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Snowpiercer (Blu-ray Review)

snowpiercer whysoblu poster 3-001I enjoy science fiction stories quite a bit.  Whether it ranges from plausible ideas regarding the future of our current society or to things a bit more abstract, I love seeing creativity on display.  This especially goes for sci-fi films that allow a large number of filmmakers, actors, production designers, etc., to develop worlds, stories, characters, and concepts, in an effort to put something truly audacious into the theater for people to enjoy.  Sometimes that works out quite well, sometimes it is okay, and other times it can be forgettable.  Snowpiercer is the kind of film that sits near the top of the pile.  It combines skilled filmmaking, big ideas, and some fine, warp-minded writing to create a feature fully prepared to be entertaining, action-packed, strange, darkly humorous, and plenty of other things that make it all rather brilliant.

Film: 

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Director Bong Joon-Ho is a filmmaker I have been enjoying for quite a while now.  From the crime thriller Memories of Murder, to his satirical monster movie, The Host, and into his previous feature, the unconventional mystery/thriller, Mother, this is a filmmaker who has consistently built a grimy mood around his films, but has avoided being stuck in one particular genre.  Now he moves from Korean-focused features and into a much broader realm, with an international cast of actors, for this bigger-budgeted sci-fi tale about society wrapped up in one long train, known as the “Rattling Ark.”  The concept is very much ‘out there’, but Snowpiercer is less concerned with making literal sense and fits more in line with 70s sci-fi; where the cast, production, and plotting do enough work to have one look past a great handle on real life logic and more on what the viewer is watching in front of them, let alone the allegories bubbling just under the surface.

The film features Chris Evans as Curtis, one of the many passengers on a train that travels across the world and never stops.  With the world having ended via some kind of “Cat’s Cradle” Ice-Nine situation, which has left earth frozen all over, the only remaining members of the human race are aboard this train, which is divided into sections.  The upper-class live privileged lives in the cars towards the frontend of the train, while the lower-class citizens live much drearier lives in the tail section.  With awful memories of what it is to live this life, Curtis and a few others, including a much older passenger, Gilliam (John Hurt), have devised a plan to defy the system by taking control of the train at its head; they’ll just have to move up car by car in order to see this plan through.

There are only a number of directors that I could think of offhand that would be able to not only make this film work as far as its story goes, but really sell the look and feel of this world that we see, as more and more of the train society is revealed.  What makes Bong Joon-Ho such an ideal choice for director and co-writer, is that the film is able to keep a lot of the weirdness intact, which tends to come from non-American filmmaking sensibilities.  Adapted from a French graphic novel, Snowpiercer certainly follows a path that makes the story easy enough to comprehend, but it has many twisted ideas as far as how to deliver on a lot of them, let only find ways to convey its commentary on society, while still working as a tense action movie.

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Oh yeah, by the way, this is a crazy action movie.  It has all the right work done to establish a world, characters, and more, but even while fitting into the realm of science fiction, Bong Joon-Ho has put together a pretty incredible action movie, focused on the motivation of one man to overthrow the elitist class system at play.  Setup, plot, and characters aside, Snowpiercer features some pretty fantastic action set-pieces, which plays on the confined corridors of train cars, the approach to lighting these train cars, a mix of deadly and improvised weaponry, and the wonderful talents of many choreographers and cinematographer Hong Kyung-pyo.  Adding the consistently solid score by Marco Beltrami only enhances the technical accomplishment that is on display, though the film is not limited to being just a very good-looking one, as the actors are certainly very game as well.

Chris Evans is absolutely terrific here.  His Curtis may be buried in angst and a desire to shed the blood of those forcing him and others to live in such squalor, but Evans brings a level of spark to a role that has him work incredibly well in this fairly standard conception of an action hero, who is given some twisted backstory reveals, as the film carries on.  Song Kang-ho, a truly fantastic actor from Korea, adds great energy as well, along with his co-star from The Host, Go Ah-sung.  The two play father and daughter, with the father seemingly trading his knowledge of a certain aspect regarding the train’s security systems, in exchange for drugs.  Jamie Bell, Octavia Spencer, and Ewen Bremner get to mix it up as fellow lower-class passengers as well, while Tilda Swinton emerges as a true show stealer, Mason, the Minister that dictates the rules of the road…or tracks, I guess.  While the train is controlled by a figure known as Wilford, Mason tries to enforce order in person and Swinton puts all she can into it, by providing a wonderfully weird, villainous performance.  I could go on in describing this cast of characters, but I want to stop, only because Alison Pill also pops up as a teacher that has to be seen to be believed.

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Snowpiercer is a hell of a ride.  The film is this big, bold piece of science fiction brought to life by a talented director and a cast and crew who were all doing their best to make a film like this work.  They succeeded to the point of making me question what is in this film that I was not fond of and I could not think of anything.  Between the excitement of the action on display and the nature of the metaphors at work, this is a film that works on many levels and one that I can easily see myself appreciating even more on repeated viewings.  Many sci-fi films come and go, Snowpiercer feels like one I will not soon forget.

Video:

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Encoding: MPEG-4 AVC

Resolution: 1080p

Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1

Clarity/Detail: While Snowpiercer has an awful lot of griminess in its early scenes, the detail on display is very solid.  You can clearly see so much of the production design in the early portions of the film and enjoy how that shifts and changes as the film moves towards the front of the train.  Throughout the film though, you can really get a lot out of the level of detail, which compliments the cinematography and effort put into showing off the film’s visuals.

Depth: There is a lot to take away in this department, mainly because establishing the geography of the train is so important and getting a view down these corridors is a way to keep the film so visually dynamic, given how each of these corridors are quite different from one another.  So yes, lots of good dimension here.

Black Levels: Black levels are inky and deep, fitting of the film’s stark atmosphere, even as it brightens up overtime.

Color Reproduction: The color palette is definitely subdued in its early stages and blows up later on, but the colors do pop in their brighter moments, while still playing well when it is mainly just different shades of grey.

Flesh Tones: Flesh tones are consistent.  Again, the subdued color early on applies a certain type of clarity, but the facial details are quite strong in closeups.

Noise/Artifacts: Nothing found.

 

Audio:

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Audio Format(s): English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio

Subtitles: English, Spanish

Dynamics: Just like this story, the train is constantly moving, and you hear that in full effect, along with all the other audio elements, making for a really nicely balanced track, fitting for a film that has so much going on.

Low Frequency Extension:  The LFE channel gets a great work out here, as the score and big action sequences lead to some great moments for the subwoofer to do its job.

Surround Sound Presentation:  The battle scenes, the score, the dialogue, the sound effects, and the ambient sounds all provide plenty of reasons why the surround aspect of this Blu-ray is so strong.  A great job was done to really balance out this lossless track, which most definitely makes for a great listening experience.

Dialogue Reproduction: While slightly overwhelmed in some instances, the dialogue is mostly loud and clear throughout.

 

Extras:

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I should start by pointing out the nifty slipcover over the Blu-ray case, which opens up to reveal a cool piece of artwork.  As far as the actual special features go, while the featurettes amount to little more than standard EPK stuff, they are fun enough.  Fortunately, the commentary track makes it all worthwhile.

Features Include:

  • Feature Film Critics’ Commentary Hosted by Scott Weinberg – While a second track with director Bong Joon-ho would have been great too, this insightful commentary track, which also features James Rocchi, William Goss, Drew McWeeny, Jennifer Yamato, and Peter S. Hall, is an analysis of the film from a critical perspective and we see a great amount of admiration from a group of people who clearly love the film, but never succumb to doing nothing but pointing out what is going on onscreen.  Instead, we hear about why the film works for them, what to take away from it, how it operates as something far different than what US audiences are used to, and more. It’s a great listen, especially for fans of the film.
  • Transperceneige: From the Blank Page to the Black Screen – A Documentary by Jesus Castro-Ortega (HD, 54:27) – At nearly an hour, this documentary about the graphic novel that inspired the film and how that leads to the film’s production seems to go on for too long, given what we come to learn.  Still, it was fairly interesting and had some nice moments upon getting to the making of the film.
  • The Birth of Snowpiercer (HD, 15:09) – Standard EPK stuff here, but it features interviews with almost every main player involved in the production.
  • The Characters (HD, 13:08) – As the title suggests, this is a look at all the different characters in the film.
  • Animated Prologue (HD, 4:31) – Basically an animated version of what we learn in the opening of the film.  Decent watch.
  • Chris Evans & Tilda Swinton on Snowpiercer (HD, 4:40) – Character elements are discussed in this little extra.
  • The Train Brought to Life: Behind the Scenes of a Special Screening (HD, 8:06) – A brief interview with director Bong Joon-ho, conducted after a screening in Austin.
  • Concept Art Galleries

Summary:

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The commentary makes up for the somewhat lackluster extras, but outside of this area of the Blu-ray, you still get an amazing film with a terrific audio and video presentation.  Destined to be a cult classic, Snowpiercer is a fantastic film with some much visual wonder to go along with some great performances and really cool action.  It may not be the kind of film that could open in theaters everywhere, but it is certainly great to have seen it receive so much praise, building up a strong VOD performance, which can now hopefully turn into more people checking out this film on this solid Blu-ray.

Order Your Copy Here:

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Writer/Reviewer, Film Lover, Podcaster, Video Game Player, Comic Book Reader, Disc Golfer & a Lefty. There are too many films, TV, books, etc. for me to list as favorites, but I can assure that the amount film knowledge within my noggin is ridiculous, though I am always open to learning more. You can follow me on Twitter @AaronsPS4, see what else I am up to at TheCodeIsZeek.com & check out my podcast, Out Now with Aaron and Abe, on iTunes.

3 Responses to “Snowpiercer (Blu-ray Review)”


  1. Eric Ashley

    I have not heard of this movie until this review, but I loved The Host, and the picture quality sounds amazing here. The story sounds right up my alley, so I’ll be giving this a good look.

  2. Aaron Neuwirth

    ? What film geek hasn’t heard of Snowpiercer? Hope you enjoy it, especially if you’re already a fan of Bong Joon Ho’s work.

  3. Brian White

    Yes it was a good one!