John’s Review of Snowpiercer

Review written by John McGinn

If there is one film in 2014 everyone needs to view it is Korean director Bong Joon-ho’s nearly perfect science-fiction action thriller Snowpiercer.  I have wanted to see Snowpiercer since I saw the films first trailer over nine months ago.  The footage from the trailer looked like the film beautifully mixed elements of a post-apocalyptic dystopian world with action and drama along with a great international cast in John Hurt, Ed Harris, Song Kang-ho, Jamie Bell, Tilda Swinton, and Chris Evens.   Snowpiercer was originally supposed to have been released in the United States in late 2013 or very early 2014, but after The Weinstein Company had bought the distribution rights for North America and other countries like England and Australia Harvey Weinstein demanded that twenty minutes be cut from the two hour and five minute film.  Things like this happen often when studios and distribution companies get into creative arguments with directors and writers.

I can understand why Weinstein would want cuts made to Snowpiercer.  While the Snowpiercer has a great international cast I’d say outside of Chris Evens and maybe Ed Harris most of America probably wouldn’t recognize the faces or names of the cast.  Next Weinstein wanted the film cut so it could have more showings in a day earning more money for the studio even if it hurts the story and final product of the film.  Finally I don’t think Weinstein has faith in the general American viewing audience as the story elements would go over much of the audience’s heads.  After Bong Joon-ho refused to cut the film this lead to a long staring match between the director and Weinstein, and I believe it was a real possibility that Snowpiercer would never be released in the United States.  Thankfully things change after the Snowpiercer was released in South Korea becoming I believe the highest grossing film ever in the country, and continued to do well in France, Thailand and other countries, and Harvey Weinstein blinked first agreeing to release the complete cut of Snowpiercer, which will be a limited release on June 27th as well as being released on VOD.  The question now after the release delay and arguments about the film is whether Bong Joon-ho’s complete film is worth it, and the answer is unequivocal yes as Snowpiercer is a nearly perfect film and the best dystopian science fiction film since Children of Men, or 12 Monkeys.

The massive train with over twenty cars barrels over the ice covered planet that was once Earth carrying over one thousand passengers who are the last survivors of the human race.  Over seventeen year’s earlier pollution and the greenhouse gas effect has caused earth temperatures to rise with no sign of stopping.  The world leaders begin to look into ways of stopping the rising of Earth’s temperature without stopping or curtailing their industrial and polluting ways.  That leads to the controversial CW7 that fifty seven industrialized nations say will lower the Earth’s temperature.  Scientists along with environmentalists and developing nations protest the use of CW7, but the leading nations ignore them, and on July 1st 2014 fifty seven nations begin to release CW7 into the upper atmosphere.  In attempting to play god and control nature the human race doomed themselves, because CW7 was too effective dropping the Earth’s temperature drastically within days and weeks Earth begin to freeze over leading to all life on the planet becoming extinct, and the human race not far behind.  Perhaps the last human’s board Wilford’s futuristic luxury train in the hope of survival.

Mr. Wilford and his company wanted to build the most advanced and luxurious train in the world as well as building a railway that circumnavigated the world.  The world laughed at him as Mr. Wilford build his train and railway that would go around the world in a year, but even as countries were planning and debating CW7 Mr. Wilford knew that it wouldn’t work and prepared, and was one of the only ones or perhaps the only person truly prepared for what was to come.  Now seventeen years later after the planet has frozen over the last of humanity is surviving on Mr. Wilsons train in a class system with the passengers who had bought first class tickets in the front of the train, the economy ticket holders in the middle, and the freeloaders who were just trying to survive in the back.  That is where we find Curtis Everett and the rest of the beaten down lower class who have no free will.  They’re fed some kind of slug that looks like a gelatin brick.  Their children are taken for some unknown reason as are people who can cook or play the violin, and these people are never seen again.  Curtis Everett his mentor Gilliam, and the rest of the beaten down have had enough planning to take the train with the help of a security expert Namgoong Minsu who had help build and design the doors of the train who was currently locked up in the prison car.  The Curtis Revolution brings a lot of sacrifices, bloodshed, and startling truths about the passengers, and the train itself.

Bong Joon-ho wrote his dark and emotionally raw script based on a French graphic novel Le Transperceneige by Jacques Lob, Benjamin Legrand, and Jean-Marc Rochette.  I have never read or heard about Le Transperceneige before seeing the first Snowpiercer trailer, but apparently Bong Joon-ho came across the series in a comic shop, and the director was so captivated by the comic he read the entire series while he was at the comic book store.  From what I’ve read Bong Joon-ho did his best to stay true to the comic and the ideas given in the story that observes the human race studying how we function, and the complexities of the human race that includes social class order, capitalist folly, humanities hubris in believing it can control nature, the price of survival in an environment of limited resources, and a look into the idea of revolution like is an uprising worth the risk if it meant the price of the majority of the revolution’s followers deaths, and they might not like the answers they find at the end of their journey.  In all honesty it is kind of a ridiculous premise in that an eccentric billionaire would build a luxury train line that went around the world or that so how humanity would go to a train for survival, but it is thanks the emotionally charge script, amazing acting, and great action that turned a ridiculous premise into a truly remarkable film.

Speaking of the film or the filming of Snowpiercer it was remarkable at what director Bong Jong-ho and the production crew was able to do with a forty million dollar budget.  The film takes place entirely in doors in confined spaces with limited room for cameramen, actors, director and additional staff yet the production, and set designers were able to bring to life each train car with its own personality from the back of the train that looks like the slums of a major city, the prison car, a train car that was just an giant aquarium, school, night club, and more.  The designers and production staff did a remarkable job with the limited space they had making each train car believable even in such a confined space.  With a film that takes a place entirely in a train there wasn’t much need of CGI or special effects, but when were used they were nearly flawless giving us a peak of the frozen planet as the train passed once mighty cities, downed planes, and over turned giant ships.

The action in snowpiercer was intense, gritty and violent as the production crew, extras, and actors did a superb job bringing the action to life.  There are two scenes that standout the first is a huge battle between Wilford’s soldiers and Curtis’s army.  Thinking no one is on the other side of the train cars doors Curtis and the rest aren’t paying attention, but as the doors open they see an army of masked men with axes and knives making them look like a cross between soldiers and butchers.  The scene is wonderfully directed and filmed as it is shown both in normal time and slow motion.  The battle is intense were much blood is shed, and many lives are lost that leads to an outstanding nighttime battle as the train goes through a tunnel, and Wilford’s men dawn night vision equipment.  The second scene takes place on the school train car where we get a little history lesson about Wilford, and past revolutions by the teacher that leads to a gripping gun battle, massacre, and execution.

Besides the rich, dark, and emotionally captivating story the star of the film is the acting by this great international cast.  Though I have never heard of Song Kang-ho before the South Korean actor does a splendid job playing Namgoong Minsu the prisoner security expert, and father to Yona (Go Ah-sung) who suspects something about the frozen Earth, the train, and along his journey to the front comes to a realization that could change everything.   Tilda Swinton who I loved from the Beach and Constantine gives a devilish performance as the sadistic prime minster Mason.  Ed Harris gives his best performance in many years playing the eccentric Mr. Wilford giving a speech in the climax that will make sense, but will also disturb and anger many.  I can’t forget to give recognition to Vlad Ivanov who plays a character with no dialogue.  From the credits he played Franco the Elder who dogs Curtis and his companions throughout the train.  Even without any dialogue Ivanov gives a menacing performance with just his facial expressions and the look in his eyes.

The award for the best performance in Snowpiercer goes to Mr. Captain America Chris Evans.  If it is true that Evans is really going to retire from acting than he is going out giving what is his best performance of his short career.  Chris plays Curtis Everett the emotionally scarred revolutionary leader who wants to forget what happened when he first boarded the train seventeen years ago, along with freeing his people from the plight in the world, and more importantly over throwing Mr. Wilford who he hates with a passion.  Evens displays the true capabilities of his acting throughout the film, and in the final act gives such and emotionally charged performance as he recounts his early days on the train that I was left stunned.  I was always known Chris Evens was a capable actor with strong performances in Sunshine and Cellular, but in Snowpiercer Evens gives the performance of his career.

Though Snowpiercer does have a ridiculous and actually somewhat original premise that on the surface probably shouldn’t have worked on film it is thanks Bong Joon-ho writing and directing along with an outstanding production crew, and exceptional performances of his actors in particular his star Chis Evens that Snowpiercer is a dystopian sci-fi action film for the ages along with the likes of 12 Monkeys, 1984, and Children of Men making Snowpiercer a must see film for everyone.

5 out of 5 stars

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  1. John’s 10 Must See Films of the Summer | John's Movie Archive
  2. Boston Online Film Critics Name ‘Snowpiercer’ Best Picture | John's Movie Archive

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