Wed Aug 30, 2006

Getting the Counterfactual Right

In the course of a silly piece boosting Joe Lieberman against the loud but ineffectual online hordes, Bruce Kluger says:

If this wasn’t enough to drain the effervescence from the blogger bubbly, America’s noisy Web wags were dealt an even more sobering blow 10 days later when Snakes on a Plane opened nationwide to a decidedly flat $15.3 million box office. Before its premiere, Snakes had been the latest blogger darling, as swarms of online film geeks prematurely crowned it the summer’s big sleeper. This hyperventilating fan base even convinced Snakes’ distributor, New Line Cinema, to up the movie’s rating to R, to ensure a gorier, more venomous snake fest. But all that clapping and yapping couldn’t put enough fannies in the seats.

But what’s the right counterfactual here? I think it’s that Snakes on a Plane is a cheap B-Movie that, in the absence of the jokey attention it got online, would have gone straight to DVD and never come close to the top of the box office for even a single weekend. If anyone was suckered by the “mythology of the blogosphere” it was New Line Cinema, who clearly had convinced themselves that they had another Titanic on their hands. (Maybe they had—just the wrong one.)