Thursday, 3 July 2014

Snowpiercer (US/KR 2013)

The release of this film has been largely limited in various countries, though I'm not really sure why. I know here in the UK it never really got a proper release and in the US there were issues about trimming the final product, so overall this film has gained a lot of interest for the wrong reasons. Another reason for such interest will be down to the innovative action packed science fiction plot based on a French graphic novel that is set in a post apocalyptic Earth. Although on first impression the films main poster (the dark one with a few of the stars faces) is really unimaginative and unexciting whilst the films name is simply...a bit unusual.

So the plot shows the planet Earth after a failed experiment to try and halt the progress of global warming actually causes a lethal ice! mega fail huh. All of the remaining humans are packed on board the massive Snowpiercer train...a modern ark on rails, a train going nowhere, a train that continually travels the Earth on a gigantic global track and is powered by a perpetual engine. The clever twist (of sorts) is the train is separated into class divisions by each of its carriages, the bottom of the barrel poor folk at the very rear and the wealthy at the front. Its from the tail of the train the story begins as a group of rebellious scum plan to take the train and its engine. I don't really see what they hope to achieve in that as the train is basically a moving tomb for all of them as the outside world is too cold for human survival.

The story is in essence all about class divide, a mobile police state, a dictatorship within a train where the dregs of society are kept at arms length from the upper classes by armed guards and brutal laws. The bureaucratic leaders that enforce the cold as steel rules treat the trains creator like a religious icon, even the entire train is an thing to be worshipped and of course the privileged young are raised to think and act this way. At the same time the poor are left to their own devises, fed like animals on man made protein bars, herded, abused and kept in check with fear. The children are often taken away to toil as living pieces of equipment keeping the train moving and every now and then the population is trimmed.

When I first heard about this film it sounded ridiculous, hell it is ridiculous! the whole premise is so silly yet quite intriguing. The fact this track has been built to navigate the entire planet is a pretty sky high concept in itself really, how the hell did it get made?! ginormous bridges spanning vast deep canyons, then there's the weather issue, it must have taken many many years to build! How did the class division initially begin? and how would you decide who is good enough for the front of the train in a world that is dying, surely it wouldn't matter who was rich or poor anymore? Also why would the last remaining people on Earth wanna treat each other like this? That is one aspect I find amusing in these apocalyptic scenarios (if you disregard the movie element), why the last survivors always end up killing each other, usually in gangs. Never makes any sense to me, if you and the human race want to survive then you gotta work together.

The group of rebels storm each section of the train, one carriage at a time, fighting and killing all the way. As they progress through the train we see how each carriage gradually becomes more affluent eventually leading into grand luxury. Each carriage is basically a unique set piece of either action, exposition or chills, often architecturally crafted with different time periods but are all consistent within the story. The idea is not without its cliches though. We see the posh little kids getting brainwashed by their nice as pie dictatorial teacher who eventually whips out a big gun in a very cartoonish manner yet the whole scene did feel Orwellian. One carriage is an entire aquarium which begs questions of the ingenuity and engineering involved and then of course there are the typical sex, drugs and all night party carriages.

There is a lot of violence on display but not all that much is actually seen in all honesty...unless the version I saw was cut. In one scene a man is punished by having his arm stuck out in the cold and then its broken off with a large hammer, yet you see nothing and merely hear his screams. Plenty of shootings and stabbings going on throughout but only splattering's of blood are shown with lots of close ups of contorted faces. Although in true Nazi fashion plenty of innocent unarmed people are gunned down to control population yes it is dark in general, even though the nasty stuff is mainly hinted at. The most visually violent sequence must be when the rebels face off against a whole carriage load of masked soldiers wielding axes. Why they are masked I dunno, how they see out from those masks I dunno and how the rebels manage to beat them is the stuff of miracles. But lets not forget about that awesome amber lit spa room scene which, despite being simple...quite simply looks...epic.

There is a distinct eastern flavour to the proceedings which blends well with the more obvious western signatures...actors aside. You get touches of typical Hollywood action and slices of a more oriental nature as the film shows you scenes of serious social commentary alongside little bits of black humour, over the top slow motion style action and cartoonish villainy. I've never come across such a cocktail of themes and visual styles in one film, its a real fusion of South Korean director Bong Joon-ho's own visual style and flare with touches of Hollywood assistance.

I mean for essentially a B-movie everything looks really good, production values are high and a lot of care and attention has gone into all aspects. I know I keep using the word visuals a lot but seriously I can't help it, it all looks really slick, glossy, cold and quite threatening at times with exquisite use of lighting and camera angles. It really does look like a graphic novel with some scenes (like panels) only using a small colour palette to enhance the striking contrasts between darkness and light, where as others are bold and colourful to highlight the lavish surroundings. Even the train itself appears to have a futuristic retro design from what could be the late 30's onwards, whilst most of the upper class characters seem to be wearing period attire which looks like WWII era.

The overall momentum of this film is indeed like a heavy train tearing along at breakneck speed, ripping through the motions with nothing being able to slow it down. From the moment it starts it escalates scene by scene, heck even the sequence at the start where they break free from their shabby dwellings and block the first few doors is an adrenaline rush. So the stylish eye candy helps but so do the cast, a real oddball bunch. Evans proves he can actually act with his ravaged performance, Swinton is the epitome of a quirky cackling screwy looking villain adding tiny bits of dark humour and Hurt looks so authentic I was worried about his actual health. Although we have seen him in this kind of bedraggled form a few times, easy casting...almost cheating.

The finale showdown and ending was a bit off key in my opinion I must say. Spoiler warning! everybody gets killed apart from a little boy and the daughter of Song Kang-ho's character, a young teenage (?) girl. So what the hell are they suppose to do??!! they are the last remaining humans on Earth apparently (possibly) and they are stranded in the middle of an ice and snow laden wilderness. Why do I get the feeling they should not of caused the train to crash by trying to leave it, they should of taken out the bad guys and controlled the train their way, thus surviving.

Delving deep into possible similarities and problems with our own society, the film is virtually in segments (each carriage) or like levels in a computer game. Each segment is basically almost a different individual social commentary in its own right (I'm sure every reviewer has probably said something like this so I'm trying not to step on anyone's toes here). Its all a very familiar tale but one that has been told well and...errm is set on a train, so that's quite unique. Yes I had my doubts, very much so, but they have been well and truly buried beneath a big pile of snow.