Tuesday, December 9, 2014


The word Brilliant leapt from my mouth when the credits rolled following the final frame of Snowpiercer (2013).

Snowpiercer, directed by Bong Joon-ho, is based on a little known French graphic novel, La Transperceneige by Jacques Lob and Jean-Marc Rochette. In fact, do the French even know about it? I've only seen the book on graphic novel shelves at the book store and its complementing sequel. Nevertheless, due strictly to the sheer lack of available time in my life, it's unlikely that I will ever read it, but if it's anything or hopefully everything like the film, it is a visionary work of science fiction. Snowpiercer, the film, is truly a minor masterpiece of fittingly moving images. It is a masterfully executed and gorgeously realized dystopian future where humanity survives imprisoned on a high speed, remarkable train in a world brought catastrophically to its knees by cold and ice, all very much the result of humankind. But the locomotive is the perfect vehicle for hurtling its inhabitants through an unrelenting journey film of ideas and images.

There are moments of sheer chaos amidst the filthy inhabitants of the Tail Section as they are referred to that remind one instantly of other masterstroke works like The Road Warrior (1981). There is certainly a nod to that kind of creativity. Even with strangely weird bits that lend Snowpiercer to the kind of strange, otherworldly sci-fi drama that made George Miller's trilogy so enticingly delicious and original. Though Joon-ho wisely never takes those odd bits too far or to the point of distraction. The director is comfortable in telling Snowpiercer's own strange enough story without resorting to the overly eccentric. There is a touch of Moscow born director Andrei Konchalovsky's Runaway Train (1985) in the mix based on a screenplay by Akira Kurosawa, but I couldn't help but wonder if there wasn't a little inspiration for that film from this graphic novel that preceded it just a few years earlier. Wishful thinking I suspect.

But Snowpiercer is one for the collection and one I will revisit again soon. I'm becoming more and more discerning with my television and film purchases as I age and I've made some mistakes along the way to be sure. After some anticipation I was appalled by the bore that was The Last Days On Mars (2013) by Ruairi Robinson. That's a film that comes to mind. I wish I could have both my money and time back.

But Snowpiercer is a magnificent work of pure art quickly compensating me for my missteps. Every frame and performance is stunningly imaginative and part of a breathtakingly fascinating experience. The world created for this single train is pure, creative genius. Each individual rail car brings to glorious life the wonders of our glorious past via a microcosm of survival. It's like a post-apocalyptic Noah's Ark of sorts or could be. I can imagine a host of other rail cars.

Joon-ho economically creates an impressive science fiction universe on a song. Budgeted at roughly 39 million dollars it is a powerhouse, a locomotive-like film of horror and wonders. These are sequences that must be seen and experienced.

Joon-ho pays close attention to the minutia and details in every scene too. Like the train itself his story twists and turns and reveals new pieces of information as it speeds along. This prison life rife with despair is also met with glimmers of hope and Joon-ho really pays attention to those little moments which are few, but brighten the film's darkness when it needs it most. Those moments are beautiful to behold too.

Take one look back to an equally imaginative film of the same caliber like Ridley Scott's Prometheus (2012), one of the most stylish and original works of science fiction to precede Snowpiercer of late, and realize that film was produced at roughly 130 million dollars and the mind just boggles. How do directors like Joon-ho pull it off? Is it sheer will, determination, reputation? It's amazing really when you consider the obstacles.

The well-scripted Snowpiercer is filled with a varied (Star Trek: The Original Series would be proud) and an equally colorful cast given to riveting performances from the over the top work here of the sensational Tilda Swinton to the understated Ed Harris. Chris Evans (Sunshine), John Hurt (Alien), Song Kang-ho (The Host), Go Ah-sung (The Host) and Ewen Bremner (Black Hawk Down) round out a pedigree supported by a sparkling work of imagination on every front.

In fact, speaking of The Host (2006), also by Joon-ho, and reviewed in brief here many years ago, that was a kaiju (monster) film that arrived and outshined much of its Toho competition. That film was and still remains one of the finest kaiju pictures to have been committed to film in years. Snowpiercer brought me back to the sheer vision and drive of The Host created by Joon-ho only to realize how much more I enjoyed that film over and above Gareth Edwards recently bloated Godzilla reboot. The Host was by far and away a more entertaining and intimate film than the lumbering affair that was Godzilla (2014) with The Host and Godzilla budgeted at 11 million versus 160 million respectively. That sounds like a monster-sized smackdown if ever there was one and yet The Host is one I've seen a number of times and will likely visit again. Equally so, Snowpiercer is a crackling, sharp tale that smokes along without nigh a sign of the bloated, lackluster writing or flat character development that filled the world of Edwards' Godzilla.

To put Snowpiercer in perspective, it is the kind of film that inspires a young mind and powers a generation of film lovers. I think back to my young experience seeing Ridley Scott's Blade Runner at a very young age and how influential that film was to me and how I viewed science fiction going forward based on that picture. Snowpiercer is very much carved from that mold. It is bold, fresh and original in that sense and I can imagine a young mind being completely and utterly enthralled by the experience as I was by Blade Runner. And of course, both aforementioned films were inspired by books and that takes nothing away from these truly moving pictures. As films, they are truly significant. Like Blade Runner for me, for those young people that see a film like Snowpiercer, their imaginations will forever be inspired and powered such a film. Snowpiercer is very much the epic of a classic like those that inspired me. It's no wonder there was so much buzz surrounding the film and such a clamor for the film prior to its release and a campaign to preserve the director's cut of the film once threatened to be edited for American release.

There isn't much that holds up to repeat viewing for me nowadays, but next to old standbys like Little House On The Prairie (stop your snickering), Star Trek and others, I insist and plead with anyone in my family who will listen, to sit and watch Snowpiercer with me. I beg them all to get on board this sci-fi train and enter this world, but alas if only I could pull them away from the heavy rotation of The Office and Sons Of Anarchy. Well, until then, this conductor is waiting.


Snowpiercer is of the caliber that should resonate with science fiction fans who treasure the genre's long legacy and I suspect the film will be revisited and appreciated even more with time like those aforementioned classics noted in this humble post. Joon-ho strikes again.

Snowpiercer: A. Writer: Bong Joon-ho/ Kelly Masterson. Director: Bong Joon-ho.


Dan Heaton said...

I'm right with you on this movie. It's still my favorite of the year because there's just so much creativity on display. People have attacked the plot for not making sense, but that's hardly the point. It brings you along for the ride and just keeps adding more chaos to the mix. It's also gorgeous, and I agree that it's amazing to note how low the budget is. Not having huge stars and unnecessary overhead can make a big difference I guess.

Franco Macabro said...

Dug this movie, it's got this awesome subversive vibe to it, which is probably why it didn't get much of a push or promotion, but whatever, it got to us anyway and I loved every second of it. I'm glad I gave it a chance, I shall be reviewing it soon, but I dug the idea of having its characters go after the ultimate truth of things instead of just accepting things for what they are. Loved the visuals...and the set design.

le0pard13 said...

Easily, one of my favorites of the year. Had heard of the premise going in, still it surprised me in way I hadn't expected.

SFF said...

I guess many of us are on board (pun) with this film.

Thanks for writing Dan. Yes, just a real creative ride with so much on display in every shot as you said.

The color palette swings all over the place probably giving it a graphic novel feel, but yes a lot of thought and care went into this film.

Last Days On Mars is simply stale and a bore compared to a film like this remarkable one.

I'd have to look back at the year, but Snowpiercer ranks up at the very top of the best and it's my kind of film.

As much as I loved Guardians Of The Galaxy, as Franco suggests I love this kind of darker, more subversive film just a bit more. You can't compare the two other than to suggest both are remarkably colorful and creative science fiction films filled with passion and labors of love.

Come to think of it, we're just getting around to see Snowpiercer in 2014, but it was a 2013 film.

So for this year it's my favorite science fiction film. For 2013 it would share the top spot along with .... drum roll... Pacific Rim.

Thanks for the additional commentary and thoughts gentlemen.

SFF said...

Great point.
The concept and story immediately had my attention before seeing it. I was definitely intrigued, but as you say, it really surprised.

There was nothing routine or clichéd about it.

Thank you.

SFF said...

And one more thing that Dan and your thoughts on this film reminded me of regarding the beauty of the production and set design.

These little Tablets etc... really don't do a film like this justice.

It should be experienced in a cinema and if not on a good size TV. I don't have the biggest TV, but I did enjoy seeing its epic look and scope on a good sized screen. What an experience.

I'm eager to see it again and my sci-fi fanatic daughter may join me when time permits for another sitting. I'm looking forward to sharing it with her.

El Vox said...

I enjoyed it a lot too. Sure beat the heck out of Under the Skin and that had a nude Scarlett Johansson!

Snowpiercer had a SF throwback feel to it for me as well to some of the older films you mentioned like Blade Runner and Mad Max, and even something like Planet of the Apes (original), Logan's Run, & A Clockwork Orange. And for sure, 1984 is comparable too.

It's an immersion into a world that's not quite real, but parallels our world so that commentary can be made of that world. I think where a lot of people had problems with the film were was when they'd question how could this or that happen when they took it too literally rather than symbolically.

I thought the bonus features on it were worth listening to as well. I know the director will probably go on to do other things, but I hope he returns to SF at some point in time.

Know your place, accept your place, be a shoe.

SFF said...

Ha. A nude Scarlett. Wow. Tough to stay away from that one.

Yes, I can't see why people would poke holes in Snowpiercer.

You could do that for a lot of science fiction. Enjoy the ride.

Anonymous said...

Never heard of it until reading this post, on the strength of which I've bought it.

Will let you know.


SFF said...

Thank you Anonymous and I certainly hope you appreciate and enjoy the film as much as I did.

I purchased the film and I'm pleased to own it. I hope you feel the same and look forward to your impressions of the picture.


Mark said...

Settled down with a good wine and some good company.

Firstly, an apocalypse without zombies, about time in my opinion. Also no midichlorian style 'over rationalisations' of the science, just 'we did some cloud seeding, it went wrong.'

Knowing nothing about the film other than what I'd read here meant there was a real sense of anything can happen, often spoilt by knowledge of upcoming sequels and over promotion of films.

Visually and stylistically, the progress up the train looked excellent, with each section having it's own distinct identity. A feel of the design of the Fifth Element about it.

Storywise this is very much in the sci-fi as social commentary field, which I prefer over space opera. I love a good dystopia and this did not disappoint.Very dark in places there was no clear cut goodguys or badguys, I felt there was a little JG Ballard in the mix, as parts reminded me of High Rise.

Overall, loved it and once we get a disc without the annoying stuttering in section 7, will be watching it again.

Many thanks for the recommendation.

SFF said...

Hello Mark.

It is indeed very rewarding to wake up and read a comment like yours in the morning.

Many thanks for taking time to write and express your additional thoughts on the film which further lend support to this quality science fiction effort and further shed light on what is articulated here by my post.

Much thanks.

And yes, so refreshing to see a science fiction film minus a stupid mythology (Phantom Menace), zombies (enough) or, and I'll add one, superheroes (good grief already)!

Snowpiercer is such a fine film and I can think of no better way to experience it than with friends and fine wine! Excellent plan Mark!

My sincere thanks for returning to write.