The year is 2006. Millennials are in their late teens and early twenties and love absolutely nothing more than being online. Facebook is just two years old, YouTube only a year, but young people are starting to find that they can’t live without constantly sharing and sending content to their friends. Anything funny. Anything weird. Anything that makes your jaw drop in a single phrase.
It’s in this environment that the movie Snakes on a Plane memed itself into existence.
The hype starts not on social media as we know it today, but on webcomics and blogs. The title becomes entrancing, impossible to look away from. Could they really just call a movie Snakes on a Plane? Screenwriter Josh Friedman’s blogpost in 2005 says the movie makes him “giggle like the fat, lazy schoolgirl I am.” He describes the experience of hearing about the movie from his agent, including the crucial detail that Samuel L. Jackson threatened to walk away if the title was changed:
"I ask Agent the name of the project, what it's about, etc. He says: Snakes on a Plane. Holy shit, I'm thinking. It's a title. It's a concept. It's a poster and a logline and whatever else you need it to be. It's perfect. Perfect. It's the Everlasting Gobstopper of movie titles."
A webcomic by Jeffrey Rowland shows Samuel L. Jackson, the movie’s star, doing what he was known best for, pre-Marvel Cinematic Universe: cursing in the coolest way possible.
Snakes on a Plane came to dominate the internet in ways that are hard to imagine in the modern era of fractured social media. Without Twitter or the endless morass of social media subcultures to delve into, certain topics became unavoidable.
Snakes on a Plane’s efforts eventually coalesced into Snakes on a Blog, a fansite created before the movie even came out dedicated to fan art. Snakes on a Car, Snakes on a Maine, Snakes on Mark Twain... you get the picture.
New Line Cinema embraced the hype with fan contests and eventually invited the creator of the source of all Snakes hype, Snakes On A Blog, to the premier. After that, the movie pretty much disappeared. When The Atlantic tracked down the blog’s creator five years ago, he couldn’t remember the last time he had seen the movie he helped drummed up endless amounts of hype for.
Why? Because it’s not very good. The entire movie really does seem built around Samuel L. Jackson saying “I've had enough of these motherfucking snakes on this motherfucking plane!” Focused around snakes released on a plane to stop a witness from testifying in court, the film seems to wait for Jackson to get started the entire time.
Snakes on a Plane wanted very much to become a classic B-movie, but only after everything was shot. Jackson was right to demand the name be kept, but the movie simply doesn’t have the same energy of boundless possibility that exists in its title.
Unlike other Jackson vs. Nature classics, like Deep Blue Sea, Snakes doesn't have dynamic action sequences, hemmed in by the bottle nature of its concept. They bite, they hide, there's some snake-vision camera stuff, but ultimately it's hard to awed by the snakes. What can happen when snakes get on a plane? Everything. What does happen? Not much.
But still, if you want to watch Samuel L. Jackson taser a snake, there’s really one option.
Snakes on a Plane is streaming on Hulu through November 30.