.

Townleybomb said...

How does this compare with Borat? Isn't that another cultural phenomenon that was spread largely by the internet (at least in the US), and the movie was a surprise success. The internet definitely encourages a kind of fast-paced injokiness that's going to mesh a lot more easily with comedy than with drama.

uutmk= A Kazakhstani drinking game in which anyone who fails to keep up a chant detailing which occasional Simpsons character was voiced by a Jew has to chug a mug of fermented urine.

George said...

I wonder how many of the website and posters touting "Snakes" were actually fronts for the movie company and its shills....because the movie was abysmal.

Similarly, one has to also think that the same scam is at work for flicks like "Borat" and other Hollywood output.

Ask yourself--how many of the obscure or mainstream movie reviewers at Rotten Tomatoes are either somehow affiliated with movie companies or take hand-outs (such as tchochkes or junkets) from the movie companies

It's a racket, I tells ya.

Paul Zrimsek said...

I'm sick of these m'f'in' thumbsuckers about those m'f'in' snakes on that m'f'in' plane!

Ruth Anne Adams said...

The creators of SOAP erred when they added cursing and sex scenes to get an R rating. They instantly excluded the under-14 boys who would've watched it multiple times. Few adults will rewatch campy films with the thinnest of plots. [Rocky Horror Picture Show is the exception that proves this rule.]

Ed said...

The most obvious precedent for “snakes on a plane” as blockbuster phrase was not “Blair Witch Project” but “all your base are belong to us,”...

All Your Snakes Are Belong To Us: Cultural Learnings of YouTube for Make Benefit Glorious Blog of Althouse

Anonymous said...

I don't know if this proves anything more than William Goldman's infamous saw, "Nobody knows nothing." If you want a movie with legs, the most effective marketing is still good word of mouth. I'm a huge fan of B-movies - and will see anything with Samuel L. Jackson - but when SoaP got a M for 'meh...' rating from friends whose opinions I respect, it immediately went on my 'hire the DVD on a wet weekend' list.

Am I the only bloody-minded soul out there who does not react well to the hype monster, to the extent that (on reflection) I've been unfairly harsh on some decent, but way over-rated, films? And is this is part of being part of a generation that's much more media-savvy and sceptical?

HaloJonesFan said...

"Snakes" had the same problem that Howard Dean's campaign had...and, in anime fandom, series like "Azumanga Daioh" had when released here in the States. The people doing the marketing assumed that everyone interested in (thing) on the Internet was representative of ten or twenty people interested in (thing) who weren't on the Internet. Instead, those people talking about (thing) were the only ones who cared about it, and it only looked like there was a lot because they were all in one place.

As for stuff like "Snakes" and "All Your Base", it's more an example of how quickly fads can spread on the Internet than it is an example of a New Way To Market. "All Your Base" was funny in a Dada-ist kind of way, but it didn't get popular until it turned into a catchphrase, just like "where's the beef?" or "read my lips".

Gahrie said...

"All your base" is useful in defining a person's comfort with the internet and computers.

All of us know the phrase, because if you are a regular reader of/contributer to blogs, you are a regularly user of the internet.

But go up to random family/friends and use that catch phrase. A significant portion of them are going to look at you like you were crazy...those are the people who have immersed themselves in the internet community.

Gahrie said...

Those are the people who have not immersed themselves in the internet community.

kettle said...

"The movie promoted the hype more than the hype promoted the movie."

This is cool. The movie is just a topical source of inspiration, all the content was then produced and consumed by those who caught the bug. The actual movie became sort of irrelevant. I think that's kinda Rad.

Jim H said...

How does this compare with Borat? Isn't that another cultural phenomenon that was spread largely by the internet (at least in the US), and the movie was a surprise success.

I suppose Borat was an internet phenomenon, to some degree. I don't know about the rest of you, but I learned about it on this page. What gave the movie lift, however, was Cohen's recent in-character interviews, good reviews, and incredible word-of-mouth publicity.

Yes, I commented when Professor Althouse first mentioned Borat that no one was going to see the movie. At least I wasn't alone in being wrong:
AP

NPR

kettle said...

@townleybomb

How does this compare with Borat?

I'd say it's different from Borat in two major ways:

1. Ali G. and Sasha Cohen were a large part of this phenomenon - and myriad video clips floating around youtube made a major contribution to this.

2. Much of the buzz about Borat centered on curiousity about what he was going to do, how far he'd go, just what the hell he was.

In contrast, S.O.A.P., while boasting the admirable Sam Jackson didn't build on any pre-established brand, other than the most typical b-grade action movie conceits. Thus, heavy coverage did little to fuel curiosity of the type that might have lead to a box-office bonanza.

Of course it could have gone just the opposite, in which case my post-game analysis would have focused on the availability of variegated media for both productions, or some other such nonsense.

Zach said...

The hype for Snakes on a Plane was implicitly promising that this was going to be the worst, most mindless trash ever put on screen. When I went to the movie, I was actually surprised to see that it wasn't the worst movie ever made.

The author makes a good point that all of the internet hullabaloo wasn't about enthusiasm to see the movie, but more about riffing on a funny concept, almost more in competition with the movie than in support of it.

How could New Line have profited more from the internet hype? By stealing shamelessly. A lot of the internet stuff was funnier and more provocative than the movie itself.

Internet Ronin said...

I'm with George:

I wonder how many of the website and posters touting "Snakes" were actually fronts for the movie company and its shills

Internet Ronin said...

Ann: RE: Your last paragraph & the update: I know exactly what you. Same thing has happened to me. I'm not crazy so you must not be. Or we both are.

Tibore said...

"The movie promoted the hype more than the hype promoted the movie. Is this the way things will be in the future, with "instant, mutable, unmoored" doings on the web taking the place of thought-out cultural productions like movies?"

I don't believe so. The movie - and other works that generate this sort of spontaneous, active fan participation - are still the instigating factors. What'll probably happen is that the contributions from these fans will increasingly become part of the work's canon, rather than some amusing hype on the margins. Granted, SoaP is a bad example of what I'm saying; the fan "doings" was more of an echo chamber of excitement and anticipation rather than any actual participation in creating the story's mythology, but it's instant and snowballing effect on the web is very much a characteristic of the new aspects to fan participation that in previous years, pre-internet, took conventions and other gatherings to
accomplish.

So in sum: They'll start to converge, and compliment aspects of one another, and the line between the "author" and the "audience" will increasingly blur, until the point is reached where said "author" merely jump starts the work, and some of the "audience" will actually take part in the creative process.. But no, I don't see one fully replacing the other.