Re:View – ‘Snowpiercer’
If someone crossed a Terry Gilliam film with a graphic novel, Bong Joon-ho’s ‘Snowpiercer’ would be the result; a sumptuous SF premise with oddball characters that doesn’t go where you think it will – which is rather surprising, given that the Snowpiercer in question runs on a track.
The premise: In order to head off global warming a new chemical is sewn into the atmosphere that works only too well, plunging the world into a catastrophic ice age. The solution is obvious – build a passenger train and send it off to permanently criss-cross the globe on a high altitude railway line! But the train functions as an elaborate microcosm of society itself, complete with all the same top-down class distinctions, starting at the engine and going right down to the undesirable working classes in the caboose.
The obvious thing would have been to tell this part of the story, of how the last of humanity ends up packed into a non-stop speeding train in a frozen world, then maybe throw in a rebellion, a few gravity-defying rooftop fights and a ‘Speed’-style climax. But this is the director who gave us ‘The Host’ and the film was made outside the Hollywood studio system, so what we get is more measured and claustrophobic.
Indeed, it’s best that we (like the travellers) stay inside the train as the film’s most disappointing element is its CGI rendering of the world outside, which is simply not up to major league standards. Making up for that we have the rebels, Chris Evans, Jamie Bell and John Hurt, taking on the might of the class bound carriages (a triumph of mad production design) to fight those at the head who include an almost unrecognisable Yorkshire-accented Tilda Swinton and Ed Harris as it’s Wizard Of Oz-like manipulator.
With surreal scenes, terrific speeches, bizarre flashes of dark humour, masses of odd detail and spectacular fights, one staged in a tunnel with torches, along with some surprising plot twists, the film never lets up its pace, while simultaneously denying those who were hoping to see the train and its world from the outside a little more.
Which is where Harvey Weinstein comes in. For the US release he’s planning to remove over 20 minutes of footage to pace the whole thing up, thereby turning the film into a standard action piece. The South Korean director paces his film differently to normal Hollywood action tales – his climax occurs halfway through for a start, and for the first twenty minutes we’re thrust into there middle of the story without getting the chance to see out of the train’s window – but that’s exactly why we keep watching. If anything could go, it’s the slightly repetitive message about class warfare.
If you want to see the full-length version you’ll have to opt for the French release, which is already available on DVD. The film’s in English with a few sections translated via subtitles, but anyone with the lightest smattering of French will easily overcome those. See it in its fullest form, with all the quirks and surprises in. It’s worth the ride.