There is a lot to like about Snowpiercer, and there is a lot to forgive it for. Some initially dismissed it as "Hunger Games on a train," or some other derivation of the latest trend towards dystopian films. But Snowpiercer is based on a French graphic novel from the early 80s. Who is ripping off who?
A climate cataclysm has turned Earth into a ball of ice, and 18 years later the only human survivors are on a self-sustaining train that hurtles along on a track through frozen desolation, circumnavigating the globe once a year. It is a little vague how long this train is, and how many people make up its population. Let's just say that the powerful are up front, and the poor peasants, sucking on their depressing protein bars, are in the back. And those poor unwashed masses are getting disgruntled.
Chris Evans plays Curtis, the reluctant leader of the unwashed masses. They are told again and again that their great leader Wilford, in the front of the train, has put them in their place for good reason, and they should be happy to stay there. But their leader is an enigma who only communicates via his henchmen, like the comically outrageous Mason, played by always-fabulous Tilda Swinton. As a man is tortured, she makes a metaphorical speech involving a shoe, managing to make a point, while humiliating a lowly rebel in a most unique way. And when Tilda pops out her fake teeth at the end of a plea, it is never explained, but I'd like to think that she came up with that visual trick herself.
The theme of Snowpiercer is "Fight your way to the front" and that is exactly what Curtis and his fellow back-of-the-train passengers (an impressive cast of characters, including Jamie Bell, Kang-ho Song, John Hurt, and Octavia Spencer) attempt to do. After what I thought was a kind of slow start, the film picks up once these poor folks start to fight their way forward. The train reveals fascinating surprises--often comical, often very bloody.
When I saw Snowpiercer, the initial buzz was tremendous. I was practically expecting the end-all-be-all of modern sci-fi action movies. I can't say I was as impressed as I was expecting to be, but the film is enjoyable, bloody and entertaining, clever and surprising. Now let me just pop my teeth back in, and place a shoe on your head.
The Blu-ray release is chock full of features, the most interesting being "Transperceneige: From the Blank Page to the Black Screen"--an almost hour long feature profiling the creators of the the original graphic novel. Thirty years later, the surviving creators are simply agog to see the interest in their story as it gets produced for the big screen by Korean filmmaker Bong Joon-ho (The Host). It is moving to see especially illustrator Jean-Marc Rochette see the experience reinvigorate his life as an appreciated artist, after struggling for so many years. There are several other extras that offer behind the scenes looks at the film, cast and crew.