October 19, 2014

Blu-ray Review: Snowpiercer

Snowpiercer is an endlessly fascinating film that does something that many other big action type films forget to do, and that is be entertaining as well as intelligent. These things are not mutually exclusive. This is why we need to celebrate it when we find it. Snowpiercer is a big, explosive, crowd pleasing science fiction/action film, but it is also smart and has a lot to say. It is a movie that tries hard to not necessarily be believable, but simply be believed. That is all this movie needs to be. It is not a literally believable movie, but it is easy to be believed within its own creation. It is endlessly fascinating and allows for as much or as little to be read into it as you want.

So, Snowpiercer was co-written and directed by Bong Joon-ho, who also was behind the The Host (the South Korean monster movie, not that awful Stephanie Meyers abomination), as well as Mother. It is based on the French graphic novel Le Transperceneige and tells the tale of a post-apocalyptic world where the remainder of humanity is trapped on a train that circumnavigates the Earth.

This movie crafts an entire world within the confines of a train, a closed ecosystem on which a new society has formed. A class system has emerged, with the poor, downtrodden in the rear cars and the well to do upper class in the front cars. All of this leads up to the engine and it's inventor, Wilford. The engine and it's inventor have been given a deity like status, revered with religious-like fervor by those in the upper echelon. It is not quite the same in the rear cars, where the people live on a ration of protein bars (things that look like bricks of jello), are in cramped quarters and have no opportunity to better their lot.

One of those in the back, Curtis (Chris Evans), has an idea. He has a plan to take the engine, to move the entire length of the train and take control for his people. After seventeen year in the back, it is time to improve their lot in life, to stop being pushed around and tormented for the seeming entertainment of the well to do. So, no sooner are the pieces put in place, the plan is executed and the journey through the train begins.

I think I should probably back up a little bit. The world of Snowpiercer is set up during the opening credits. Global warming has become a serious issue and a chemical is developed in an effort to counteract its effects. It is sprayed in the atmosphere and an unintended result happens, a new ice age is started and everything freezes. Well, everything except those lucky enough to have gotten on board the Snowpiercer, now the remnants of humanity live on this train that is endlessly moving to keep from freezing.

It may sound like a simple thing, move from the back of the train to the front. However, this is not that simple, not by a long shot. This movie slowly reveals its world in clever and interesting ways, from the order of the cars, to the informational bits supplied at key points, not to mention revelations about characters we have been following. It may be a straight line from the back of the train to the front, but there is no predicting the turns the tale takes along the way.

Snowpiercer sets up a dystopian post-apocalyptic city on rails. Class means all to those who have it. A new religion has formed with the train engine as its divine head. The further along we get, the more that is revealed about the people on this train and the society that has developed. It is a tale of the haves and the have nots told in a refreshing way that both invites innovation as well as playing up tropes we all know well. It is a fascinating, intelligent film that delivers ideas laced with beauty and carnage.

This is the sort of movie that rewards viewers with discovery, it is one you do not want to know all the secrets going in. It reveals itself over the course of its two hours, its gritty underbelly, often hidden behind beauty, aggression that can barely contain itself.

The cast is more than up to the task. Chris Evans leads the way with an understated charisma, showing he is more than Captain America. His character is filled with revelations, but you have to look for and wait for them, as he is more often in a constant state of reaction to what is happening around him. Tilda Swinton is almost unrecognizable as the survive at all costs evil Mason. You then have a solid cast filled with the likes of John Hurt, Ed Harris, Octavia Spencer, Jamie Bell, Alison Pill, and Song Kang-ho.

Anyone who likes movies loves when one comes along that just captures the imagination. We always watch for films that try things a little different, employ the familiar and make them feel new and fresh again. Snowpiercer is one of those movies that does it all, it gives us character, action, and ideas in equal measure. This is just a fantastic film that delivers, an entertaining movie that delivers more than mere entertainment.

The Blu-ray release is presented in a ratio 1.78:1 and looks quite good. You may not think so right away, but the movie covers a lot of ground and this includes a variety of different looks. It makes it a bit hard to judge as we go through so many different looking locations with a variety of color palettes and lighting schemes. It is a great looking disk for a great movie.

So far as the audio goes, it more than holds its own. It is a  DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 lossless soundtrack and it does a great job of placing you on this train and in a variety of situations. I felt like I was there on the train. There is a nice sense of direction and space with the use of the various channels and such. It sounds great.

On the extras front, the first one is a commentary by critic Scott Weinberg, one of my favorite film writers. He has an obvious love for this film and it is great and refreshing to listen to someone in the business playing something up rather than sitting around complaining. He even brings in some guests to discuss various aspects of the film, this includes James Rocchi, William Goss, Drew Mcweeny, Jennifer Yamato, and Peter S. Hall. It is a great track that is well worth the time.

There is an entire second disk filled with extras included in the set as well.
  • Transperceneige: From the Blank Page to the Black Screen. This is a documentary that tracks the film from the graphic novel to the screen. We get raw set footage, interviews with cast and crew, and more.
  • The Birth of Snowpiercer. This piece takes a look at art direction, set design, and the plot lines of the film.
  • The Characters. This featurette takes a look at the primary characters we see throughout the film.
  • Animated Prologue. This bit shows some of the events only mentioned in the movie.
  • Chris Evans and Tilda Swinton on Snowpiercer. These actors speak about the films themes, their roles, and other aspects of the production.
  • The Train Brought to Life: Behind the Scenes of a Special Screening. This takes a look at the promotional tour in Texas that ended with an outdoor screening at the Alamo Drafthouse.
  • Concept Art Galleries.
I am not sure what else I can say about this movie. Simply put, this is fantastic. It does something involving, action packed and interesting. It involves the audience and is very entertaining.

Highly Recommended.

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