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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, June 27 2014 - Volume 42 Issue 26
Elegantly composed Snowpiercer an apocalyptic commentary
Arts & Entertainment
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Elegantly composed Snowpiercer an apocalyptic commentary

by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

SNOWPIERCER
Now playing


They need to get to the front of the train. The Snowpiercer has been running for 17 years, ever since the world froze over in a second Ice Age occurring when humanity's attempt to end Global Warming went horrifically wrong. The last vestiges of mankind, a smattering of multiple races culled seemingly from every country, have been packed into the massive, unstoppable locomotive all that time, all separated by class and status the moment they stepped inside.

Curtis (Chris Evans) has been living in the rear since the beginning, listening to his mentor Gilliam (John Hurt), taking to heart his teachings, biding his time for the appropriate moment to launch a coup in order to achieve some sort of equity for everyone on board, not just the wealthy. His closest friend Edgar (Jamie Bell) was born on the Snowpiercer. It's the only world he knows, and he'll follow Curtis all the way to the front, if that's what he thinks is best to ensure the only community he's ever known continues to survive.

There's been a lot of fuss made about South Korean director Bong Joon Ho's Snowpiercer (his adaptation of the best-selling French graphic novel Le Transperceneige) since its debut at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival. Fanboys everywhere went crazy when it was hinted that Harvey Weinstein wanted a re-edit before he'd release the film in the United States - a galactic uproar asking why the notorious producer (his longtime nickname being 'Harvey Scissorhands') would do such a thing to what had to be an almost definite post-apocalyptic masterpiece.

The good news? Weinstein bowed to the pressure, allowing the Mother and The Host filmmaker to release his personal director's cut to domestic theaters. The bad? Even with a cast that includes comic book hero superstar Evans, Academy Award-winners Octavia Spencer and Tilda Swinton, former Oscar nominees Hurt and Ed Harris, and a slew of international favorites including Bell, Song Kang Ho, Ewen Bremner, Alison Pill and Ko Asung, he was only going to give it a limited theatrical push, with minimal advertising, making its chances of doing any sort of notable business stateside pretty much nil.

The better question, however, revolves around whether or not Snowpiercer has been both worth waiting for, as well as deserving of all this pre-release ruckus; and while the answer is a positive one, it isn't the outright bit of exuberant ecstasy I think many were hoping for. The truth is that Ho's latest is good, occasionally something better than that, but in the same breath it also isn't some landmark masterpiece. It gets the job done, nothing more; and while that's never a thing I'm personally going to scoff at or talk down, I can't say I'm tripping the light fantastic, either.

You could say the movie is an expertly staged amalgam of genre favorites like Mad Max, Das Boot and Assault on Precinct 13 all rolled into one - Ho's not-so-subtle social analysis on today's world as he sees it shining through the gloom, doom and bloody hack-and-slash action theatrics at every turn. With video game exactitude Curtis and his group must move continually forward car-to-car facing a different set of obstacles each step of the way. At the same time, they also move into entirely new worlds, even ecosystems, the train in a metal Noah's Ark containing the last vestiges of the human race and all its knowledge as it makes its year-long trek around the globe.

The action is extraordinary. Ho unleashes a series of brutal, imaginative assaults that more often than not boggle the mind and chill to the bone. But, much like The Raid before it, all this calamity and bludgeoning can be a bit much over a long period of time. While the creativity behind each of these set pieces is impressive, that doesn't mean they still don't lose a little of their power and immediacy as things inch closer to a climax. Even so, it's all sensationally shot by cinematographer Hong Kyung-pyo (Mother), and even though space is understandably limited - we're on a train, after all - he gives the film a rich visual esthetic that's constantly intriguing.

But the most exciting aspect is Ho's refusal to bow to typical conventions, allowing the film to slow down at the most unforeseen points in order for his observations to strike home with intimately fascinating toxicity. Whether it be a brief sushi luncheon or an elementary schoolroom sing-a-long, these striking bits of poetry have a breathtaking allure to them. And, while there's nothing subtle about the pointed societal commentary the filmmaker is expressing, it can't help but emotionally register in ways that matter all the same.

I'm not too sure about the way things climactically come to a close, the last act one I need to keep thinking more about before I can pass final overall judgment. Still, Snowpiercer, while not the dystopian existential sci-fi masterpiece I know many were hoping for, is a solid, visually inventive and at times breathlessly exciting epic nonetheless. Ho continues to show he's one of the more ingenious and idiosyncratic directors working today, working in a variety of genres with notable skill. This movie is a good one and, who knows, over time, and after more thought, maybe even I will come to think it's as great as some have attempted to get me to believe.

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