Snowpiercer is an unusual film from the man who directed The Host, Joon-ho Bong. Set in the future where a failed global warming experiment kills off most life on the planet a new Ice Age has gripped the Earth. The only human survivors live on a huge train powered by a perpetual motion engine that travels around the globe, there are quite a few movies set on a train but few are set on a huge one with all the remaining survivors on the planet. As is to be expected with such a situation like this conflict arises on board the locomotive when a class system develops, all the rich people start to live in relative comfort at the front of the train while all the poor people suffer in over-crowded conditions to the rear. Such a situation is bound to create tension and the poor people try to revolt and fight their way to the front.
This film is actually based on a French graphic novel called Le Transperceneige by Jacques Lob and Jean-March Rochette. Joon-ho Bong was so captivated by the story that he read the entire graphic novel while standing next to the bookshelf, where he found it in his local comic shop. He loved the idea of the people on the train struggling for survival and the conflict that arises, he showed the graphic novel to his friend, the famous director Park Chan-wook who used his film company Moho Films to secure the screen rights for Bong.
Dystopian sci fi films about the poor fighting against the privileged classes are common and the viewer can trace the movie history right back to Fritz Lang’s Metropolis. Films in this category often create an interesting scenario where society has fallen apart and there is no democracy.
The cast includes Chris Evans who plays Curtis, a poor man living at the back of the train who helps inspire the people to revolt. They plan to take control of the engine itself which would no doubt allow them to control the train and decide where it goes. John Hurt plays another poor survivor called Gilliam who is an ally of Curtis, the name is interesting as it may remind viewers of the director Terry Gilliam who is a master at directing crazy dystopian films like Brazil and Twelve Monkeys. Hurt’s character appears to be the stereotypical wise old sage character in this film, a character who advises the young hero with his wisdom and experience, this is a role that usually goes to Morgan Freeman. Song Kang-ho from The Host and the vampire movie Thirst also stars in the film as a security expert held in the prison section, yes the train even has its own prison section and school for rich kids. Details like that give the viewer an idea of how big the train is which is good as it helps create a more credible context, the train has to feel huge in some way for us to buy into the film’s plot. Snowpiercer also stars Tilda Swinton, Jamie Bell and Ed Harris who is surprisingly not shown in the trailer. Octavia Spencer is in the movie too and she can be briefly seen right at the end of the trailer.
An interesting thing about the movie is how it is the directors English Language debut. Hopefully he can deliver a thrilling sci fi movie and find work directing more English films in the future. The trailer gets straight to the point and contains very little information about the plot beyond a few basics. The train has a lot of guards so the viewer can expect a few large scale punch-ups on the train between the oppressed and the oppressors, Chris Evans can pull of a lead role in a film so he will no doubt be convincing as the leader of the rebels here. What is surprising is how the trailer does not show a main bad guy or villain that is in charge. Most people would expect a narrative like this to have a head or chief villain who is pulling the strings and then becomes one of the the main targets for the good guys. It would be strange if the film does not have such a character at all, maybe the character was just not shown in the trailer which is odd. The trailer would of benefited from showing off such a character and it would also of been nice to see Ed Harris who is a fine actor and rumoured to be the character in silhouette on the poster. It’s a good trailer which is full of action and it also contains a few brief but well placed establishing shots of the train thundering across the planet. If the special effects for the train are up to snuff that will be a bonus.
Snowpiercer has the potential to be a good film and the viewer can decide for themselves when the movie is released. The only possible problem is how the writers resolve the story if the poor succeed in taking over the train. When Curtis and his buddies get to the engine and take over what comes next? The film gives the impression that the train has to keep going and someone has to control it. So Curtis and his crew start driving the train, the rich are shunted to the back and the whole problem starts over as the rich are now oppressed and will eventually revolt. It seems like the movie will reach a narrative dead end if this is indeed the plot. Maybe things will turn out better than this but time will tell.
Eager fans can catch the movie when it is eventually released, The Weinstein company has not given the film an official release date yet surprisingly but it is scheduled to be out some time this year.