Whatever you do this weekend, do not go see Snakes on a Plane.
Now, in all fairness and honesty, I must admit that I haven't seen this film. It's not that I don't want to see it, either. I mean who wouldn't want to see Samuel L. Jackson in a film about snakes on a plane that's called Snakes on a Plane?
The fact of the matter is that New Line, the studio releasing Snakes on a Plane, canceled all advance press screenings. There is a chance this will be a decent film. It may even be great. But the reality is New Line probably thinks they have a stinker on their hands, and the studio doesn't want critics panning the film before it has a chance to make millions of dollars at the box office. Clearly the company's hope is to take advantage of the film's unprecedented Internet buzz, which has served as a de facto advertising campaign.
The official stance of New Line is that Snakes on a Plane is not the sort of film made for critics—that it is, instead, a film made for fans of movies like this. All of that can sound well and good, especially to people who like movies such as this, which I can only assume is a mindless bit of eye candy. The problem is that I like mindless films—as evidenced by this week's review of Accepted—and I'm a critic. So where do I fit into New Line's equation?
The reality is that everyone is a critic. We all, presumably, possess the ability to determine if a movie is good or bad. And most of us have the skills, no matter how rudimentary they may be, to express our opinions. Which makes anyone who is capable of thinking and articulating some semblance of an opinion a "critic." So when a studio says that some movie wasn't made for the "critics," and was instead made for the audiences, what is really being said is that the film was made for dimwitted idiots with no discerning taste who are incapable of expressing any opinion whatsoever.
Some films are made to give voice to artistic vision. But all films are released to make money. Whether a movie is the greatest achievement in cinematic history or the most artistically challenged bit of crap, all that matters to the companies releasing these films is whether they make some dough. And over the years, the distribution and exhibition system has become such that the money a film makes during its opening weekend is the most crucial. The general philosophy has become one of "get it in and out of the theaters as quickly as possible so they can move on to home video." In order to make this business model work, it has become increasingly important that audiences go into films knowing nothing more than what the studios want them to know. And in order for that to happen, it becomes necessary that some films do not get seen by the press. Snakes on a Plane is one of those films.
The same thinking and strategy has been used with over a dozen films so far this year, including recent releases like Step Up, Zoom and Pulse. In fact, there have been more films released in the first six months of this year that were not screened for the press, than in all of 2005 combined. And in the upcoming weeks you can look forward to films like Crank and Crossover, neither of which will be screened in advance.
Don't get me wrong, because at the end of the day I'm grateful that I don't have to waste two hours of my life watching more crap than I already watch. But there is a bigger issue here, and that is that there is no such thing as an audience—only consumers. And as consumers, you have the right to go into a movie knowing more than what the marketing campaign designed to get you to spend your hard-earned money tells you. You have the right to make some semblance of a quasi-informed decision about how you spend your cash. The studios, however, are slowly taking that right away from you.
Opens Friday, Aug. 18.