Originally released in 2013, Bong Joon-ho’s Snowpiercer is receiving its first UK Blu-ray release, just in time as the Netflix series also kicks off on 25th May! This highly inventive thriller is based on the French graphic novel from the early 1980s ‘Le Transperceneige‘ by Jacques Lob, Benjamin Legrand and Jean-Marc Rochette but Bong discovered it in the mid 2000s and couldn’t resist bringing the dystopian story to the big screen, and co-wrote the screenplay alongside Kelly Masterson.
Set in 2031, which is worryingly only 11 years away now, we’re introduced to a planet that’s been frozen from pole-to-pole and all life is extinct, except (you knew that was coming) the final survivors, who live aboard the Snowpiercer, an armoured train that’s been circling the Earth for the past 17 years. Also know as an ‘Ark’, the train isn’t just a place where everyone lives in harmony, it’s contains a structure of living, not far from the levels of society that exist today.
So while on-board the carriages represent different economics and class systems, obviously especially the latter, the ‘tail end’ of the train get the worst of everything and are more or less left to rot, with minimal resources and totalitarian ruling from those in the upper carriages. But, there’s a revolution building, and it’s led by Curtis (Chris Evans), whose been formulating a plans and gathering an army (of sorts) to fight back, and aim to take the train from whose who keep them living in squalor.
Firstly, Snowpiercer blew me away, it’s a breathless, intense, action-packed film that not only features an outstanding cast, including Evans on absolute top form, that includes the likes of John Hurt, Song Kang Ho, Tilda Swinton, Ko Asung, Octavia Spencer, Jamie Bell, Ewen Bremner, Clark Middleton and Ed Harris. Bizarrely though, it’s also timely in this era of lock-down and society-re-evaluation. You’ll be part of a deep delve into social commentary but the fact this was written in the early 80s, with a graphic novel that had almost disappeared completely, and still reflects the world we’re living in (not disregarding the deathly, sub-zero temperatures of course), is quite concerning in some elements.
Snowpiercer is not just impressive in its themes, cinematography (from Hong Kyung Pyo) and stylistics, it’s also particularly impressive of how quickly the tension rises and sets itself into you. Considering you work out ‘who is who’ quite quickly, it’s an interesting balance of good and evil from the off, and you know which side you’re on. After that initial intensity builds, and the ‘tail end’ of the train and begin to win their way through the carriages, they all quickly learn so much about the world they haven’t seen until this point. It’s almost like a Wes Anderson horror-fever-dream in its aesthetics, with a much darker heart, but equally compelling and character-led.
While there are a few slower respites, let’s face it we all need a breather, it still holds you in and doesn’t want you to let go. Bong’s direction means we care about Chris Evans‘ Curtis quickly, you can see he’s in it for the right reasons and someone who can lead these people, maybe all of us, out of the literal dark and into the light. He’s also helped by an outstanding ensemble around him, with everyone on form. As briefly mentioned early, the only disconcerting thing is how reflective it feels of the world right now, both before the pandemic and during it. While Snowpiercer was ahead of its time as a film, the narrative was even further and it all comes together in this truly epic movie that never lets you escape.
The extras are particularly enlightening, especially watching co-creator Jean-Marc Rochette on a media journey with Bong that reignites his entire career but, just as importantly, his artistic light within. This 54 minute documentary “Transperceneige, From the Blank Page to the Black Screen” by Jésus Castro, really gives you a great insight into the process of the film and the source material. While it drifts off and repeats a little too much of Rochette’s surprise at the success, it’s still a insightful doc which gives you a feel of what it meant to him, and what it means now.
Snowpiercer is on Blu-ray™ and DVD 25 May 2020 from Lionsgate UK – Order now: https://amzn.to/3czybsB
There’s also a 10-part Netflix series streaming from 25th May, we’ll all be intrigued to see what they’ve done, even if it does look a little more shiny…