Cover Story

Kicking Asp

''Snakes on a Plane'': Inside summer's riskiest thrill ride. Samuel L. Jackson and a cast of reptiles slithered into Internet buzz; now, the test is how big a bite they'll take of the summer box office

S.O.A.P. OPERA Jackson came aboard for Snakes , and wasn't going to sit for a proposed title change
Image credit: Samuel L. Jackson Photograph by Jeff Riedel
S.O.A.P. OPERA Jackson came aboard for Snakes, and wasn't going to sit for a proposed title change

The line outside the San Diego Convention Center is hundreds of people long, and it twists and turns like a serpent. Listen to the hiss:

''I heard Samuel L. Jackson took the movie just because he loved the title.''

''That's hilarious.''

''No, that's crazy.''

''What if they made a sequel?''

''Snakes on a Train!''

''Snakes on a Bus!''

''Snakes on Your Mama!''

Everyone laughs, because this is funny. Because this is fun. Because this is all about New Line's Snakes on a Plane, a $30 million-plus thriller opening Aug. 18 that no one has seen, that many people suspect won't be very good, and that has nevertheless inspired one of the strangest, most revealing pop phenomena in years on the strength of its high-concept name alone. (Says one envious, understandably anonymous studio chief: ''Easily one of the best titles ever.'')

For nearly a year, SoaP obsessives have been chatting and blogging about the movie, not to mention producing their own T-shirts, posters, trailers, novelty songs, and parodies. As the movie has morphed from a semiprecious nugget of intellectual property into a virtual plaything for the ethertainment masses, Snakes and its cult are teasingly threatening to revolutionize the rules of marketing for the do-it-yourself digital era. ''Usually, we see this kind of energy being generated by a Star Wars, something with an established bond with the public,'' says David Waldon, author of Snakes on a Plane: The Guide to the Internet Ssssssensation. ''People knew nothing about this movie when they latched onto it, and we don't know much more even today.''

It's the promise of enlightenment that has drawn thousands of SoaP fans to Comic-Con for a peek at 10 minutes of the film's fang-baring snake-rageousness. But what thrills these SoaP fans the most on this ain't-it-cool Friday is confirmation that their jocular voices have been heard, which comes once they've seen the footage, when Jackson himself shows up to bellow his already-famous line, a line inspired by the fans themselves:

''I've had it with THESE MOTHERF---ING SNAKES ON THIS MOTHERF---ING PLANE!''

The crowd goes wild.

Now let's see if they actually go to the movie.

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