Super Saturday: Snowpiercer

Snowpiercer (2013)

Dir: Bong Joon Ho

Director Bong Joon Ho (‘The Host’), clashed with distributor Harvey Weinstein over the final cut of the film, leading to a huge fan backlash. I’m not sure how the film would have worked with the proposed changes, though I think the tone and aftertaste would have been quite different.

Based on a graphic novel, the film is set on a train that has been perpetually moving since Earth was plunged into an arctic winter in a mis-judged attempt to solve global warming. On board are the survivors, people of different nationalities and social standing, with the richest at the front nearest the engine and the poorest kept in terrible conditions at the back. It’s from the back that the latest of a few attempted revolutions comes, this time led by charismatic and strong Curtis (Chris Evans), supported by his friend Edgar (Jamie Bell) and aging Gillam (John Hurt), with the technical help of an imprisoned junkie (Kang-ho Song) and his daughter. Moving toward the front of this train is no easy task, with a variety of challenges along the way and no idea quite what they’ll find the other end.

Based on the director’s status in his native Korea, the source material, and the cast, it’s very easy to see why this film was much-anticipated. I’ve only seen it once, and I’m sure it warrants a second viewing as though I enjoyed it somewhat I can’t easily explain how I felt about it. What I can say for certain is that it’s by no means boring, every bit is interesting either narratively or visually.

The cast is an incredible ensemble, led by Chris Evans, who has clearly proven himself lead-worthy in many films such as ‘Captain America: The Winter Soldier’, and who is also more than familiar with starring in films adapted from comics after roles in such films as ‘Scott Pilgrim’. It’s not just a one-man movie though, and while he is a strong figure in the story, the other cast and characters all have nicely developed and interesting roles. There’s Octavia Spencer as a mother whose son is taken from her with no reason, and is fuelled by that to help in the revolution, and on the other side of the battle is Tilda Swinton as a ministerial figure who is the face of the oppression, pronouncing threat and judgement against the lower classes in an unusual Yorkshire accent.

Snowpiercer is the name of the all-important train that has become an unavoidable home to its passengers, with the youngsters referring to “the whole wide train” as it’s all they know of the world. As the revolution progresses along the train from back to front, we get to see some of the different carriages (in the graphic novel there are over 1000) and the changes between them are distinctive and telling. From the rear with no windows or space, through the service carriages making a form of jellied protein food, to the school and then the decadent front, each carriage gives a different insight of those in it, making the train itself one of the most descriptive characters.

The challenges faced along the train are also varied, with some very tough action scenes as the train security try to stop the revolution. These sequences allow for the director to show off his visual style, with some even being shot in night-vision, and fights using a variety of slow-motion techniques and interesting angles to highlight the visceral nature of the battles and also the passion of those fighting no matter what side they’re on. As a case in point, look out for Alison Pill as an indoctrinating school teacher who is incredibly unsettling throughout her performance and not averse to getting involved in the fight.

The cast alone suggests that the original script and plans for this movie must have been excellent. In the end it made it onto many critics 2014 ‘Top 10’ lists, and that’s in the current (director approved) form. I wonder if the Weinstein cut would have made it more accessible and possibly led to a far bigger box-office success? It’s almost certain as Harvey Weinstein significantly reduced the cinema release in retaliation for his suggestions being ignored. Though I assume the director doesn’t mind that, he would rather make a film he’s proud to put his name on, rather than one that fills Harvey Weinstein’s already bulging pockets any more.

I’m not sure that it’s an amazing film, something feels a bit lost along the way to me, however I can see the appeal and without a doubt this will have a strong cult following. I’ll be interested to see if another cut emerges in the future either with more added or taken away, possibly one that polishes the narrative and the way things unfold a little more, though as it stands it’s still a fascinating film that probably benefits greatly from repeat viewings.

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