Once you have snakes on a plane, do you really need movie reviews, too?
New Line Cinema has answered that very question with a decisive no. The studio announced this week it would not host advance screenings of its geek-championed horror flick, the one, the only, the actually titled Snakes on a Plane.
Conventional wisdom says such a move--hiding a film from Roger Ebert's judgmental thumb--is a red flag, signaling the arrival of an all-new Glitter. But conventional wisdom has very little do with Snakes on a Plane, opening Aug. 18, with some late-night screenings on Aug. 17.
Not showing the movie to critics is "another badge of honor" for star Samuel L. Jackson and crew, says David Waldon, author of an upcoming book on the birth of the buzz, Snakes on a Plane: The Guide to the Internet Ssssssensation (Thunder's Mouth Press).
Agrees Nick Nunziata of the genre fan site CHUD.com: "It adds to the fun of it."
Business-wise, Gitesh Pandya of the number-crunching movie site BoxOfficeGuru.com thinks New Line's decision will actually boost Snakes' bottom line.
"These kind of movies are marketing-driven, not critic-driven," Pandya said. "So the only thing the critics could do is hurt it. And even if the reviews are good, they wouldn't mean much."
The position of New Line, which will screen Snakes clips Friday at San Diego's fanboy orgy, Comic-Con International, is that it's performing a public service of sorts--sidestepping critics in order to preserve the movie-going experience for the fans.
"Understanding that they would be the driving force behind the film, we decided early on they should be the first to see it," the studio said in a statement to Variety, which first reported the announcement.
To Waldon, New Line's strategy is nothing less than "brilliant."
"The movie could very well suck, but they're putting a very creative spin as to why they're not showing it," Waldon said. "And even if the movie does suck, it goes along with the whole thing."
The whole thing is the Snakes on a Plane oeuvre: The title; the star; the star conjugating the title ("Get these motherf--kin' snakes off the motherf--kin' plane!"); the star complaining that any other title (i.e., Pacific Flight 121) would be unacceptable, not to mention un-conjugatable; the acronym ("SoaP"); the fan-made posters; the fan-penned fiction; the fan-nudged reshoots; and the blogs upon blogs upon blogs.
And so it's been for almost a solid year now. And if fans have been paying attention, Nunziata argued, they should be fully prepared for the Snakes on a Plane experience, advance reviews or no.
"I don't think anybody who works in our little world here expect[s] the film to be wonderful," said the Webmaster, who, in the larger world, has a movie in development at New Line. "Anybody who gets blindsided by Snakes on a Plane probably needed that reality pill, probably needed that slap."
This is not to suggest that Nunziata is dreading the arrival of an all-new Glitter--or, worse, an all-new Superman IV. Far from it. "I'm excited as hell about the movie because it's the kind of B-movie that our site was born out of," he said.
Likewise, Waldon said the target audience (read: young males) seems eager for a "god-awful" good time.
"A lot of the people I interviewed for the book wanted the movie to be crap--they're looking forward to it being crap," Waldon said.
The worst-case scenario for Snakes on the Plane, Waldon said, is that the movie turns out to be mediocre or--horrors!--boring. (A recent review from a mole on Ain't It Cool News presented the presumed best-case scenario: "Finally here's a movie that hunkers down to give the audience a shameless good time.")
In the end, Pandya predicted, Snakes on a Plane will do big business relative to its modest budget (estimated at $35 million). "I don't think it's going to move much beyond the core audience," he said. "[But] I think the core audience is large enough to begin with."
If Snakes slinks to the top of the box office in its first weekend--and Pandya expects it will--it'll join the likes of When a Stranger Calls, Madea's Family Reunion and Underworld: Evolution, all 2006 films that claimed number one status without the benefit and/or distraction of critics' screenings.
"As it becomes more common to open films without press screenings, it becomes less of an issue," Pandya said.
Besides, in the case of Snakes on a Plane, Ebert's thumb might be entirely unneeded. Said Nunziata: "The review is four words--it's the title."