In The 40-Year-Old Critic, Venganza Media creator and host Arnie Carvalho recalls a memorable film for each year of his life. This series appears daily on the Venganza Media Gazette.
As I discussed in yesterday’s The 40-Year-Old Critic entry, I began my podcasting career in 2005 with the Star Wars collecting show Star Wars Action News; launched shortly after the release of Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith.
It had seemed like an easy enough hobby, we just record for 30 minutes each week.
However, the reach exceeded our every expectation, and in February 2006, we realized that recording from home wasn’t enough. All of the new Star Wars action figures and statues that would be released in 2005 had been revealed at Toy Fair International in New York City — and we weren’t there. We had our friends Pete and Chuck from the website Jedi Temple Archives call the show and share the news, but we knew we had missed out.
Pete and Chuck also told about the huge Lucasfilm and Hasbro presence at San Diego Comic-Con. New toys would again be revealed at the summer convention, and we felt Star Wars Action News should be there to cover it.
Marjorie and I had become more experienced con-goers since our first trip to Star Wars Celebration II for the release of Attack of the Clones, but we had never flown to an event. Airline tickets were expensive. Still, we had a show, and we needed the toys. Soon tickets were purchased, press passes obtained, and we were going to SDCC.
Then things got interesting.
As registered press for the convention, Marjorie and I started getting numerous e-mails from various companies seeking exposure. From toymakers to authors to movie studios, we were invited to exclusive events and given opportunities to interview total strangers.
Then came the e-mail that gave us the opportunity to interview Samuel L. Jackson and others for the upcoming film Snakes on a Plane.
I had heard about Snakes on a Plane but paid it little attention. Entertainment Weekly had written several articles about the silly movie with the overly-literal title. From the name alone hundreds of fan websites had sprung up. Despite its premise, the film had a groundswell of good buzz and the film’s producers wanted to capitalize on press coverage at the convention. With Jackson being a vital presence in the Star Wars prequels I thought an interview would certainly be of interest to Star Wars Action News listeners.
It seemed too good to be true. Jackson was an A-list star; I’d been podcasting for 9 months. I couldn’t believe it would actually happen. I told absolutely no one — after all, if it fell through I didn’t want to be mocked or thought of as a lying braggart. But I prepared: I bought a high-end digital audio recorder and I researched the film to be as informed as possible going in.
Yet the entire event could have been called San Diego Snakes-on-a-Plane Con. On the exhibit floor was a giant booth that was shaped like a snake, yet inside the mouth it had the feeling of a cramped airliner. The music video for Cobra Starship’s “Snakes on a Plane (Bring It)” was omnipresent (and I strained my eye every time it played for a glimpse of Maja Ivarsson’s nipple). We had gone to the convention with some friends who had just discovered the Badger Mushroom song, and so throughout the convention we’d regale each other with the refrain, “Snaaake! It’s a snaaake!” Our friends even brought rubber snakes to the convention as practical jokes.
I was swept up in the utter hype for Snakes on a Plane. I couldn’t wait for them to “Bring it.”
Sure enough, the next thing I knew I was in my first press roundtable interview. Jackson was the biggest star at the event, but it turned out there were four interviews in play. First, we interviewed director David R. Ellis, who I knew from his work on Final Destination 2. The other reporters at the table seemed disinterested and I got to ask a few questions.
Then we talked to the film’s snake wrangler Jules Sylvester. He wore an amazing serpent as he talked about the challenges of dealing with more than 450 snakes on set.
Finally, Sam Jackson visited our table.
Now the other reporters had perked up, and because I was still unaccustomed to the rhythm of the roundtable, I had to work hard to get questions in. I wasn’t entirely new to interviews; I had done many for journalism classes, and interviewed Star Wars collectors and authors on the show. But this was an A-list star. Jackson was there and actually joked with me a bit. It was surreal. He even gave me an autograph on a Star Wars book.
Finally the last interviewee came, Keenan Thompson, who Marjorie knew primarily for his work on Saturday Night Live. I got a couple of questions in there as well.
Leaving the interviews I realized I had far more content than I had thought. While the Jackson interview would be of some interest to Star Wars fans, the rest of the interviews were full of good information, though I knew they had no place on Star Wars Action News. Early feedback from Star Wars listeners was that they did not care for bad language, and so I figured the audience crossover between an R-rated reptile disaster film and Star Wars Action News was minimal.
But with four great interviews in the can I decided to start our second podcast, Snakes on a Podcast. It was a limited show, with only five episodes. The first four would lead up to the release of the movie and each would contain one interview. Then, for the fifth show, Marjorie and I would review the movie.
We publicized the show heavily on Star Wars Action News and it got a decent number of downloads. More, anticipation was high for our review; people wanted to know if we thought Snakes on a Plane was worth seeing.
Marjorie and I went to see Snakes opening night in August 2006. We had pre-purchased tickets, the Internet and Comic-Con hype convincing us it would be a sold-out show. It wasn’t.
More, the movie itself wasn’t very good, and we knew it in the theater. It wasn’t terrible, we had seen far worse that year, yet we had hoped for a pulpy B-movie full of laughs and fun. This was long before there was a Sharknado or Piranha 3D, but it was those films’ campy vibe that we hoped Snakes on a Plane would capture. There were moments of that in the film, but they were few and far between. The studio had initially made a PG-13 movie, then went back and added in scenes for the R-rating based off Internet fan demand for the line, “I want these motherfucking snakes off this motherfucking plane.” Those added scenes were what we wanted, that line was legendary, but in between moments of fun were long stretches of stupidity.
You can hear our thoughts, recorded minutes after leaving the theater, in the archived Snakes on a Podcast show. It is the first movie Marjorie and I ever reviewed in podcast form, and is the precursor to Now Playing Podcast, a show we started nine months later.
While the movie failed to meet our expectations, the theatrical viewing didn’t. It was an experience akin to The Rocky Horror Picture Show. While the theater wasn’t packed, everyone there was a built-in fan and the energy of the audience made for a good time. I have watched Snakes once since that theatrical viewing and it is clear that without the fans surrounding us there was little fun to be had.
Snakes on a Plane will always hold a special place in my heart. Not only was it the first time I ever felt like a real reporter for a podcast, it also is one of the last movies to consume San Diego Comic-Con. In the 2000s the complaints were that SDCC was no longer about comics; the fans had come for the movies. That was certainly true in my case. Hollywood studios saw SDCC as an opportunity to push genre movies to greater success, and spent hundreds of thousands, sometimes millions, of dollars at the convention trying to do so.
Despite the impressive imprint the movie had on the convention floor, Snakes on a Plane fizzled at the box office. Since 2006 a single film has always been pushed at the convention, from Hamlet 2 to Balls of Fury to Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, and they all failed to meet heightened studio expectations. Now it seems film studios have all but abandoned Comic-Con. The giant, custom booths that used to grace the floor are mostly gone. While stars still fly in to host one-hour panels, the convention has morphed into a showcase of genre television shows like Doctor Who, Game of Thrones and Arrow.
Yet each year I hope for another Snakes on a Plane-type experience, another extreme booth attempting to immerse fans in the world of their movie. It may not happen again, but at least I got these motherfucking snakes on this motherfucking Plane.
Tomorrow — 2007!
Arnie is a movie critic for Now Playing Podcast, a book reviewer for the Books & Nachos podcast, and co-host of the collecting podcasts Star Wars Action News and Marvelicious Toys. You can follow him on Twitter @thearniec