Sunday, July 6, 2014

"Snowpiercer" review - Take the Ride

No, those aren't the Avengers standing with Chris Evans.
"You know what i hate about myself the most? That I know what people taste like... and that babies taste the best."

Powerful words. And they carry even more weight when spoken by the protagonist of the story. In this case, we are referring to Curtis Everett (portrayed by Chris "Captain America" Evans) in the futuristic sci fi thriller "Snowpiercer."

The story is simple, if a little far-fetched (well, we are talking about science fiction). In the not-too-distant future (as in, right about now), mankind attempts to reverse the effects of global warming. The plan goes wrong. So wrong, in fact, that Earth is turned into an uninhabitable frozen wasteland. The only humans who survive are riding Snowpiercer, a train powered by a perpetual motion machine that travels the globe.

The fortunate survivors live in the front of the train. They dine on sushi, have access to hot spas and nightclubs, pass the time knitting in lavish gardens and so on.

The less-fortunate survivors live in the rear of the train. They dine on black protein blocks made from ... well, you don't want to know. ... (no, not other humans) ... while living amid squalor under the supervision of heavily armed guards who like their jobs far too much, if you know what we mean.

The time has come for another attempt at revolution, led by a reluctant Everett. Among others, he is aided by his right-hand man, Edgar (Jamie Bell), his mentor Gilliam (John Hurt, looking even more disheveled than during his turn as The War Doctor on "Dr. Who"), Tanya (Octavia Spencer), whose young son has been taken away by soldiers, and a drug-addicted Namgoong Minsu (Song Kang-ho) who has the technical expertise to assist the rebels against the superior military forces that control the train.

Mention of Song Kanh-ho is a good opportunity to note that the film is a Korean-American production, based on a French graphic novel series, "Le Transpercneige." It is directed by Bong Joon-ho ("Mother," "The Host"), who co-wrote the script with Kelly Masterson.

The rebels are up against a stellar cast in their own right, including Mason (Tilda Swinton), and Wilford (Ed Harris), as well as memorable contributions from Teacher (Allison Pill) and Egg-head (Tomas Lemarquis).

Think of the bleakness of "Blade Runner." Think of the imagination of Terry Gilliam (we could not help but wonder if that is where the character played by Hurt gets his name). Subtract the overblown CGI of most modern Hollywood science fiction.

Also think of violence. Lots of people die. Although not overly graphic, many are victims of a key hand-to-hand battle between rebels and soldiers armed with hatchets and other instruments of ugly carnage. Again, not overly graphic but perhaps disturbing to sensitive types.

Also slightly disturbing is the movie's history. Harvey Weinstein, whose The Weinstein Company owns the North American rights to the film, insisted some major changes be made, including cutting 20 minutes of footage while adding opening and closing monologues. Bong refused, so Weinstein arranged for a limited release. Positive reviews, however, have given the film a major boost leading to a slightly wider release.

It marks both a win for Bong and for fans of superior science fiction.

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