Written by Guest Contributor: Jefferey Pinkos If somehow I could psychically convey some demands to the emperors and caliphates, and if — suggesting an even more unrealistic hypothetical situation than psychic communication — they cared and listened and understood, I would propose the two following decrees.
- To cast Tilda Swinton in everything they could, and
- To never recreate The Wizard of Oz, especially through the use of a grim/gritty lens.
Fortunately, Ms. Tilda is at work again but at the cost of the second decree. Snowpiercer — not a Hollywood picture in the slightest, except in distribution — is at its core Oz writ dark, desolate, and dystopian. But it’s leagues better than any latter-day Tim Burton production could ever offer. (Baseless swipes across the board here. If I was something a pittance more redeemable than an online critic, I might worry about making enemies. But since I’m not, I swipe away!)
Director Joon-ho Bong is a gift to mankind. Once I heard someone laughing at the CGI monster in The Host and got really fucking mad. It’s a little silly, of course. The monster does look a little laughable, almost like the killer beast Gojira does. The Host and Gojira both do something profound with their potentially laughable seeming creatures. They are transformative creatures by their destruction. Gojira gives us a city devastated. The Host gives us a family devastated. We deeply understand humanity with how it reacts to loss and fear. It rises and fights back and protects its loved ones.
Snowpiercer is not like The Host. Where The Host begins with a comfortable family, who becomes destabilized by an event, Snowpiercer arrives after the event. A manmade ice age has lain waste to the world, and everything that’s left of us sit on a train circumnavigating the globe indefinitely. The tail passengers — a long oppressed faction of underlings, with a wildly diverse cast of throwaways, Octavia Spencer, John Hurt, Ewen Bremner, lead by Chris Evans — lead a revolt to take over the train and question the man himself, the great engineer who pioneered the Snowpiercer train, Wilford.
It’s messy and mean and nasty stuff, revolution. Armed with a drug addicted security expert, Kang-ho Song, and his daughter, Ah-sung Ko, they quickly unravel more and more terrors about their life and the lives of the other residents. If anything, go see the meat train scene. It is the most frightening and surreal scene I have seen in some time.
I don’t have anything to say more about it. It is seething. It is its scariest at its funniest. Look at the school train scene (ran by the excellent Allison Pill) and the ecstatic Wilford song. To the train passengers who stumbled into this Roald Dahl book by way of the early days of Rapture, it is a grim hero-worship a few degrees away from a cult religious experience. It is not a stretch to go back to our elementary school days and find that history being taught is so much hero-worship, so much like indoctrination, it’s insane to find we love and idolize men who sought terror and reaped war.
If I were to complain about anything, is that its pacing gets wonky in the second act. That cars fly by without comment. Some like the opium den/orgy car — something not offered by the TRE — might do with some acknowledgement. But I see its purpose. To the people from the tail, the front end’s life is all triviality without consequence. We see a lot of broad characterization in its cast — see for instance Wilford’s lieutenant Mason (the great and powerful Tilda). But it’s so much less biting in passing.
It should be a huge hit. If it’s in theaters still, see it with as many people as possible. If it’s on VOD, invite friends over.
Director: Joon-ho Bong Writers: Joon-ho Bong and Kelly Masterson Studio: The Weinstein Company Run Time: 126 Min Release Date: 6/25/14