I was okay with The Host. A solid Korean monster movie, though I must say it was not deserving of the hype it received. Still, it was more interesting, more subtle than a lot of what was going on in the monster genre at the time and used its limited effects budget wisely.
Snowpiercer is director Bong Joon-Ho’s followup to The Host. It is based on a French graphic novel, and while I hate to be too hard on a guy who made a movie as decent as The Host, Snowpiercer may be the stupidest movie I’ve ever seen. And I have seen a lot of stupid movies in my day. For some inexplicable reason, critics love this flick. I’m here to provide a dissenting voice.
A common complaint about movies, and particularly science fiction movies, is that something is unbelievable. In the case of Snowpiercer , you can throw the concept of un-believability out the window (the window of a speeding train perhaps?) and substitute the concept of disbelief. There isn’t even an attempt to be realistic here. I suppose no one thought it important. I mean, when Roland Emmerich’s 2012 is, by comparison, a paragon of credibility, you know you’re in trouble.
There simply is no way imaginable that anything in this movie could be possible. From the basic notion of an accidental ice age to the physical impossibility of perpetual motion to the brain-damagingly stupid speech Chris Evans gives near the end where he laments not cutting off his own arm to help feed the starving people in the rear of the train, nothing has any semblance of reality to it. And every film, no matter how crazy, has to retain a shred of believability less the audience reject it outright. Without being able to believe in the film, everything that happens is simply sound and motion with no connection to the viewer. And with no connection, there is no impact. In order for a story to carry any power, the audience needs to be able to relate something, anything in the story to their own life. Other than some particularly nasty Friday night last trains home from NYC (full of drunken, barfing teenagers who drank too much on their big night out) there is nothing remotely applicable to anyone’s life in Snowpiercer.
Snowpiercer is a massive train built by an obsessed billionaire which circles the globe on a 435,000 mile track, crossing between continents at the Bearing Sea, I suppose. Why the eight hundred feet of snow that has fallen on the rest of the world doesn’t seems to cause any problems for the train is a mystery best left unsolved, though at one point we are treated to an idiotic sequence of the train punching through some ice floes which have spilled over onto the track. The ice floes are a mistake because the first question we ask is “why are there only three of them on four hundred fucking thousand miles of track?” Which leads directly to the uncomfortable question of track maintenance. 435,000 miles of track times ice age times 17 years and nothing has broken? Really?
The train is powered by a perpetual motion engine or some such bullshit and thus can go on indefinitely. Why this engine has to be harnessed to drive a train instead of, oh I don’t know, a goddamn turbine to provide enough electricity for every space heater in the Western hemisphere is another notion left unexplored. Assume that Mr. Wilford, the engineer played by Ed Harris, is insane. The filmmakers clearly are in thinking anyone’s going to swallow this fuckall, so he’s in good company.
The train is divided into one of the most repellently obvious, ham-handed class systems imaginable. In the tail of the train live the low-lifes, and up front live the rich and pampered. (A concept that’s been a worn-out cliche since Lang’s Metropolis.) This seems to be why the critics loved it. Apparently they enjoy being hit on the head with the obvious stick over and over and over and over and over.
The rebellion takes form in a number of silly fight sequences. None of it makes much sense. A character demonstrates psychic powers, only never to use them again. Tilda Swinton chews up the scenery in makeup and costume that makes one think you’ve slipped into a Monty Python sketch. A bald guy gives out New Year’s eggs. The losers from the tail learn that the protein blocks they are fed are actually made from insects, which I suppose is better than the cannibalism we all suspected. Seriously. What? The? Fuck?
There’s a ballistically moronic shootout which occurs when the train is rounding a sharp curve. An unnamed, seemingly indestructible bad guy in the back of the train shoots it out across the curve the train is taking with our hero near the front. Did I mention both of them are firing through bullet proof glass? On what planet is this considered cool, or even acceptable?
There’s a scene in a “classroom” near the front of the train where all the exposition is delivered in one of the greatest black-comedy fails of all time. Meant to be a sarcastic take on the Ivory-Soap/Christian purity of the American 1950’s, it is instead, a scene so obvious and inelegant in its “satire” that it makes you hang your head in shame on behalf of filmmakers everywhere.
Chris Evans, ably playing the lead rebel, is offered the chance to take over as head of the train. Instead, he helps the security guy blow the door open, crashing the train, and killing everyone on board except for two youngsters who escape and see, on a snow covered ridge, a polar bear, which I guess is supposed to make us feel hopeful about the future of humanity. Instead it makes us realize that all the fight and struggle which came before was utterly pointless. Which just makes us feel pissed off. Unless you’re a movie critic in which case you lavishly praise the emperor’s amazing new clothes.
Yes, folks, that’s what you just sat through two hours for. A fucking polar bear. Thus, a movie full of colossal stupidity finds a way to out-stupid itself.
Which I suppose is an achievement of sorts.
Maybe that’s what the critics love so much.