Generally when a movie has acting talent like Chris Evans, Tilda Swinton, Ed Harris, and John Hurt you don’t have to work so hard to find a theater playing it. In this case though the film’s distributor, Harvey Weinstein, was in conflict with director Joon-Ho Bong. According to Tony Rayns, “The Weinstein Company people have told Bong that their aim is to make sure the film ‘will be understood by audiences in Iowa and Oklahoma,'” The direct conflict was over 20 minutes that TWC wanted cut from the movie that Bong wanted to keep in.
The compromise was that the director’s cut off the film is the one being released in theaters, but it is only a limited release with the possibility of a full roll out later. Regardless of anything else I write or how interested you may or may not be in the movie, I’d recommend seeing it if only to make a point to distributing companies that they shouldn’t be dumbing down movies to protect our delicate American sensibilities.
The movie itself is set in a dystopian future where the earth has largely frozen over thanks to a failed(successful?) attempt to reverse global warming. The survivors are all on a train called Snowpiercer that never stops moving. Your social standing is directly related to how close to the front of the train you are.
One thing that makes this movie stand out from many other dystopian future movies is how much the group of people on the train is a believable group of people. What I mean by that is unlike plenty of space operas in which everyone looks and talks the same, this train is full of people with skin tones as varied as their accents. The language barrier is overcome with small translation devices, but its presence made the scenario much more plausible. Seeing artists, drug addicts, chefs, preachers, and not just your standard mix of people with plot relevant skills added to that feeling as well.
The interior sets of the train are dynamic and well crafted. Unfortunately this only highlights the CGI exterior shots of the train in the frozen wasteland looking more like a Coors Light commercial than anything else. It was one of the only things that reminded me I was watching a movie, but it is a minor complaint overall.
The other small negative for me was some of the dialogue. There were a few lines that left me scratching my head, but considering the movie is an adaptation of a French graphic novel and this is Joon-Ho Bong’s first english language film, I’m willing to give some leeway for things being lost in translation.
That only applies to a few lines though, the themes of the movie came through loud and clear while still leaving several layers to dig through. This is definitely a movie to see with a group because you’ll want to talk about it afterwards, particularly the ending. I will not spoil anything, but I will say Weinstein is correct that it isn’t your typical hollywood ending. The Iowa parts of my brain didn’t melt out my ears upon watching it though and I wouldn’t want it changed.
I would make this a group outing, but I wouldn’t necessarily go for a dinner/movie combo here depending on your stomach. This is a movie that likes violence and particularly enjoys amputations. These are not Tarantino-esque Kill Bill amputations. They do serve the overall plot and one of the poor passengers getting their arm forced out of the train until the cold freezes it off effectively sets an early tone. It lines up with the movie’s raw nature as a whole, but you might not feel like a restaurant afterward.
The last two movies I’ve seen Tilda Swinton in, this and Grand Budapest Hotel, she has had to perform under what must be pounds of prosthetics and makeup but she still comes through. Her character will likely stick with me the longest though and her mix of holier-than-though self preservation and entitlement is a big reason for that.
Sci-fi is in its element when it is taking an aspect of society and shining a light on it from a different angle. In this case it’s class warfare and Randian Objectivism that get center stage treatment and Snowpiercer handles it well throughout. People who are not sc-fi fans will still get lots out of it and even if it isn’t coming to a theater near you it is worth tracking down.
★★★★★ – If nothing else, see it because TWC thinks you’re too stupid to get it. A reminder of my rating system.