"Snowpiercer" feels like an achievement and a milestone in summer blockbuster movies. This foreign film isn't what we might consider a summer blockbuster, but it feels like the same type of material that would fit with one. It's going toe to toe with the movies that come out during this season. While it's not making the kind of money that "Transformers" is, it's getting a more buzz and plenty of interest. Sure, this movie was already a hit that was waiting for a U.S. Release, but I still find this movie’s success and timing to be fascinating.
Warning: This post contains spoilers. IF you haven't seen "Snowpiercer", turn back now.
In fact, What's really interesting is the combination of the traditional versus video-on-demand viewership of this movie. This movie has been roughly making the same amount of money from video-on-demand as it is in theater sales. This could be the marker of a new era in movie distribution. It is not a new idea, we seen this before. However, this may be the example of a movie that had enough mass appeal and interest, yet was not available in most areas. I wasn't able to see "Boyhood" in my city, it wasn't here yet. I would have already rented. I'm still very much in favor of going to the theater to see the latest films, but sometimes it's just easier and simpler to watch at home.
Video-on-demand windows for some movies can also fix the business's DVD sales problem. Where studios once relied on DVD sales to boost the revenue from each movie, they have now lost a good amount of revenue as viewers adopted digital streaming and downloads. I'm still a fan of Blu-ray, but giving the option to rent or own a theatrically-released movie online presents interesting questions. I'm still spending less at $7 to rent "Snowpiercer", which is less then I would've I spent at the theater. When given the option to buy the movie out right for $15, I paused. I have to predict whether or not I'm going to like the movie to see it twice because it will essentially pay for itself. I understand it's a little more complicated than that, as there's a good likelihood "Snowpiercer" will be on cable and/or Netflix within the next six-months, but this is still fascinating to think about.
But enough about the movie business impacts of “Snowpiercer”, let's talk about the movie itself. I liked this movie. It's not perfect. I don't quite understand all this decisions that were made; but this feels original and new. I really enjoyed how the story was laid out for us and pieces. There isn't a lot of exposition, and we don't see anything outside the back of the train for the first third of the movie. Instead, they choose to build out the story one train car at a time.
Interestingly, as characters start to fall in battle, we don't always understand what the emotional weight of each situation is until later. I felt like I should be more affected by watching characters taken away or killed, but the emotional weight wasn't there until we were told more about their backstory. Then, some of that history was reversed as we found out even more about the history of this train. We start the movie as an outsider. We don't understand what life is like in the back of the train and we merely observe. As the movie progresses and our characters go further and further forward in the train, we move deeper into understanding their lives.
This movie took it's time to build out the story, only to turn everything on it's ear. All of Wilford's reveals from the front of the train change any notion of what happened before it. There so many ideas to explore from this movie. This is a fascinating exploration of what would be needed on a train for the some survival of the human race. From sushi cars to elementary classrooms to rave parties, it is a strange world. Of course, the use of children to replace parts in the train is a horrifying revelation.
In addition to incorporating some fantastic sci-fi ideas and visuals, "Snowpiercer" benefits from a great cast. Chris Evans gives us a great performance as Curtis. I'm not sure why his character refused to accept why he was a leader, but Evans did a great job in selling the material. Tilda Swinton was another acting standout. Additional actors round out the crazy assortment of characters, creating an interesting mix of backgrounds and motivations.
I did find the villains of “Snowpiercer” to be unbalanced. Ed Harris was a fine choice as the conductor of all the drama on our train. Tilda Swinton's character was interesting, and she played the part well. I thought we were going somewhere when she was willing to turn on Wilfred, I believed her turn. I wonder if she knew to wait for machine guns to be delivered in a basket of eggs. Those villains were well done, but somewhere in the middle of this movie, it became clear that one of the security officers was going to follow Curtis like a Terminator, refusing to stop. While the shootout on the circling train was unlike anything I had seen, I don’t know why the security officer had to continue on as he did. He survived that shootout only to fall in a close-quarters fight a few minutes later. It could have ended there. It should have ended there. Instead, he inexplicably wakes up to continue the chase. Who was this guy? Was he supposed to be important? Is this some sort of personal vendetta for killing Tilda Swinton’s character? In any case, he never were given a reason to keep him in the movie so long. By the end, we just didn’t need him.
I found the end of the story to be fascinating, and a bit troubling. In the end, the train is derailed. There only appear to be two survivors. We're led to believe that the global freeze is coming to an end, and life can survive. We even see the majestic polar bear, which is clearly symbolic of something. I'm sure this has a message about global warming, but I’m too busy thinking about the fate of the human race. We are left with a teenage girl and a five-year-old boy as the two final survivors of the human race. There's little shelter and no sustainable food. I'm a positive guy, but that doesn't look good for us as a species. Was that the reaction I was intended to have? I wonder if I missed the point.
Despite a few squabbles from me, “Snowpiercer" succeeds because it's so entertaining and surprising. I don't have to like every moment of the movie, we never do. The story is told in fascinating and inventive ways. It doesn't ease us into life on the train, feeling like it needs to over explain every moment. It lays out the tale, and lets us pick up the story over time. The U.S. Release of “Snowpiercer” came at a time of year when we often dismiss movies as formulaic, derivative, or too reliant on computer graphics. It turned out to be great timing for something unique.