Director: Bong Joon-Ho Runtime: 2 hr. 6 min Rated: R
Studio: Moho Films Screenwriter: Bong Joon-Ho, Kelly Masterson
Cast: Chris Evans, Ed Harris, John Hurt, Tilda Swinton, Octavia Spencer, Song Kang-ho, Ko Asung, Jamie Bell
Snowpiercer is a French comic brought to the big screen by South Korean director Bong Joon-ho. The year is 2031, and the entire world’s remaining population lives aboard a train that never stops moving, or everyone on it will freeze to death. Just like the rest of the world did almost two decades prior. Humanity is an endangered species, and the train is the Hotel California. You could check-in, but you’re never going to leave.
This train generates energy by constantly moving, and since the great freeze means it can never stop. It does one lap around the globe each year. The train, this snowpiercer, was created by a man called Wilford, who divided the train into three parts. The elite at the front, poorest at the end, and the workers in the middle who service the train. The inhabitants at the back endure much. They live off of gelatin-like “protein bars” and nothing else. They have their children taken, live in squalor, and are executed periodically to reduce the population. These individuals are never allowed beyond the train’s tail. So, surprise, they sometimes revolt. In Snowpiercer, they try again, with a new plan, to make it to the front and control the engine. After all, those that control the engine control the world, such as it is.
I watched this film begrudgingly. I stopped it mid-film three times and took days in between to finish it. There needs to be more attention to detail for a plot like this to work on screen. Expand upon what’s not in the original material, or ignore it and make it better. He’d hardly be the first moviemaker to do so. This film has a trailer that holds up this movie to be far more exciting than it is. A film shouldn’t create so many questions and not answer them.
The beginning of the film drops the audience into a story in progress. While it’s not difficult to catch on to the plight and goals of the characters, it is a little confusing. Utilizing this tactic is problematic because the viewer isn’t invested yet in the characters. Bong Joon-ho’s choice to cast Chris Evans as Curtis and Octavia Spencer as Tanya aren’t enough. Both are phenomenal actors, but their addition to this cast was to grab more Western viewers, not because actual acting was required.
Initially, the director didn’t want to cast Chris Evans because he was too fit. Malnourished from living in poverty, it would be hard for anyone to believe he was from the tail car. All the people there are frail. So, instead, he’s covered in clothing to hide his bulk. On that logic, I’d like to point out that he cast Octavia Spencer! No disrespect to her, but she’s a heavy-set woman. It’s the reverse logic of not wanting a physically fit person cast. After almost two decades on a train in squalor-like conditions, she’d be thinner. She’s the only plus-sized person I saw in that section. So back to my point about more Western eyeballs.
The logic of this film makes zero sense. The train isn’t that big when you think about it or see shots of it. How is livestock raised or food for so many people aboard a train? How do you maintain the train? Where do the spare parts go, how do you make more? At what point do you run out of clothes, supplies in general, on a ride you can’t stop? How many people have to die every year to sustain everyone else?
Now, cultures other than mine find eating insects acceptable, okay. What’s not okay is how it’s depicted in this film. Besides being excessively disgusting, where did they all come from? The squalor from the tail and the production/growth of food alone isn’t enough to generate that many insects frequently enough to be used as they are in this film. Remember, they are all dead outside the train.
If I, or you, were boarding this life-saving train on day one, one of the many questions I would want to be answered is, what about the tracks? This train rides around on one gigantic loop around the Earth; what keeps the tracks from freezing so much the train doesn’t derail after months or years? Everyone dies if too much snow blocks a section and stops the train. These are no small questions, and someone could have dreamed up an answer and brought it up with relative ease, but no. Instead, the audience is dropped into a story where the plot is to take the engine car or die trying. In a gritty, difficult to watch (camera work), violent hail Mary to overthrow an authoritarian dictator and his lackeys.
As dystopian, apocalyptic-like, fate of humanity films go, Snowpiercer is a dull, thinly plotted, implausible train wreck despite the otherwise talented ensemble. It’s not worth the hype many gave it nor a place on anyone’s watchlist.
-A Pen Lady