Warring social classes highlight a superb film destined for college film studies until the end of time
Snowpiercer comes from Hong Kong director Bong Joon-Ho, but it’s written with a litany of current American political slanting. Interpretation is bound to be varied.
The second of Joon-Ho’s works to break international lines successfully (after 2006’s kooky creature feature The Host) is his first in English. Snowpiercer is created with the mindset of surface and deeper level metaphors – the lower class aboard an unstoppable train in the near future of 2031 is fighting for equality. Cue images of income gap politics, racial divides, capitalist education, and rampant corporate back talk.
Snowpiercer is not subtle but it is complex. With origins in the pages of a French graphic novel, the feature swings barbarically as a catch-all for society’s ills. Opening text monologues stagger themselves with global warming parables, setting up the need for this rickety train as a final bastion of humanity’s existence. Snow coated exteriors represent the sole purity left with high-ranking passengers treating it as a fearsome punishment.
Little of this work is logistically or logically sound. It’s a wonder where the hanging meat carcasses were born in addition to the wealth of disposal/maintenance complications. However, Snowpiercer is not that type of sci-fi. It’s not venturing into space-faring combat or futurism bound to rogue AIs. Instead, Snowpiercer’s narrative flow is linked to the ideals of simpleton action video games, where each gained level is a new car to explore, fight in, and discuss,. Intelligence is scattered between rounds of slow motion violence or drifting cinematography willing to display slashed faces in passing light.
Before concluding, Chris Evans will soar as Curtis, leader of the rebellion birthed in squalor. Curtis’ motivations and purpose are clouded until a climactic, uncut solo dialog event dispels any pretense that Snowpiercer is meant to be simple or comforting in anything other than structure. Crowded rounds of colorful humor and comic egotism (from a dazzling manipulator in Tilda Swinton) aside, Joon Ho’s work is the downplayed dystopia intended. Clashing production design values oil and soot as much as it does varnished red wood to create visual distance between superficially rich or mangy poor.
This is welfare ported to cinema, brandishing the population size of the oppressed as a necessary time bomb meant to re-balance society – at least until it isn’t. Snowpiercer’s complex script treatment leaves the screen on a purposefully cursory note despite a bevy of answers. In spite of the preceding leftism which appears to dominate the film, Snowpiercer drags itself to broader context, an tonal shift which does not dilute the message so much as it does strengthen it through perspective.
Entering the first act and into some of the second, Snowpiercer is plagued by processing measures, similar to those which afflicted The Raid if not to the same debilitating degree. Splotchy faces in the mid-range and smearing when in motion cause an unnecessary distraction. Black levels fail to hide anything in their meagerness either.
Captured on film, grain produces fluctuations ranging from being entirely unnoticeable to heightened when amongst haze. Anchor Bay encoding work is spectacular though and manages to hold firm as to not let the source best the compression methods. As such, close-ups are consistent and appealing without any noticeable intrusion of the digital process.
Color correction phases switch on a scene-dependent basis, beginning with the cold teals of the train’s rear and moving toward the hyper saturation of a manipulating “happy” classroom. Flesh tones crest the deeper into the runtime this story goes before settling back down into paleness for the final on-train images.
Snowpiercer is rarely appealing in terms of direct visual punch. Not much of it, especially in the opening set-up, is meant to be. AVC encode work keeps the style intact even if strays into an ugly appearance in post production.
Phenomenal DTS-HD mixing remains cognizant of the space, with revolving dialog, train ambiance, and hyper loud gunfire meant to mimic the sound recoil of the metal interiors. Fight scenes are intensely active, capturing the yelps of pain in multiple channels as often as it does fleshy impact. Effects slip into each channel with the exception of the .1 which is barely measured until the closing moments require some shaking.
The variety of rooms available to this feature by design allows for splendid variety. Sprinklers are heard keeping moisture high, classical music is used to add style, parties spread a wealth of voices, and the score spreads heavily. Snowpiercer lacks low-end power for much of the runtime, but this is a negligible loss considering how wonderfully the rest of the channel spread is.
Disc one houses a great commentary with film critics dissecting their views, all led by Scott Weinberg. The rest of the space is maxed for technical parameters.
On the second all-bonus disc, things begin with Transperceneige, an uber behind-the-scenes French documentary running an hour. Beginning with the source material and moving into the film’s construction under the guidance of filmmaker Jesus Castro-Ortega.
The Birth of Snowpiercer is 15-minutes and more traditional in the press kit mold while still holding enough production info to remain interesting. Less interesting is the directly titled The Characters, which borrows interview footage from the previous bonus and dissects each main player. An animated prologue follows and lasts four minutes.
Chris Evans and Tilda Swinton sit down for a short conversation about their parts in separate interviews, combined into one feature for five total minutes. The Train Brought to Life captures a unique event which brought people aboard a simulated set of the train, eventually leading into a screening/interview, followed by a concept gallery.
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Click on the images below for full resolution screen captures taken directly from the Blu-ray. Images have not been altered in any way during the process.