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Last Updated: Friday, 28 July 2006, 08:42 GMT 09:42 UK
Hype builds for Jackson's Snakes
By Peter Bowes
BBC News, Los Angeles

Samuel L Jackson in Snakes on a Plane

Snakes on a Plane, Samuel L Jackson's latest action thriller, is already a cult hit - weeks before it is due to be shown in cinemas.

From the moment the film started production, internet buzz whipped up a frenzy of anticipation the likes of which Hollywood has rarely seen before.

Jackson plays an FBI agent who is escorting an eyewitness to a brutal mob murder on a flight from Hawaii to Los Angeles.

This is a case of sizzle being sold before the steak has even been tossed on the barbecue
Joe Leydon
Variety film critic
Chaos breaks out when the crime boss facing prison smuggles hundreds of poisonous snakes onto the commercial aircraft inside a crate timed to break open halfway over the Pacific.

"What many people are tickled by is the sheer audacity of the title," said Joe Leydon, film critic for industry newspaper Variety.

"It says exactly what the movie is," added Julianna Margulies, who plays a flight attendant in the film.

"I think people are sick of things that aren't what they seem, so you're going to get exactly what it says."

'Wellspring of enthusiasm'

But Snakes on a Plane has developed into more than just the title of a summer action movie.

The phrase has also entered the realms of pop culture as an expression of exasperation.

"If you're in a situation like that, in a contained space or a vehicle you can't get off of with a lot of dangerous things, it's futile," said Jackson.

In addition to hijacking the film's title, fans have also taken on the role of amateur producers.

Tygh Runyan in Snakes on a Plane
The film used 450 snakes including a 22-foot-long Burmese python
There are thousands of websites, blogs, homemade trailers, posters and songs dedicated to the movie.

"It's just something they naturally took on and created a whole wellspring of enthusiasm," said Jackson.

During production it was decided that some scenes should be re-shot and others added to give the movie a harder edge.

The changes included adding more snake attacks, a mile-high sex scene and some profane language.

The impetus for the re-edit came from fans' comments on the internet. "The studio heard them and they let it happen," said Jackson.

It is a curious and perhaps unique example of internet buzz shaping the final look of a movie - one that no one, not even film critics, has yet seen.

'Two frights in one'

"The only thing I could compare it to is the internet hype for The Blair Witch Project," said Joe Leydon.

"But even that was generated by a handful of people who had actually seen the film.

Samuel L Jackson (l) with director David R Ellis
Director David R Ellis (r) also made the second Final Destination film
"This is a remarkable case of sizzle being sold before the steak has even been tossed on the barbecue."

But the critic is quick to praise the film-makers for embracing the premise of what he calls "the ultimate high-concept movie".

"When you stop and think about it, there are two things that frighten the bejeepers out of most adults and children," he said.

"They are scared of snakes and, if they're at all honest, most adults will admit they're scared of flying. Now you've got two fright sources in one."

But it is possible we have been taken in by some masterful exercise in mass hype and advance publicity? Not according to Samuel L Jackson.

"If we had any answer to that, I'm sure most studios would be trying to attach it to their films," he said.

For all the high expectations, the lack of advance screenings has led some pundits to suggest the film could turn out to be a turkey.

"If the movie doesn't deliver the goods, word of mouth will devastate the movie quicker than any bad review could," said Leydon.

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