While I take some time to build up a backlog of DMing 101 ideas, I wanted to discuss one of my other great loves, films! Plenty of people on the internet talk about films, more than enough, but there are a lot of films out there that don’t get the love that they deserve. For one reason or another they fade into obscurity, or do not gain the international releases that they should.
These, however, are the days of digital distribution and regional blu-rays on Amazon, so let us not neglect fantastic films when they are made, just because copyright law and regionality are trying to kill the art form! So while I come up with a decent title for this new film awareness series, let me get it started with a new favourite of mine, Snowpiercer!
Based on the French graphic novel Le Transpierceniege, the world of Snowpiercer is a future earth where the cure for global warming turned out to be more devastating than the process itself, as the world has been frozen for 18 years. Only a ceaseless international railway sustains the last remnants of humanity, and life aboard the train is unfair beyond belief. A rebellion is brewing amidst the slum tail-section occupants, against the socially affluent head-section populous.
The story is a journey of revelation, as each car brings more and more terrible discoveries about the great train, leading to one final terrible twist eluded to at the very beginning. The film builds a rich and intricate world, drugs, new technologies, the religion surrounding the engine and it’s divine engineer Wilford, and the year long journey that prevents the last few thousand human beings from freezing to death.
Beyond the windows, a frozen vista demonstrates the realm of death that extinguished all other life, including that of the seven previous escapees, now a 15 year old tableau to scare children into staying inside.
The cast of Snowpiercer should really say it all. Chris Evans, already the face Captain America; Kang-ho Song, perhaps most famous for Sympathy for Mr Vengeance, but also a particular favourite from The Good, The Bad, and The Weird; Tilda Swinton, perhaps the best actress working today; and John Hurt! John Hurt, and no official British release, disgusting.
I have encouraged as many friends as possible to watch this film. The exact description I gave was that it is “Bioshock, meets Hunger Games, wrapped in a train.” That concept alone raises eyebrows, but it does not begin to cover the rich complexities woven into two hours of rich narrative. Action with purpose, a terrifying message against the theme of societal injustice, and I love every moment.
Right at the very beginning of the film (so no spoilers per se) a man has his arm thrust through a purpose-built hole in the train’s side, to be frozen enough to destroy with a hammer. This punishment he earns by throwing a shoe at a front-section passenger, and also leads to a five minute speech about “knowing ones’ place.” This sets a chilling (harr de harr harr) tone for the rest of the film, especially as the one armed man becomes an ever-present berserker in the middle of the pivotal fight scene in the butchers car.
I love the way many day-to-day things are described as being extinct, such as chickens, bullets, cigarettes, and machine parts. It lends a sense of decay which is emphasized mostly in the rear of the train, but leaves the increasing decadence of the rest of the train seem so much more fragile, almost tragic. The people are physically decayed, either physically, or showing obvious mental cracks. Drug abuse is prolific, as is devout belief in the divinity of the engine. It all creates this enclosed reality where the end of all life has only been delayed, rather than prevented, while the snowy wastelands beyond become the salvation of a clean slate or a blank page.
If the film lacks anywhere it is in the development of it’s characters. Like many sci-fi and action films, character development ultimately boils down to interesting quirks, like the guy who draws really well, or the sagely multiple amputee played by Hurt, or the rebellious kid played by Jamie Bell. That’s not to say that character development is non-existent, quite the reverse, every character with more than a line or two of dialogue gets their chance to show personality, and all of the main characters have the chance to get some back-story together, but it’s hard to build any kind of empathy towards them with everything else going on.
One major element goes unexplained [SPOILERS FOR THIS PARAGRAPH] and that is that the character of Yona (Ah-Sung Ko) is demonstrated to be slightly capable of predicting the future. This is highlighted very briefly, then never used again. I would hope that the graphic novel goes into greater detail, because the film uses it as a throwaway detail that need not have even been used, as it never truly influences the story, and ultimately seems out of place. Ironic, considering everything else on the train is exactly where it is supposed to be. [SPOILERS END] You can open your eyes now.
However, the acting quality shines through at every available corner. So much is built into this film it can be forgiven a few cut corners here and there. It establishes a world with very little exposition, builds it smoothly with the narrative, and creates characters with a little more than one dimension to live therein. Most importantly the ending is satisfactory, although it doesn’t really leave much room for the sequel that the book got.
In spite of the fact that three major British talents starred in this film (John Hurt, Tilda Swinton, Jamie Bell) the UK has yet to see a cinematic release! Copies are available for purchase, but should Snowpiercer come to our screens I will be going to watch, in spite of having seen it three times already. Many of the visuals and several major scenes will be worth the watch, as will immersing yourself in the constant rattle of the titular train.
The film has seen international success since initial release in South Korea in 2013. 18 months later and we have hardly even heard of it. Nonetheless, I shall wave the flag so that you can find and enjoy what the rest of the world has already seen and forgotten. For now I leave you with this article that I particularly enjoyed by Den of Geek.
So, lovely readers, to you I ask: Now that you’ve seen what happens when I write about films, what should I call these articles? All suggestions welcome!
Most suggestions welcome…
Not the ones from Tim…