But 'Plane' truths point up Internet marketing perils

“Snakes on a Plane” was going to become “The Blair Witch Project” revisited. At least that was the plan.

But that didn’t happen, and studio marketers are debating why.

“Snakes ” opened Aug. 18 and tallied $15.3 million in its first weekend, a figure that seemed low to some, given the amount of Internet hype that preceeded the pic’s bow.

The oft-repeated line around studio watercoolers on Monday was, “Internet buzz doesn’t translate into ticket sales.”

But if there’s no correlation between the ‘Net and B.O., how come “The Blair Witch Project” was such a hit?

In 1999, the low-budget indie horror pic took in $140 million after months of publicity and Web fervor over whether the mockumentary about kids lost in the woods might actually be — gulp! — real.

Perhaps in horror, as with comedy, timing is everything.

“Blair Witch” arrived during the early stages of the Internet, and the medium itself was an intriguing new forum.

“There was a sense of discovery, just as the Internet was bubbling up,” says Paul Pflug who oversaw the PR push on “Blair” for distrib Artisan Entertainment. “People were learning to use the Internet as a tool to investigate, and they found this Web site with content and mythology.”

Also, with “Blair Witch” a substantial wave of ad support arrived after the pic had opened well, not ahead of it. Before “Snakes” had even opened, a wave of hype — free and paid — had already washed over auds.

One key factor , easily overlooked, is that while everyone knew “Snakes” was pure fiction, there was a substantial group who thought “Blair Witch” was a true story.

These days, it’d be difficult to maintain such an illusion. Instead, marketing is all about getting the concept to as many people as possible.

With “Snakes,” of course, it was the fans, not the studio, who were creating content, using the pic’s concept as a launchpad for their own YouTube-ready jokes.

Maybe they’d burnt out on the film before it hit theaters. Maybe they had more fun playing with “Snakes” than watching it.

Hollywood is ever more flummoxed by the Internet, which was once thought to be the Great New Hope for marketing.

At least once a year, some new pic is trumpeted as “the next ‘Blair Witch.’” But even with shaky camera work, a true-life veneer and viral marketing, pics like “Open Water” have yet to capture the “Blair” flair.

Filmmakers even express dread of the Internet, fearing that negative buzz will kill their movie, in the way that “Catwoman” and “Aeon Flux” were creamed before they even opened.

But they’re forgetting that “Lord of the Rings” and “Spider-Man” were also relentlessly slammed by bloggers.

The media is similarly confused by the “power” of the Net, breathlessly reporting that anonymous geeks are wary of Daniel Craig as James Bond — and ignoring the fact that he’s the first 007 to be cast since the Internet boom.

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