There’s a Part 2 to this that I’ll post next week, since I realise this is fairly long as it is, and don’t want to take over the Blog.
‘Snakes On A Plane’, the paradigm-changing movie that was supposed to forever affect how movies were made and marketed, (due to an unprecedented 10 month pre-release Internet buzz), and such a sure thing that not only was Samuel Jackson already speaking of higher salary demands for the inevitable sequel, but the Direct-To-DVD rip-off ‘Snakes On A Train’ was both made and released in the interim before the real film opened to cash in on the hype, finally opened this weekend with all the fizz of a bottle of soft drink opened a week before you take your first taste.
The turnaround was quick. Once seen as a stroke of genius and the natural evolution of the idea of ‘the High Concept’, the title is now being singled out as a reason for its failure:"The only problem was that the title so handily summed up the film's plot that there was little incentive to see it, said Brandon Gray, an analyst at boxofficemojo.com."
On one hand I’m not surprised, and was half-expecting this result. The self-perceived ‘Hipper-Than-Thou’ Internet Nerd, who knew about ‘Snakes’ last year, and that New Line was expecting to make this movie a runaway success, simply was the wrong horse to back.
Two of the major ‘SOAP’ mania websites were ‘Somethingawful.com’ and ‘Fark.com’, both humour websites for Computer Geeks with Online Forums, where discussion of the movie ran wild. This simply doesn’t translate into a unified fanbase – people rarely post on forums under their real names, since people count on the anonymous nature of the internet to be able to voice their opinions without fear of reprisal. These people aren’t usually friends: they’re voices in the wilderness, connecting to each other virtually. They can’t form a gang to go see a movie together. The majority wouldn’t be able to put a real face to a screenname.
If they won’t tear themselves away from playing ‘World Of Warcraft’ to go to work or school, then they’re not going to head out to a movie theatre.(Seen and laughed over on a forum a while ago: “I’m a Hardcore WOW Player... I’m Korean LAN Party Hardcore! I don’t even stop to sh*t!”)
The more Hardcore Hacker types will simply download the movie so they can both voice their opinion of it and physically possess it before everyone else does. You can’t count on their girlfriend to drag them to a theatre – she’s a poster of Jeri Ryan as ‘Seven-Of-Nine’ on their bedroom wall, or Kitty Pryde in the X-Men Comic under their bed.Think about this for a second: does it make sense to base a social phenomenon on people who have no social skills or social lives?
Hell, New Line, people on those forums *make those kind of jokes about themselves*. They’ll laugh about ‘SOAP’ for a while, but they also laugh over the Star Wars Kid, ‘Oh! Mikey’, Admiral Ackbar, ‘Let’s Sexy English!’ and Cliché Kitty, but no-one wants to see a movie about them. (If you’re trying to reach that market, make a Transformers movie and be done with it). (1)
A large problem for me was this: ‘SOAP’ supposed hilarity lay in its dumb title. People were screaming in hysterics how ‘The title is the plot!’
Well, hang on a minute. Isn’t ‘The Towering Inferno’ technically exactly the same thing? What about ‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’ or ‘Night Of The Living Dead’?
Explore the idea beyond simple plot. What about ‘The Wizard Of Oz’, Dorothy’s goal on which the movie hinges? What about a movie like ‘Rebecca’ which is the key to a mystery? Aren’t ‘Dracula’ and ‘the Blob’ both just descriptions of the antagonist? Try to sum up the plot of Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘Psycho’ in one word: can you think of anything better that the title they used?
Viewed in this fashion, the entire ‘SOAP’ conceit crumbles: It’s not actually that funny after all. If anything, the name seems perfectly sensible. Don’t get me started on Samuel Jackson’s big line – I’m more curious as to why people think it’s so hilarious, unless there’s some deeper level to it than the fact that Samuel Jackson swears a lot in his previous roles.
Anyway, the grand total after months of fuss: $13.85 Million. They were estimating at least 30. The studio went into damage control, requiring inflating the Weekend Box Office Take by including the Thursday Night Screenings, bringing things up to an unimpressive $15.25 Million.
As the Defamer Website rightly pointed out, the 1997 J. Lo / Ice Cube / Jon Voight / Eric Stoltz fang-fest 'Anaconda' broke $16.62 on its opening weekend. I never saw it – snakes make boring antagonists in films to me. It’s just a personal thing. As Samuel Jackson said, ‘Either you want to see that, or you don’t”. I’m definitely a Don’t.
Wondering if the fact that the Internet wasn’t in as widespread use back then could be used to discard any comparisons to the current failure of 'Snakes' , I checked the “Movie Connections” button to see if there were any similar-themed Snake movies released in the Internet Age, which is how I discovered there was apparently a *Sequel* to “Anaconda” released in 2004. I had no idea. No-one had ever mentioned it in passing. I’d never seen it at the DVD Store. No recommendations or off-hand comments by friends. It obviously flew right under my Radar.
I checked the Box Office Take. “Anacondas: The Hunt for the Blood Orchid”, a film I suppose I could accurately, (if somewhat cruelly), say stars absolutely no-one you’ve ever heard of…
… which went into general release with no marketing that successfully penetrated my bubble to even let me know it existed, (unlike 'SOAP' and the months of pre-release hype), still managed the sum total of $12.81 on its opening weekend.
So how much interest and hype from fans was there to add to the box office, really? Just a million dollars worth? And if the widely-reported Power Of The Internet, which the press trumpeted was now some kind of grass-roots movement powerful enough to influence Hollywood Filmmaking, really is, in reality, so impotent, then where does this leave *Blogging*?
All this seemed to be to me was further evidence in a unfortunate trend I’m noticing lately. We live in an age where what makes a good story, rather what actually is the truth, is what is repeated and presented as fact. The writer prints the story they ‘wish was’ true, rather than ‘what is’. These stories presented as truths of the sociology of modern life, such as ‘Meterosexuality’, ‘Gancing’ and ‘The Couple Name’.
Has anyone ever met a guy who describes himself as ‘Metrosexual’ other than men dodging questions about their masculinity? The term has been recently described as ‘officially dead’ by style-makers. Which makes me wonder: did it ever exist?
‘Gancing’, describing men dancing together to attract women, was created as a parody of metrosexuality, and widely reported as fact until the truth was discovered.
The rising trend of stories presenting the rise of ‘the Couple Name’ as Fact, (where a man and a woman combine their surnames into a meld of the two, such as Smith – Jones becoming ‘Smones’), were all based on the same two naming examples, leading to the strange Ouroboros situation of a rising trend of stories reporting on the rising trend of false stories describing the rise of the couple name.
When Wishful Thinking becomes taken as Truth, to when even people choose to ignore later evidence to the contrary, then we’re all in trouble."Mission Accomplished".
Speaking of wishful thinking, I choose, whether rightly or wrongly, to see ‘SOAP’ as a triumph in the rejection of Irony by the population at large.
I was born in 1971, and sometimes in the 1990’s found myself labeled with the dreaded tag of being part of ‘Generation X’, the idea being that people of my age simply had no defining shared experience on the level of the Baby Boomers, such as Vietnam, The Civil Rights Movement, the Moon Landing, or the Beatles, and so what we watched on Television became our shared heritage.
As far as I could see it, the failure of the events of the Sixties supposedly meant we simply didn’t want to try to accomplish anything, knowing already it was doomed to failure, so cynicism was rampant. Rather than face the pressures of adulthood, we chose to become ‘Slackers’, and clung to the icons of our childhood like protective totems, but denied they meant anything to us on an emotional level. They were appreciated as ‘Irony’.Yeah, yeah. Whatever.
Irony was the curse of Generation X. How I hated it. I never believed a word of it. The only evidence I saw of it happening was after the media had successfully sold and ingrained it into the psyche of those of my age. They wished it into existence by presenting is as 'how the cool kids thought'. Then the music of a few was singled out as ‘cool’ and sold the attitude to the kids. We were told that this is what we were supposed to be.K-Mart started its own Grunge Line of Clothes.
I’ll hate Nirvana more than you’ll ever know. I detested my entire existence being summed up and dismissed by the media in the barely-comprehensible ramblings of a junkie. I hated even more being informed by the media that his death was going to be *the* common experience that we all remembered. We’re all so much more that a clever quote or a tossed-off byline.
I had hope. I had things I wanted to do and places I wanted to see. I had goals. My friends did. We didn’t always reach them, and some of us never did, but we still knew we had to *try*.
Maybe others didn’t. Maybe it was the realization that we had of a Real War in our own Lifetimes, not yet realizing that the Gulf War was a new kind of war entirely, and there was no threat of either conscription or losing our lives. Faced with fear, did others grow so scared that it was easier to affect Emotional Distance?
Like a blanket, the curse of Irony was spread far and wide. It polluted attitudes. It polluted music, and lead to my most hated style of song: The Ironic Cover Version.
Faith No More with ‘Easy’. The Lemonheads with ‘Mrs. Robinson’. Limp Bizkit with ‘Faith’. Turning up the guitars and thrashing through an old hit isn’t remotely amusing for anyone. It’s so, so tired, but it’s also a way of already having a built-in audience for the song and getting it played on the radio, but if you voiced that opinion, it was the one time being Cynical wasn’t worn as a badge of honour.Artist's weren't career-orientated: They mean it, maaaan!
It was a strange time. On one hand you had over-earnest white boy whine-rock like Pearl Jam, models of sincerity. Then you had insincere rubbish like Sonic Youth, the Murmers and Crash Test Dummies.
Two albums signaled that grunge was dead as an artform, and perhaps had never lived, and were defining moments for me in my complete and utter rejection of any kind of Ironic Distance: “If I Were A Carpenter” and “Saturday Morning: Cartoon’s Greatest Hits”, (both various artists compilations of the ‘cool’ grunge bands singings the song of the Carpenters / 70’s Cartoon Themes).
Why would anyone sing a song they have contempt for? They wouldn’t, they’re faking the Ironic stance. Deep down, I’m sure they know that they’re unable to write a song that engages to the level, so it's easier to sneer at what they're secretly jealous of.
What would you prefer, Sonic Youth singing ‘Superstar’ but doing it shoddily enough to make it clear they’re winking at the listening audience, when it at least has a well-written melody (2), or them singing one of their own underwritten, unmemorable, hookless songs, any one of the hundreds where their melodies are just a doubling of their guitar riffs, in the cases where they actually even attempt to sing, rather than speak-sing, for risk of blowing their pose of cool detachment?Yeah, I hate Sonic Youth too.
I’d gone to visit my mother, with a casual friend who’d had the Carpenters album in hand, and had put it on the stereo to enthuse about how cool it was. Funnily enough, my mother called it for what it was straight away, and said it "wasn’t very good".
My friend, patronisingly: “I understand it might be too heavy for you.”
My mother: “I used to be right at the front of the stage at Billy Thorpe and the Aztecs concerts." Which she was. "This album isn’t heavy.”
“They’re making fun of those old songs. It’s really funny”.
“They're just bad bands, and they're not trying. It’s all different artists and different songs, so why do they all chose to play them in the exact same way?”
That shut my friend up. If you’ve ever heard the album – she’s right.
It was obvious to me that people were using irony to cover up for when they genuinely liked something, and were worried as others would perceive the object of their affection as ‘uncool’.
I couldn’t stand this anymore. I wanted to *Feel*. Damn the risk.
And yeah, feeling things *hurt*, but eventually something is going to be too world-shattering and life-changing to be dismissed with a curled lip, a waved hand, and a ‘yeah, yeah, whatever’ anyway, so you might as well get a head-start in learning to deal with reality.
Passion and pain and joy and terror, the high and lows. They all let you know you’re alive.
Who wants to be a sad 18-25 year old Hipster who thinks they’re just Above It All? After all, in reality, you can't compete with the Unbridled Contempt your average teenage girl can dish out. Do you really want to be forced to realise you can be out-cooled and out-sneered by some who decorates their Myspace Page with images of Hello Kitty and songs by Lindsay Lohan? OMG!Ch3k oUT mY n3W haWt PiczZz!!
This leads back to ‘SOAP’.
In learning to feel, I learnt to strip away any preconceptions when I approached a Text with the intention of Reading it, and I came to a funny realization. I’ll use an example here.
In 1999, Beck, another ‘voice of Generation X’, and an artist I was naturally suspicious of, since he was by labeled with both the ‘Irony’ Tag, as well as carrying the ‘New Dylan’ banner by the lazy media, (almost as if writer’s believe we want to measure New Artists as Bad Cover Versions of Past Ones), put out an album called ‘Midnite Vultures’.
The critics raved. I kept wondering how whenever I’d come across him on the radio I didn’t hear anything they were describing. But, sick to death of reading about him in rapturous descriptions, I decided to simply bite the bullet, and buy the damn album.
After a few listens I was confused about what I was hearing. Why did it sound like an underwritten Prince album? Why was (then pre-comeback) Prince currently considered uncool, yet Beck was cool for doing much the same thing, without the chops?
I discarded everything I had read, and approached the text anew. And I learnt something important. If you strip away the Irony from a text, you can only read it for what it is. It sounds straight-forward enough. So why don’t people realise this? (3)
Disregard Beck’s ‘cool’ persona, and ignore the fact that ‘the Dust Brothers’ were the cool producers de jour. Listen to the music. Beck’s ‘Midnite Vultures’ is simply what it is: a bad-pastiche of a Bad Prince Album.
Strip away the intention. It suddenly doesn’t become better or worse because you think he’s obviously Not Being Serious and Making Fun Of A Musical Style. You simply just hear an underwritten record: A Prince album like ‘Come’ or ‘Chaos and Disorder’ where he hasn’t quite nailed the hooks, where you can see the song isn’t obviously Bad, per se, but there’s nothing that particularly jumps out at you either. It’s good, but workman-like good.
At the end of a day, he had a chance to record an album and it sounds like what it sounds like. Either you like it or you don’t: Snakes on a plane. Don’t try and tell me it’s any ‘cooler’ than Prince’s then-current badly-reviewed ‘Rave Un2 The Joy Fantastic’. (Personally, if I was going to do a Prince pastiche, I’d rather ape top-of-his-game Prince, like ‘Parade’ or ‘Sign Of The Times’).
This obvious problem is the route of the failure of ‘Snakes On A Plane’ to my eyes, and studios should pay attention:
You’re an expecting an audience to pay for your art, why would you not want to try to deliver the best product you can give them? Do you honestly expect people to spend their hard-earned money, (and a night at the movies is an expensive proposition for a family compared to the price of a DVD), to go and see something that, when all is said and done, is simply A Bad Movie, when they also have the choice to go and see something sincere in its intentions and genuinely exciting?Why would you think that?
My guess is simply this: you’re contemptuous of them. You think that’s all that they deserve, and because of that, you get exactly the kind of monetary return you deserve.Let them eat Snake!(1) I recommend Wikipedia should you be cultured enough to not understand any of these references.(2) If you actually go back and look at the songs that were popular in the grunge years, they usually were by artists that actually had strong melodies. I also find it interesting that the majority of the big stars of the grunge era were unable to maintain their fame. Kurt Cobain committed suicide, Pearl Jam went back to cult status, drugs claimed Alice In Chains’ singer and Evan Dando’s career, and Smashing Pumpkins broke up. Even Liz Phair realised her songs were half-arsed demos and decided to aim for the over-produced teen market.(3) Try this with the White Stripes. You’ll laugh.