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Blu-ray Disc Released: 10/21/2014
All Ratings out of
Review by Mike Long, Posted on 10/21/2014
Maybe it's because a revival of the series is on the horizon, but I keep seeing things which remind me ofMad Max. First, there was Rats Night of Terror, an Italian film which felt as if it took place in an off-shoot of Mad Max's world. Then came The Rover, an Australian film which was an over-the-top love letter to Mad Max. Is there something going on in the world which makes us want to re-visit an world on the brink of madness? Or is this new interest an actual reflection of our world today? No matter the case, the Mad Max homages continue to rise up with the latest being Snowpiercer, a film which could easily be described as "Mad Max on a train".
Snowpiercer takes place in a world where scientists attempted to combat global warming by cooling the atmosphere. This experiment backfired, sending Earth into a deep freeze. The story is set 17 years after this event where we find that all of the known members of humanity living aboard a giant train which makes a non-stop journey around the globe. The train is divided into social classes, with the rich living in the front of the training amongst abundance, while the poor reside in the tail section in squalor. Curtis (Chris Evans) has lived half of his life in the back of the train and he's ready for a change. With the aid of Edgar (Jamie Bell) and under the tutelage of Gilliam (John Hurt), Curtis leads a revolt. The rear-dwellers overpower the guards and begin to make their way to the front of the train. Curtis then enlists Namgoong Minsoo (Kang-ho Song) and his daughter, Yona (Ah-sung Ko) to help unlock the doors. Curtis believes that if he can take over the engine, then those who live in the rear can rule the train. However, the train carries many dark secrets and Curtis will soon learn that this cramped world is far bigger than he ever imagined.
Korean Director Joon-ho Bong burst unto the international scene with his creature feature The Host. The movie received rave reviews, but when I finally say it, I was disappointed. It contained some good ideas and nice special effects, but the story wandered. Similarly, Snowpiercer took the world by storm (pun intended) earlier this year, drawing attention away from the big, Hollywood summer blockbusters. I looked forward to seeing this movie which had everyone talking, and as my wife is an admirer of Chris Evans, I had a movie night planned.
Sadly, my reaction to Snowpiercer is nearly identical to that of The Host -- it's got some good parts, but the whole is a let-down. Based on a French comic book which was published in the 80s, Snowpiercer first relies on the audience buying into the premise that the Earth has frozen and everyone now lives on a train. This is such an oddly unique idea that it borders on ludicrous. A train? We're eventually given a vague explanation of how the train came to be and how it uses the exterior snow, but I was never on-board (again, pun intended) with this concept.
Beyond that, we are presented with yet another science-fiction movie which is all about class and class warfare. How many times have we seen this? As Curtis and his followers begin their journey through the train, they learn more about they have been mis-treated and get an indoctrination into how the other half lives. Their trek through the various cars is clearly meant to represent a deeper ascension -- Into knowledge? Out of hell? This is a definite visual story about their journey into light, as the rear of the train is dark and everything is grey, while the upper cars are bright and full of color. But, this trip feels very episodic and we just want Curtis to get to the front as fast as possible. The movement from one car to the next reminded me of the levels in a video game, but one where watching it isn't very exciting.
With its underpinnings of class structure, totalitarianism, and questions about science, Snowpiercer wants to presents us with a heady brew. This isn't unusual, as many science-fiction films use their stories to represent real-world issues and presents themselves as being intelligent. However, Joon-ho Bong has a difficult balancing them with the violence and gross goings-on aboard the train. The action scenes are very well done (the fight choreography is brilliant), but the movie will also slow down to make a point, something which throws off the pacing. (See the arm-freezing scene.) All of this culminates in an ending which leaves more questions than answers. Snowpiercer is a beautifully made film and the production design of the train is fantastic. But, it's also a movie which I found to be lifeless and boring at times. Trust me, you're better off flying.
Snowpiercer must have had a big black Jello budget on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Radius TWC and Anchor Bay Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 27 Mbps. The image is very sharp and clear, showing no overt grain and no defects from the source material. I was very impressed with this transfer, as the snowy exterior shots don't show any notable grain, while the interior shots are never overly dark (which they easily could have been). Once the film reaches the middle of the train, the colors come to life and they look fantastic. The image is never soft and the depth is good. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 4.5 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. This is a nice mix, as the speakers are constantly delivering the various sounds from the enclosed train. The stereo effects alert us to actions off-screen, while the rear channels deliver distinct sounds. The subwoofer booms with the trains sounds and explosions.
The Snowpiercer Blu-ray Disc contains several extras. Disc One offers an AUDIO COMMENTARY entitled "Critics' Commentary", as it features writers from Geek Nation, MSN Movies, Austin Chronicle, Hitfix.com, Deadline, and Movies.com. The remainder of the extras are found on Disc Two. "Transperceneige: From the Blank Page to the Black Screen - A Documentary by Jesus Castro-Ortega" (55 minutes) follows the story from the comic book to the movie. It features interviews with comic creator Jean-Marc Rochette and profile co-creator Jacques Lob. We then hear from Director Bong Joon Ho. From there, we get an overview of the film's production and promotion, which is always tied back into the comic. "The Birth of Snowpiercer" (15 minutes) is a fairly standard making of (although a lot of it's in Korean), which offers interviews with the creative team, on-set footage, and a look at the creation of the train on a stage. "The Characters" (13 minutes) seems to be a continuation of the previous featurette, but this one profiles the primary characters and actors, including interviews. "Animated Prologue" (5 minutes) is a CG-animated piece which is very colorful and was apparently meant to be the film's opening. "Chris Evans & Tilda Swinton on Snowpiercer" (5 minutes) has the two actors commenting on the film and their experiences. "The Train Brought to Life: Behind the Scenes of a Special Screening" (8 minutes) chronicles a special train event put on by Alamo Drafthouse. The extras are rounded out by two "Concept Art Galleries" -- "Train Concepts" and "Rochette Paintings".
Review Copyright 2014 by Mike Long