The end of the world is a very common theme in science fiction films. Dystopian futures seem to breed colorful characters and gripping plots. Sometimes these type of films succeed in providing fictional fun but other times, they fail miserably. In the dreary, sometimes enjoyable Snowpiercer, a select group of people not only struggle to survive in a less than desirable situation but struggle to achieve balance in a very rigid and bizarre class system.
The story is a tad ludicrous but that’s fine when it comes to sci-fi. A global warming experiment gone awry manages to create an uninhabitable ice age on planet Earth. There is some hope however as a group of survivors live aboard a huge train which circles the planet over and over again. The train is propelled by a perpetual-motion engine and circles the globe indefinitely. Aboard the train, are a couple of hundred passengers and they are divided into two classes: the elite and the poor. Chris Evans plays Curtis Everett, a strong-minded, compassionate passenger in the poor tail section of the train. He has a revolutionary spirit and eventually, with the help of some of the other poor passengers, decides to seize control of the unstoppable train. There is opposition of course from Mason, a villainous member of the elite class. Played delightfully slimy by Tilda Swinton, Mason and her army of armed guards try to stop Curtis at every turn.
Curtis’ mission is a noble one. He wants to strike a balance between the classes, so that everyone on the train can coexist and not be subjected to harsh conditions and punishment. The overseer of the “Snowpiercer”, a God-like figure among the passengers named Wilford, has made life very difficult for those in the tail section. Curtis is the voice of these unfortunate souls and the film follows him on a brave quest as he breaks through each train car door to exact justice on the unscrupulous elite.
Basically an ark on rails, each train car on the “Snowpiercer” contains something different and exotic, from animals to an elementary school classroom to a pretty happening nightclub. The interior of the train looks like a prison and through each car door, there contains a progressively brighter and more upscale environment. With a highly imaginative look and feel, Snowpiercer is helmed by South Korean director Bong Joon-ho (The Host, Mother). The entire train is one big world and Joon-ho shoots it in a very expert way. There is a constant rocking due to the fact that this world exists on a moving train and Joon-ho simulates it wonderfully.
Much of Snowpiercer’s production team deserves some serious recognition. Beata Brendtnerova (Le Vie en Rose, Lover’s Prayer), the film’s set decorator succeeded excellently in creating an entire world aboard a moving train. It really does feel as though you’re right there onboard with the hapless passengers. Another aspect of the film that was very well-done was the costumes. The two classes are perfectly represented by their wardrobes. Catherine George (The Messenger, We Need to Talk About Kevin) separated the elite from the poor by giving the poor worn, tattered, earth tones and the elite, clean, bright, and tailor-made garb.
Based on Jacques Lob’s French graphic novel Le Transperceneige, Snowpiercer is a sci-fi/action/thriller in every sense of the term. It’s bleak, ugly, and gritty but Evan’s heroic Curtis is a welcome addition, full of light and positivity. Many of the supporting actors are also top notch. Swinton is great as one of the film’s bad guys. John Hurt, Octavia Spencer, Jamie Bell, Song Kang-ho, Go Ah-sung, and Ed Harris are all passengers aboard the train and they contribute to the film being one notch above mediocre. Snowpiercer isn’t a great film and at 125 minutes, it could have benefited from being shorter. Basically, if you can’t find anything better to watch one day, then Snowpiercer is the perfect film for you.