Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Snowpiercer - French Blu Ray review

It feels odd to be reviewing a film from a French blu ray when it hasn't even been released in cinemas in the UK yet but the journey that Snowpiercer is taking to the big screen over here has been filled with more problems and delays that the trams in Edinburgh city centre. Ironically that is where the film has just had its UK premiere at the Film Festival.

Last year word started to surface that Harvey Scissorhands wanted to edit the film, cutting twenty minutes out of it and adding in a voiceover at the beginning to help audiences understand what was going on. Anyone reminded of Blade Runner here?

This would have been the cut for UK and US audiences but thankfully the original "director's cut" had already been released and proven very successful in France.

Earlier this year film critic Anne Bilson mentioned on Twitter that the film would be available on region free blu ray in April with the only minor niggle being that, although it was in English, it only had French subtitles therefore it made one scene where the dialogue is in Korean difficult to follow.

Undaunted by this and desperate to see the director's original version, I ordered it from Amazon.Fr in January and proceeded to forget about it until the beautiful box set arrived at work randomly one afternoon in April.

Finally it was time to board the Snowpiercer.

Set in a dystopian future where a failed attempt to reverse global warming has left the Earth in a state of perpetual winter, the only human life that remains circumnavigates the globe in a special train called the Snowpiercer.

The train is split up into classes with the rich and powerful living in comfort at the front with all the poor people crammed into the rear of the train.

Unhappy with existing in squalid conditions, surviving on nothing but gelatinous food bars that might be from the makers of Soylent Green, and spurned on by cryptic messages, Chris Evans's Curtis wants to find out if life really is greener on the other side.

So Evans, like Gene Hackman's Reverend Scott in The Poseidon Adventure, sets out to lead a rag tag bunch (including Jamie Bell, John Hurt, Octavia Spencer) on a Titanic struggle up through the vessel following the icy track road to see Wilford, the wonderful Wilford of Oz.

Everyone is seeking something different (redemption, power, drugs, their children) and the hope is that Wilford can provide that for them, even if they have to use force to get it.

If Wilford is the mysterious man behind the curtain, then Tilda Swinton's Mason is undoubtably The Wicked Witch of the West (Coast Line).

With her protruding teeth, hideous wardrobe and glasses as thick as her Yorkshire accent she is a comically grotesque character who, when berating the dirty, grim soaked masses to remember their place, feels like Thatcher and the miners during the 80s.

At one point she makes a speech about how life must be kept in a delicate balance and this ties into the situation on the train which is on an eternal loop of the earth, a continuous cycle, with the natural order of the classes and the circle of life.

Elysium tackled a similar subject last year but this has much more in common in terms of aesthetics and feel with the work of Terry Gilliam such as Brazil and Twelve Monkeys, and one of the characters is even called Gilliam.

Not only is this graphic novel adaptation at heart fantastical science fiction and social commentary but it plays out like a video game with each new compartment they make it to representing a higher level and a different challenge, sometimes physical, mental or emotional. Different characters are required to progress and once complete the next compartment is actually "unlocked" by the train's security designer who controls the doors.

The struggle to reach the front takes it toll on the group but it is Curtis who is constantly Under Siege to try and gain control of the train and with it comes one of Chris Evans's finest performances, in particular delivering a haunting monologue about what life of the train is really like.

Hopefully Snowpiercer won't face too many more delays before it gains a proper cinema release as this is first class entertainment that remains on track to be one of my favourite films of the year.

5 stars

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