With everything from books to board games becoming movies these days, it should come as no surprise that Internet memes are becoming feature films as well. "Safety Not Guaranteed" might be the first of its kind, a movie exploring the (fictionalized) circumstances of a now-infamous classified ad that launched a Web catchphrase and a plethora of time-travel jokes set to a rockin' '80s tune.
Starring Aubrey Plaza, Mark Duplass, Kristen Bell, and Jake M. Johnson, "Safety Not Guaranteed" hits theaters Friday, June 8. Let's take another trip back in time to see the story that inspired the Web and Hollywood alike.
"Safety Not Guaranteed": The ad
The phrase "safety not guaranteed" comes from a hilariously deadpan classified ad from the late-'90s seeking a time traveling companion. The text of the ad reads:
"Wanted: Somebody to go back in time with me. This is not a joke ... You'll get paid after we get back. Must bring your own weapons. Safety not guaranteed. I have only done this once before."
Like most Internet memes, the exact details of the fad's origins can be difficult to trace. Know Your Meme says the ad originally appeared in The Copenhagen Post, while other outlets cite its initial appearance in Backwoods Home Magazine.
What is clear is, in 2005, one user on comedic user-generated content powerhouse YTMND found this cross between Soldier of Fortune and "Back to the Future" amusing enough to create a Web page devoted to "safety not guaranteed."
"Safety Not Guaranteed": The meme
In addition to the text of the ad, YTMND user axlbonbach added a photo of an unknown man sporting a mullet. The song "Scarface (Push It to the Limit)" plays in the background, juxtaposing the action-packed words against the banality of the ad and the hero's absurd appearance.
That first "time traveler" site led to more than 800 others, some humorously expanding on the ramifications of the mulleted hero's proposed journey into the past. Via photo editing, the character has taken part in the Civil War, met presidents and other world leaders, and even become enshrined in works of art from a variety of eras.
It didn't stop there, though. Due to the meme's spread, other sites were affected as well, especially Wikipedia, which saw many instances of vandalism in the wake of "safety not guaranteed." Pages on time travel and safety were cheekily sabotaged to include textual references to the meme; to this day, Wikipedia's "Safety" entry is still semi-protected, possibly so YTMND users don't add content about how "pushing it to the limit" could compromise one's security.
"Safety Not Guaranteed": The song
Not only did the meme inspire a movie but its success can be partly attributed to a movie, too. The Paul Engemann song intertwined with the photo and classified snippet originally appeared in "Scarface," playing during a montage as Al Pacino's Tony Montana begins his rise to power in the Miami drug scene.
Via "Scarface" and "safety not guaranteed," "Push It to the Limit" has acquired a life of its own, appearing in video games like Grand Theft Auto III, TV shows like "South Park," and deserved recognition as a quintessential '80s upbeat rock tune.
"Safety Not Guaranteed": The movie
Before the meme became a movie, "safety not guaranteed" already had a very, very small connection to Hollywood. In 2007, a YTMND user managed to get iconic movie trailer voice performer Don LaFontaine to read the ad over a series of clips doctored to include the mullet-wearing time traveler. Between LaFontaine's professional narration and the high-octane stunts, the video is nothing less than a teaser trailer for the "Safety Not Guaranteed" movie that could have been.
The story might now be feature-length with recognizable actors and distribution offline, but the prospect of an action flick about a Chuck Norris-eseque time traveler attempting a second trip with a new pal in tow isn't easy to push aside. Especially when mullets are involved.
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