PopGap #01: Snowpiercer (2013)
Written by dorrk
Movies of the 2010s, #1 of 20
This is a movie that I was avoiding because it sounded stupid.
My 11-year-old daughter is always reading YA Fiction, and I recently explained to her my contempt for most of those stories, which are frequently summarized starting with the phrase "In a society where..." In most cases, the initial premise of these stories is so off-puttingly illogical to me that I can only overcome my prejudice if the movie drowns its dumb concept with extremely cool characters or action. The glowing reviews did make me wonder if Snowpiercer possessed some magic that could overcome its original sin, but nearly every glowing review was balanced out by a pan that confirmed my reservations.
Snowpiercer takes place in a society where extreme climate change has reduced the Earth to an uninhabitable frozen wasteland, and the only human survivors live on a perpetually moving luxury train that takes a year to encircle the planet. The people living on the train represent different social classes, and train's ecosystem is a metaphor for humanity, and if that weren't bleedingly obvious to you within the first half-hour, Ed Harris explains the entire metaphor during the movie's disappointing climax.
Directed by Korean director Joon-ho Bong and adapted from a French graphic novel, Snowpiercer is exactly the kind of high concept sci-fi that is most likely to drive me crazy. Bong and co-writer Kelly Masterson try to explain away the insanity of the convoluted premise by having Ed Harris, once again, explain that everyone is insane. Convenient, but unconvincing, and made pretty intolerable when that nonsense is used as a hammer for driving something resembling social commentary.
I did like parts of Snowpiercer. The middle section of the movie, which tours the middle of the train as revolutionaries attempt to seize control of it, showed some neat imagination and production design. And I like Chris Evans, who was fine as the leader of the oppressed passengers who attempt to take over the train. I also liked Vlad Ivanov as a smirking killing machine. The rest of the cast, though, was wasted. The villains were too cartoony and the heroes were bland and boring. The story was pretentious, and many of its events implausible from multiple angles.
The only way Snowpiercer works is as a crazy allegory for extreme political views that I consider noxious, but even those are muddled and confusing. I'm not sure if it's a credit or a debit that Snowpiercer can be aptly interpreted as both looney leftwing and crazy rightwing screeds. I get the feeling that Snowpiercer originates from a place of deep confusion more concerned with aesthetics than sense, and it has enough crazy, if unconvincing, imagination to make it watchable, at least.
Trailer for Snowpiercer (2013)