Twitter Plot Summary: After an experiment turns the world to ice, the only survivors live aboard the Snowpiercer, a big train. Toot toot.
Five Point Summary:
1. This is a silly premise… oh well, might as well go with it!
2. Tilda Swinton – typically excellent.
3. Protein bars are… well, as icky as you might imagine.
4. What’s with the men dressed in balaclavas and wielding sharp weapons? Do they have a store of them on board?
5. Who puts the ravers at the front of the train?
The wonderful world of science fiction frequently requires a suspension of disbelief from its audience, as it recounts real world, modern day concerns projected into the future. Such as it is with Snowpiercer, a film by Joon-Ho Bong and adapted from the French graphic novel Le Transperceneige. Snowpiercer takes place entirely on a train that holds the last remnants of humanity within its walls. After an attempt at combating global warming went horribly wrong, a wealthy train guru allowed survivors to board his train, one that can traverse the entire world and never stop. One rotation of the global track takes one calendar year, so for anyone unclear as to this being in bonkers science fiction territory – this is your first clue.
On board are a number of actors who you will recognise – Chris Evans, John Hurt, Jamie Bell – and some like Tilda Swinton who appears to be doing her best to take on any job that requires a heavy amount of makeup. Given that this is a relatively unknown director it’s remarkable how many big names he has been able to hire. Naturally, they all perform admirably and the acting ability on show goes a long way to dispelling any concerns over the ludicrous story.
The social commentary may be a little heavy handed, but then that’s pretty much the point, in this situation it needs to be on the nose. The well-offs live at the front of the train in a state of luxury and decadence whilst the poor (those in economy or who managed to board without a ticket) are trapped at the back, forced to live in squalor and survive off jelly-like protein bars. What follows is an attempt by the disadvantaged to progress all the way to the front where they can take control and end the imbalance. And, one would expect, get something decent to eat for a change.
The violence is bloody yet poetic, and the comic book origins are clear to anybody who has either read the source material or has ever read a comic book or graphic novel in their lives. There’s something about directly adapting panels from a comic that seems glaringly obvious when you can spot the conventions of sequential art. The tone is one of imbalance, both with regards to the social structure established on the train and the awkward combination of violence and humour. Swinton’s Mason is the most notable for this, providing some comic relief between the violent moments, whilst a call to the back of the train to bring fire to the front line is ridiculous.
Ignoring some of the sillier elements of the story, such as the design of the train and the fact most of the characters seem nonplussed at losing limbs, death in general or the scary men wielding swords and axes, the human story beneath it all is full of drama and enjoyable moments. It may very well be a tonal and visual potpourri, but it’s still an immensely enjoyable tale where the underlying tale of survival and the human spirit is more important than the rather silly premise that surrounds it.