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Looking for an alternative to Transformers and Tammy this 4th of July weekend? Consider Snowpiercer. Korean filmmaker Joon-Ho Bong makes his English-language debut film with a worthy entry into the sci-fi genre.
In a world not unlike our own, the human population has polluted the Earth with green house gases. The threat of climate change leads scientists to create a chemical that will return global temperatures to their normal levels. Unfortunately, the chemical works a little too well plunging the world into a dramatic ice age. Earth freezes over killing all flora and fauna. Only those fortunate enough to nab a spot aboard the Snowpiercer survive. The train circumnavigates the world through an extensive network of rails and bridges (yes, it sounds stupid, but just go with it). The head of Wilford Industries was rightfully labeled a train-enthusiast kook with too much money when he revealed his Snowpiercer plans. Post-apocalypse- Wilfred is hailed as a genius savior for constructing an Arctic-proof train with an engine that never ceases to run. Unfortunately, Wilfred is not a very egalitarian savior. The lucky few are only first-class ticket holders. Those who were allowed to board for free out of mock generosity were confined to the rear of the train. These poor passengers live in absolute squalor and are fed black gelatinous protein bars during daily headcounts. Curtis, a resident of the train’s slums, has had enough. With his sidekick, Edgar, and his mentor, Guillame, Curtis leads a revolt to take over the train.
Set within the confines of a speeding train, Snowpiercer never fails to excite. Joon-Ho Bong directs his action pieces expertly. He strikes the perfect balance of making the train cabins look small but not claustrophobic. The sets are gorgeous. Each train cabin brings a new surprise. Fight scenes are gruesome, well lit, and well staged. Snowpiercer is a well-balanced mix of science fiction and action. The premise is intriguing and original. Joon-Ho and Kelly Masterson adapted the film from the French graphic novel Le Transperceneige. Although Snowpiercer definitely has the telltale signs of a story that has been condensed to fit into a feature length-format, it does not suffer greatly from this weakness. All the important backstory and world setting is provided efficiently. There are times when the film will have you squirming in your seat wondering what the heck is going on. Snowpiercer is brave enough to assume the audience can figure things out on its own- a bold move for would-be summer blockbusters. With a little patience, audiences will see most of the mysteries divulged sooner or later. As someone unfamiliar with the source material, it’s evident that some storylines and character arcs were lost in translation. It is a bit unfortunate but not major enough to hinder the film as a whole.
With a budget of only $40 million, Snowpiercer looks pretty darn good. Joon-Ho Bong puts similar sci-fi to shame and is a real testament of what a good director can do regardless of budget. The cast roster is top notch- filled with the right blend of celebrities, respected actors, and fresh faces (to American audiences at least). Chris Evans as leading man Curtis is decent although by far the least interesting character in Snowpiercer. It’s a blessing in disguise because he does not detract from the other amazing performances taking place. Tilda Swinton steals the show. She turns in a brilliantly self-deprecating, smarmy performance as a high-level train official. Her Minister Mason is the type of villain you love to hate. Octavia Spencer, Alison Pill, Jaime Bell, Song Kang-ho, and Ko Ah-seong fill in great supporting roles. John Hurt as Guillame is either so good he makes it look effortless or he’s phoning it in. It’s a toss up.
If you’re lucky enough to have Snowpiercer playing at a theatre near you- you should definitely go check it out. It’s worth the money and worthy of your time. Snowpiercer premiered last year in South Korea to critical acclaim and box office records. The Weinstein Co. owns the U.S. theatrical rights to the film. Harvey Weinstein requested that Joon-Ho Bong add narration and cut 20 minutes from the film. It seems he wanted it to be “easier for the audience to understand the ending.” Thankfully, Joon-Ho remained steadfast and refused. Harvey Weinstein, the epitome of professionalism and grace, retributed by relegating Snowpiercer to 8 theatres and almost zero marketing in the U.S. The good news is that the film did well enough to earn itself a wider release. So go out American audiences, and prove Harvey Weinstein wrong.