Interview By: Harry Kaplowitz
It’s become the pop culture reference du jour. It has been blogged about just as much as a presidential election and it’s left a hailstorm of Internet buzz in its wake. It could be the first movie to have a cult following before its release.
But whether it’s good or bad, Snakes on a Plane has already achieved its mission in the eyes of its star, the ubiquitous Samuel L. Jackson.
“It’s the kind of thing you can’t explain. It’s a title that I saw that made me go, ‘I’d go see that. I’d stay in the movies all day watching that,'” the 57-year-old actor said. “And apparently, a lot of people in the world thought that because there’s no other explanation for the phenomenon besides the title takes you visibly there immediately. You either want to see it or you don’t. And I wanted to be in it.”
Though simple enough in premise and thematic scope, Snakes on a Plane developed a borderline frenetic cult following months before filming began, something Jackson said was as interesting as it was necessary for the film’s promotion.
“Soon people started doing their own posters and their own trailers and then there were songs and things just grew and grew and grew,” he said. “And there’s just something catchy about it and there’s no explaining it because if there was, every studio in Hollywood would be trying to figure out how to get their movie that blogosphered.”
In its early stages, the film was set to be called Pacific Flight 121 because director David R. Ellis feared the now-matter-of-fact title would give too much away. This renaming was something Jackson wouldn’t have any part of, and it would come to be a huge catalyst for the film’s dynamic Internet popularity.
“The first real controversy was the Pacific Flight 121 versus Snakes on a Plane controversy,” Jackson explained. “When I got to Vancouver, all the chairs and things they sent us said ‘Pacific Flight 121′ on them, and I kept going, ‘What is this?'”
The simplistic, direct nature of the title â€” and the film, ostensibly â€” is the main reason Jackson signed on to the lead role. And if the title wasn’t in place, he said, he would have no part in the film. As he put it, with a movie like Snakes on a Plane, it’s best to tell the audience what they’re getting.
“You want Snakes on a Plane. That’s the name of the movie, that’s what I signed up for, that’s why I signed up,” he said. “People hear that, they know what they’re getting, like that other little movie you did: Freddy vs. Jason. Alien vs. Predator. Not ‘Movie Bad Guy vs. Movie Bad Guy.’ Tell them what they’re getting and they might come see it.”
Despite the films pop culture successes prior to its Aug. 18 opening, Jackson said he has never heard “snakes on a plane” used as a substitute for “c’est la vie,” as many Internet fanboys have tried to pass off as a coined phrase.
But the presence of those fanboys is nothing new to Jackson, he said.
“Well, it means something in that they kind of fueled this movie in a way that nobody actually knew was possible or would happen. Because Star Wars has its own kind of life and we know that there’ve always been Star Wars Web sites and the fanboys and the fangirls and whoever fuel this whole Star Wars phenomenon,” Jackson, who played Mace Windu in the last three Star Wars installments, said. “So when the Snakes on a Plane thing happened, it was kind of brand new because it happened just as we started making the movie for some reason.”
A film as targeted and specific as Snakes on a Plane doesn’t really lend itself to apt criticism, Jackson said, and he addressed that skepticism by saying that there isn’t much about this film that is ripe for analysis.
“We know what the film’s about. We know that it’s already considered by the majority of people as a lowbrow concept. We know we have snakes. We know that we have victims. We know that we have a plane. There’s not a lot you can say about that other than, ‘Oh, the CGI snakes don’t look that good’ or ‘The victims are really hokey and we don’t like them,'” he said.
“But it’s Snakes on a Plane. People just want to go to the movie, watch the snakes do what the snakes do, and we’ll either like the victims or we won’t like the victims and the plane will be in jeopardy and we’ll either crash or we’ll land. There’s not a lot you need to say about that. As long as people get bitten and there’s blood and you see the snakes on the people’s arms, or on their breasts or in their face or wherever they’re getting bit, it’s different.”
But the question still remains: why Snakes on a Plane?
“Why not? It was just a title that I saw â€” I was reading the trades and I saw ‘Ronny Yu to do Snakes on a Plane,’ and I knew Ronny so I emailed him to see what it was, hoping it wasn’t a euphemism for something else,” he explained. “And it was what I thought it was: poisonous snakes, loose on a plane.”
And his presence in it, he says, is one of the main reasons the movie has been such a phenomenon.
“It’s audience-specific. I don’t know that this movie’s going to do a lot of crossover business. Who knows? We do care, I guess. In the end, there’s a lot more important things you guys could be doing with your time than reviewing Snakes on a Plane,” he said. “The only reason it has that kind of significant importance â€” and I hate to say that â€” is because I’m in it. If it was somebody else, it would just be another horror movie that’s not being reviewed for critics with some guy in it.”
Oh well â€¦ snakes on a plane, right?