I watched this film a long time ago. It was late at night, and I admit I had consumed some wine. I remember thinking it looked good, and enjoying the big-name cast. Then last week, I read a review of the film on the blog of the lovely Abi. https://abbiosbiston.com/2019/08/23/movie-review-snowpiercer-2013/
That jogged my memory, and I decided to watch it again, courtesy of Netflix.
The general idea is that scientists on Earth decide to stop global warming. They do this by adding a newly-discovered chemical to the atmosphere, designed to reduce the temperature considerably. Of course, it doesn’t go as planned, instigating a worldwide ice age that kills off most of the life on the planet. The last remaining humans are surviving aboard a very long train, the Snowpiercer of the title.
The train is designed and owned by the man known simply as ‘Wilford’. He has invented a self-perpetuating engine, and the train runs a circular route around the world, taking one year to complete each circuit on a specially-built track. Inside the train, social structure is tightly maintained, with a poor underclass right at the back, and the wealthy and influential closer to the front. Those at the back are forbidden from moving forward, policed by a private army that controls them rigidly. They are fed a ‘protein jelly’, and kept in relative darkness, regularly counted and ordered around.
Their treatment causes stirrings of rebellion of course, and they look to two leaders to organise a revolt. One is the elderly sage, Gilliam. (John Hurt) A wise spiritual leader, he is assisted by the tough warrior, Curtis. (Chris Evans) The people at the back of the train are a mix of types and races. Korean, Chinese, Japanese, Black, alongside the white people. Those nearer the front, the soldiers, and the privileged few, are mostly white of course.
So we have a post-apocalyptic thriller, with overtones of a concentration camp film, and also making some statements about racism, equality, and the desperation of mankind in a near-impossible situation. “Seen it all before!”, I hear you cry. I know. But this time, it’s on a train!
And the train is good. Despite a stellar cast, including those already mentioned but adding an almost-unrecognisable Tilda Swinton, and the reliable Ed Harris, the train is the star. It feels at all times as if they are on a real train. The different sections, getting ever grander closer to the front, are very well imagined, and the exterior shots of the train in the snow and ice covered landscape are beautifully rendered by CGI. So, is it a good film?
Not really. That will teach me not to watch a film very late at night with red wine on board my system. Despite that great cast, some well executed set pieces, and the marvellous train, it often feels just plain silly. And it is ultimately pointless too. There are much better post-apocalyptic/dystopian dramas out there. This one looks a lot better than it actually is.
Unless you like trains, of course…