Review by C.J. Bunce
Three things should get you to take a second look at both the 2013 movie Snowpiercer and the new behind the scenes book Snowpiercer: The Art and Making of the Film, just released from Titan Books. First, it’s been a really hot summer almost everywhere and the movie is all about freezing cold temps. Second, everyone loves Chris Evans, and it’s time to revisit his work outside of the supersuit and shield. Third, after winning three Oscars in 2020, for Best Director, Best Screenplay, and Best Picture, everyone should also go back and revisit the works of Korean director Bong Joon-ho. After the film suffered a long and clunky path to theaters thanks to the Weinstein scandal, the end result–even if it was far removed from its source material–was an interesting action movie, notable for actor Song Kang-ho, too. It’s been seven years since Snowpiercer, the highly, almost ludicrously improbable story of a train carrying the last humans on Earth akin to Noah’s Ark, finally arrived in wide release (see my review here), but now it gets a thorough investigation in Snowpiercer: The Art and Making of the Film, which was also delayed, this time for the COVID-19 pandemic. In the intervening years a prequel tie-in TV series took off. For all the above reasons, it’s a good time to hunker down and take a look at this book and its one-of-a-kind vision.
The film sees a lower class of humans living at the back of a giant train that is strangely bigger on the inside as they send a small band to try to get to the front of the train controlled by the wealthy. Numerous reviews called Snowpiercer an allegory, and that’s completely wrong. Snowpiercer is literal. It’s a post-apocalyptic science fiction survival story, not the deep symbolic stuff of Plato or even Orwell. Snowpiercer–the film–is pretty much devoid of any subtle hidden meanings. It is overt B-movie sci-fi. In fact it’s closer to Escape from New York or Logan’s Run than a high-brow philosophical look at life, as it was categorized by many critics on its theatrical release. In his book, Simon Ward, known for many books about film, begins with the source material–the black and white graphic novel Le Transperceneige by Jacques Lob, Benjamin Legrand, and Jean-Marc Rochette (reviewed here). Other than the story being about someone trying to get from the back of a train to the front, it’s pretty much unrecognizable, but Ward reveals why that happened and how the changes were devised.
Bouncing back and forth between taunts of a gotcha a la Soylent Green, The Road, or War Games, the movie answers every (simple) question it poses, which is surprisingly satisfying. Korean director Bong Joon-ho peppered each new train car he breaks through in Panama Joe Atari video game style with enough new questions that you’ll find yourself paying attention for the entire ride, just to get to what ultimate wisdom may be found at story’s end.
Ward interviews director Bong, star Chris Evans, Tilda Swinton, Octavia Spencer, Ed Harris, Jamie Bell, and other actors, producer Dooho Choi, costume designer Catherine George, makeup designer Jeremy Woodhead, stunt coordinator Julian Spencer, and production designer Ondřej Nekvasil and VFX creator Eric Durst on the CGI-heavy production design, among others. The cast and crew also recount working with actor John Hurt in one of his final roles. And expect a lot of train-themed concept artwork. Twenty-six of the 1,001 train cars from the graphic novel were built to scale for the film.
Here is a look inside Snowpiercer: The Art and Making of the Film:
Persistence and unyielding determination tend to be the themes of most post-apocalyptic stories. Snowpiercer’s biggest success is its answer to the question of whether, in the pursuit of your own survival, there are some things you just wouldn’t do to stay alive.