When it comes to taking on the hot button topic of Global Warming and its possible catastrophic effects, Snowpiercer is a movie that believes you should either go big or go home – and the films’ premise is a doozy. Set 17 years in the future, Snowpiercer drops us into the aftermath of a failed chemical experiment; one that was meant to slightly lower the global temperature but which instead propels the Earth into a devastating ice age, annihilating all life on the planet. However, a group of survivors have boarded a global circumnavigating high-speed train, run by a perpetual motion engine. The Snowpiercer, as it is called, is both a utopian haven and hellish prison for its passengers; depending on which car you’re in.
Aboard the Snowpiercer there exists a strictly segregated class system that doesn’t really make any sense, but which you just need to go with in order to let the film tell its story. People unfortunate enough to have boarded at the back of the train live in bleak, congested squalor that portrays a dystopian scenario similar to films like The Road and Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome. The train is governed by its mysterious Wizard of Oz-like inventor, Wilford (Ed Harris), and his strict rules of order are brutally enforced by Mason (Tilda Swinton), in a role that is by turns both terrifying and comical. Fed up with mere survival under constant oppression, those in the back of the train band together, deciding it is time to overthrow the nonnegotiable dictatorship and devise a way to advance to the front of the train in order to take control of the engine.
The rebel’s reluctant leader is Curtis (Chris Evans), who is joined by Edgar (Jamie Bell), Gillam (John Hurt) and Namgoong Minsoo (Koren actor Song Kang-ho), a notorious drug dealer with a keen knowledge of lock picking who is liberated from the train’s prison car in order to help the gang in their quest. The scenes at the back of the train are the least visually compelling of the film and tend to drag a bit, but aside from setting up the film’s main point of conflict, they seed the plot for events and revelations that take place further on, so you need to pay attention rather than just “waiting for them to be over.” As the rebels move forward, the settings of the various train cars change from ones depicting simple comforts to over-the-top opulence and outright hedonistic decadence. This is when Snowpiercer really gets rolling.
I enjoyed Snowpiercer, especially the amazing sets and captivating scenes of the train speeding through the frozen landscape, but I think the script could have used a bit more work, as there are continuity holes big enough to, well, drive a train through. The film does at least partially address the question of how passengers are fed, with the growing of fresh vegetation aboard the train, the aquarium car scene – which is marvelous – and the nauseating revelation of just want goes into making those Protein Blocks that constitute the sole sustenance of the train’s rear car inhabitants. But I couldn’t help but wonder how Namgoong Minsoo could have been able to make an annual observation of a plane crash landmark in the arctic wasteland as the train passes the Ekaterina Bridge each New Years Day, when he’s supposedly been living in a drawer in the train’s jail car for who knows how long? Perhaps I just need to see the film again.
It is worth noting that Snowpiercer is the first English-language film from Korean Director Joon-ho Bong, and while he succeeds in making a compelling film on many levels, perhaps the muddled script is an indication of too much ambition and an unwillingness to glean plot points that confuse and weigh the film down. Certainly it is no accident that Snowpiercer is already on DVD in Europe and Asia while its US theatrical release is not until June 27th. Based on the French graphic novel Le Transperceneige, Snowpiercer will surely appeal to fans of that genre and anyone who enjoys an original Sci-Fi Action flick.
The Worley Gig Gives Snowpiercer 4 Out of 5 Stars!
Rated R with a Runtime of 2 Hours, 5 Minutes, Snowpiercer Opens Friday June 27th, 2014. Find theaters and show times in your area at Fandango Dot Com.