If you’re a fan of film, especially science fiction and film, you may have heard of this low budget “art” film, Snowpiercer. Describing it as an art film may insinuate this dystopian action-suspense film carries with it an air of pretension, but give me a moment here. Based on a French graphic novel, a South Korean director assuming the big chair, and featuring an international cast including Chris Evans, Jamie Bell, Tilda Swinton, John Hurt, Kang-ho Song, and Ah-sung Ko, Snowpiercer could be one of the most outstanding films of the year. Terrifying, daring, and compelling, this stunning work of science fiction, hailed by critics and science fiction fans, was initially released in eight theatres.
Yes. Eight. As in, not ten.
At the end of this review, this dark tale—in its own way—offers you, the moviegoer, a happy ending. So read on.
Snowpiercer opens with an experiment in 2014 that global leaders carry out in order to counteract the growing crisis of global warming. The experiment works…and ushers in a new ice age that sweeps around the world, pushing the human race to the point of extinction. Survivors manage to scramble for a massive supertrain, the Snowpiercer, as a last hope for the human race. The elites live a life of opulence in the front of the train, close to the engineer and creator of the train Wileford. In the rear of the train are the poor and destitute, struggling for survival. It’s now 2031, over 17 years of circling the globe, and the tail inhabitants prepare for a charge to the front of the train. “Capture the engine, rule the world,” states Curtis, the leader of this rebellion.
The cast, as mentioned in the opening of the article is nothing less than superb, and Chris Evans brings a sincere, emotional performance of a tortured, haunted antihero you find easy to connect with. It’s best described as reluctant charisma that Evans’ Curtis exudes, and it works. I was really impressed with Evans tackling a science fiction script as heavy as Danny Boyle’s Sunshine (a really good movie, if you haven’t seen it) but with Snowpiercer, he embraces all aspects of the production and delivers. Between this and The Winter Soldier, Evans could be making 2014 his year.
Another aspect of Snowpiercer that some critics have reacted against has been a touch of ridiculous that grows more and more prominent the further our rebellion pushes forward. Tilda Swinton’s Mason is our first glimmer of this, reminiscent of Terry Gilliam’s Brazil, but this stark contract of absurdity to darkness only adds to the tension of the film. An example of this disturbing weave of surreal and desperation you catch in a standoff between the rebellion, armed with crow bars and clubs, and the train’s security, armed with axes. After the detail anoint their axe blades with fish blood, they suddenly begin counting down…to the arrival of the new year. It’s unsettling, eerie, and delicious.
So you’ve heard me praise this film, but there is a good possibility that Snowpiercer is nowhere near your area. Why is this happening to a film critics are losing their minds over, and even comparing it to Transformers 4? (No, really—this is a thing!) Turns out that producer Harvey Weinstein, famous for cutting films his way, particularly if they are coming from Asian countries, insisted that 20 minutes of footage be cut, and opening and closing monologues be added. In his own words from 2002, “I’m not cutting for fun. I’m cutting for the shit to work. All my life I served one master: the film. I love movies.”
Director Bong Joon-ho, for his first English-speaking film, said “No.”
This brought on a standoff between director and “Harvey Scissorhands” that kept the film in limbo for nearly a year. Even with Snowpiercer setting records in Bong’s South Korea, Weinstein refused it a wide release until the film fell to his own blood-tipped axe. The “compromise” was Bong would have an uncut edition of Snowpiercer released under Radius-TWC, one of Weinstein’s distributors that specialized in Video-On-Demand (VOD). According to the Boston Globe, this was a “kiss of death” for the film as multiplexes would refuse to carry a film that would shortly be available online. Weinstein’s petulant attempt to sabotage this film, however, is appearing to backfire. Hard. Just last week, thanks to the positive reviews and online talk, Snowpiercer received a wider US release in over 150 theaters with a projected 400 this weekend, along with availability on iTunes, Amazon, and Google Play.
With options available to you, I highly recommend Snowpiercer. Dystopia is not really high on my own interests, but this movie really resonated with me from a writer’s perspective, an actor’s perspective, and a science fiction fan’s perspective. If you have been on the fence about seeing this film, find it playing in your area; but if you cannot confirm that the film you’re seeing is Bong’s original cut, rent the film and see the director’s unaltered, stark vision of this terror train tearing across hemispheres. This is a film that defines “Time well spent.”