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The Snowman (2017)

Universal Studios Home Entertainment
Blu-ray Disc: 1/16/2018

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Review by Mike Long, Posted on 1/5/2017

Many genres have reached the point where it feels that nothing will ever seem original again. Strike that. All genres have reached the point where it feels that nothing will ever seem original again. Therefore, when something does come along which is just a slightest bit out of the ordinary, it can make a huge difference. Even if everything else has come from the factory, that singular oddity can make a movie seem worth checking out. In the case of The Snowman, it's the setting which is the differentiator.

Harry Hole (Michael Fassbender) is a police detective in Oslo, Norway. He is a solitary man, living alone and known to get drunk and pass out in public. Harry is also a brilliant investigator whose procedures are studied at the police academy. He is between cases when he meets Katrine Bratt (Rebecca Ferguson), a young detective who has been assigned to his division. Harry accompanies Katrine on a seemingly ordinary missing persons investigation. But, he soon realizes that the case of the tardy mother shares similarities with another case. He and Katrine look into this and discover a pattern of missing women, all of which share certain traits. Meanwhile, Katrine is very interested in Arve Stop (J.K. Simmons), a local businessman who is working to bring a large sporting event to Oslo.

No one loves a trend and the search for the next big thing more than Hollywood. When Swedish author Stieg Larsson's The Girl With trilogy made its way to the West and became a huge hit, Hollywood (sort of) scrambled to get those stories onto the big screen (despite the fact that Swedish versions had already been made) and in 2011, we got David Fincher's The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, a film which didn't exactly blow up the box office. But, that didn't stop producers from seeking something similar, and when Norwegian author Jo Nesbo began to get attention for his thrillers, the film adaptations were inevitable. Several movies have been released in Europe, with The Snowman being the first to have Hollywood's hands on it.

So, coming from the other side of the world, The Snowman is really unique, right? The answer to that is no. Harry Hole is a fairly stereotypical movie detective -- sullen, rumpled, heavy drinker, trouble with relationships, doesn't play by the rules but always gets his man -- it's all stuff that we've seen before. (In the film, Hole is pronounced "hole", but it's reported that it's pronounced "hoo-leh" in Norway. If you Google "Harry Hole", you get a wealth of unhelpful information.) The case presented in the film is also boiler-plate modern detective stuff, ala Se7en or The Silence of the Lambs, as we get cryptic clues and a killer who taunts the police. The unique thing here is that the killer's calling-card is a snowman left at the scene.

As for the movie itself, The Snowman leaves a lot to be desired. The film is well-shot by Let The Right One In helmer Tomas Alfredson, but things get very muddled in the storytelling. I have not read Nesbo's source novel, but I have to assume that it's pretty in-depth, as the film version attempts to work in several sub-plots. Some of these are red herrings and some are meant to give Harry more depth, but the way that they pop-up damages the flow of the film. The subplots also ruin the film's twist, as even the most casual viewer will notice that the movie just keeps showing us something which doesn't seem very important. Even with that, the ending feels rushed and doesn't fill in all of the gaps.

On the whole, The Snowman is a very average thriller at best. The thing which makes the movie worth watching is the setting. Oslo and the other regions shown in the film are offer a snow-covered landscape which is both beautiful and chilling. American films in this genre are often set in dirty cityscapes, but Oslo is so modern and clean that it truly does its job of juxtaposing the dark nature of the story. When Harry leaves the city, the series of picturesque bridges and waterways provide a great backdrop. Granted, The Snowman is not meant to be a travelogue, but showing us a truly different location helps the film to rise above general basic-cable fare.

The Snowman kind of implies that seeing a snowman in a country covered in snow is weird on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Universal Studios Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 1.78:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 28 Mbps. The image is very sharp and clear, showing no overt grain and no defects from the source materials. The fact that no issues are evident against the snowy white backdrop points to how clean this transfer is. The colors look good and the image is never overly dark or bright. The level of detail is notable and the picture delivers nice depth. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 5.2 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The surround sound and stereo effects which arise during the action sequences are impressive, as are those heard during the party scenes. The effects are nicely detailed and show off the audio mix. Subwoofer effects help to emphasize the opening and finale.

The Snowman Blu-ray Disc contains a handful of extra features. "Cast of Characters" (8 minutes) offers interviews with the actors who are allowed to discuss their roles and their takes on the other actors. "Creating Jo Nesbo's World" (4 minutes) offers comments from the author himself, who sparks a conversation on the fundamentals of the Harry Hole character and how he sees the world. "The Snowman Killer" (4 minutes) offers immediate spoilers, so don't watch this before seeing the film. The piece offers an analysis of the murderer, but doesn't really cover anything which isn't in the movie. "Norwegian Landscape" (7 minutes) takes us on-set and on-location to see the crew at work in Oslo and in the Norwegian countryside, as we hear the cast and creative team talk about the importance of the real locations. "Stunt Files: The Sinking Lake" (2 minutes) shows what it's like to shoot on a frozen lake.

Review Copyright 2018 by Mike Long