I had heard bout this film months ago and then it got delayed. That can be a really bad sign for a film, depending on the reason. From what I’ve read, the reason here had nothing to do with the quality of the film, but the comapny releasing it. Supposedly Harvey Weinstein wanted to cut 20-some minutes of the film, and director Joon-Ho Bong was having none of that. Finally, he won and Snowpiercer was released uncut. However, Weinstein decided to give it only a limited release instead of a full one. Nothing like the unscrupulous and devious ways of those in power, right? It doesn’t even make sense. You’ll all make less money if you limit the screens it shows on, but hey, why do they care? They also released Michael Bay’s new installment of mindless sensory overload, Transformers: Age of Extinction. Yeah, the extinction of quality film-making.
And speaking of people in power wielding it to control things, that is very much what Snowpiercer is all about.
The year is 2031, 17 years after the world had set in motion a plan to end global warming. Unfortunately, the plan failed and now the world is in a new Ice Age. One man foresaw this and built a high-powered train that is completely self-sustaining. Now all who are left on Earth live on this train as it continually circumnavigates the globe once every year, as it literally pierces through massive snow drifts that may cover the tracks. The people are divided – the rear cars of the train are deemed the lower class: wearing rags, dirty, less educated, and fed protein bars that look like a firm, dark brown gelatin; while the rich and more well-off live in the cars toward the middle and front of the train enjoying all the luxuries that affords.
A revolution is brewing among those people in the rear cars. Inspired by Gilliam (John Hurt), Curtis (Chris Evans) is taking the lead (albeit somewhat reluctantly) in what has failed in the past. They must fight their way car by car, unsure of the obstacles they will face, to get to the engine in the front. They do indeed encounter physical challenges, like a car full of police-like men in riot gear brandishing hatchets and spears. They also encounter people that would try to challenge them psychologically, like the words of a nearly unrecognizable Tilda Swinton as Mason, an odd devotee of Wiford, the creator and engineer of the train. All of these scenes are so great. They are well-shot, and maintain, like the whole film, the Korean style of Joon-Ho Bong. He directed The Host and Mother, both of which are great movies. Snowpiercer is his first American language film and it’s great to see that his native style and the American actors meld together so well. Usually when a foreign director makes an American film their style is completely squelched by the demands of the U.S. company paying for it.
Other great actors in this, as part of the group moving forward in the train, are Octavia Spencer, a mother whose son was abducted by the powers that be in the front of the train, Jamie Bell, playing Curtis’s right hand man, Ewen Brenmer as Andrew, who is also seeking his child, Kang-ho Song as Namgoong, the man that designed the security locking sytem on the doors of the train whose drug addiction landed him in the prison car of the train. Also Ah-sung Ko, playing Namgoong’s daughter.
I really liked Snowpiercer for it’s originality, it’s weirdness, and it’s quirky humor that is prevalent at times despite this otherwise being a pretty grim film. Oh, but I like the grim stuff, too. It is written by Kelly Masterson based on the French sci-fi graphic novel Le Transperceneige by Jacques Lob, Benjamin Legrand, and Jean-Marc Rochette. Its’ message is a good one, and the end hits you with a somewhat shocking revelation about the nature of those with power over others.
Snowpiercer might not be for everyone, but it is a great alternative to the usual vapid Hollywood blockbuster. Indeed it is a far better choice than The Weinstein Companys other current film, the new Transformers sequel/reboot. That’s right – take a stand, vote with your dollars, go see Snowpiercer instead of the Michael Bay fiasco. Seriously, Snowpiercer is a solid four kittenhands. Definitely in the recommended list this summer.
~ Neil T. Weakley, your average movie-goer, noting the nod to Terry Gilliam with John Hurt’s character name. Visuals inspired by? Yes. Just another reason to love Joon-Ho Bong 🙂