Tag Archive: Snowpiercer


It’s a graphic novel that can’t be easy to translate to either the big or small screens, yet the first episode of a new TNT television series gets off to a good start.  First a series of graphic novels we discussed five years ago here at borg, then a movie starring Chris Evans (reviewed here and discussed here), the futuristic, post-apocalypse universe of Snowpiercer is now here and the first episode wastes no time maneuvering its very allegorical existence into something intriguing.  Academy Award-winning actor Jennifer Connelly (A Beautiful Mind, Alita: Battle Angel, The Princess Bride) takes the baton from the movie cast’s Tilda Swinton in the leading female role, a different twist than you’ll expect if you’re familiar with the previous incarnations.  And though he’s not Chris Evans (who is?)–who starred in the film–male series lead Daveed Diggs (Ferdinand, Zootopia, Star Wars Resistance) jumps right into this insane, preposterous setting and gives it all to make you think it’s real.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Rod Serling, eat your heart out.  Black Mirror and The Twilight Zone writers could take some pointers from Eddie Robson′s new novel, Hearts of Oak It’s a far-out science fiction novel with all the right notes of a good supernatural fantasy.  And it has an easy pace and an impending, looming darkness waiting ahead that will keep you planted firmly in your seat until you get to the last page.  Borrowing its title from the popular, age-old song of the British Navy, here the cryptic “hearts of oak” says a lot about the rollercoaster ride for readers that lies ahead.

Taking a cue from the stark, detached, and quirky science fiction mysteries of Adam Christopher’s robot detective in books like Killing is My Business (reviewed previously here at borg), readers, and the protagonists, never quite know what is real and who is real.  What we do know is Iona Taylor has been an architect so long everyone knows her and respects her as the very best there is.  But she is having a particularly bad week as her colleague has died in the collapse of a building.  As she contemplates attending his funeral a new student inquires about private tutoring, and when the student leaves her hat behind the feeling of felt texture in the hat conjures something surreal for Iona–a strange feeling tugging at her, maybe even loosening some long forgotten memories.  After a strange event at the funeral and the destruction of yet another building, Iona is called by the authorities not for her advice, but for questioning, becoming a target of the investigation.  When the prospective student vanishes, Iona must play detective to clear herself, but she might not like what she finds.

Eddie Robson, a writer of Doctor Who and other radio plays and non-fiction works about movies, is a good storyteller.  His narrative reads like a fantasy fable of a king with a talking cat who advises him, in an enchanted city of expansive buildings and replenished resources centered around creating ever higher architecture so the king may relocate his rooms at the very top.  The book evokes parts of great science fiction stories and films of the past without pulling too much from any of them.  But fans of all these works will find some surprisingly good fun in Hearts of Oak: Planet of the Apes, Tron: Legacy, Humans, Alien, Snowpiercer, The Truman Show, Philip K. Dick’s Time Out of Joint, a flip on Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan and The Matrix, and a few episodes of your favorite sci-fi TV shows, especially The Twilight Zone.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

To understand the scope of celebrated Chinese author Cixin Liu′s 2005 novel Supernova Era, finally available to Western audiences in an English translated edition by Joel Martinsen, it helps to look back to its influences, and those works published since its original publication in China.  At its core, this is a classic science fiction novel of the Philip K. Dick, Arthur C. Clarke, and Ray Bradbury school.  It’s a work of speculative fiction, at once arguably both optimistic and dystopian that reads almost like an alternate history in the vein of Dick’s The Man in the High Castle.  Disturbing and horrifying at points, philosophical, and filled with global, international, and political intrigue, it’s also squarely a young adult title, featuring almost exclusively middle grade aged kids tasked with surviving an interstellar holocaust–the actual “supernova” of the title–that quickly fries the DNA of anyone older than the age of thirteen.  The solution?  In the face of their imminent deaths, the world’s adult leaders begin to select youth leadership based on the classic “model United Nations” competitions.  It’s a jarring, but ultimately interesting and clever mash-up of some great tropes of science fiction.

Since the initial publication of Supernova Era in China, we’ve seen parts of the story replayed–possibly even inspiring–many other genre works:  Only last year in we saw Jeff Lemire’s Sentient–a comic book series where the adults on a ship are killed in a sabotage leaving kids to run a spaceship.  Here, we follow two small groups of children, the cabinet who must lead China and the cabinet who leads the United States, without the help, advice, education, and other benefits of adults or adulthood, on a global stage.   At first, the children default to letting an Internet-like artificial intelligence computer–the Digital Domain–help keep society in order, something like the robot in last year’s Netflix movie, I Am Mother, where a computer system’s robotic surrogate fulfills all parental duties to children.

When the daily toil of work grinds the kids in the Supernova Era into a state of boredom, they reach out to a massively multi-player online roleplaying game (MMPORG) and begin to build their real lives around it, as we saw in Ernest Cline’s 2011 novel, Ready Player One, where a future society allows itself to give up life in the real world to become lost inside a virtual reality MMPORG.  And the world’s kid leadership ultimately decide they need to compete with other nations, creating a worldwide version of Suzanne Collins’ 2008 novel The Hunger Games (also inspired by Stephen King’s novel, The Running Man) with a society relying on a new world construct with quirky contrived, artificial new rules of survival, battling wars with gameboard rules to the death.  Were these authors aware of Liu’s internationally known and respected work?  Possibly, but it’s the earlier works that served at least in part as influences on Liu’s novel.

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Feeling the heat?  A new San Diego Comic-Con trailer for Snowpiercer might help.  First a series of graphic novels we discussed five years ago here at borg, then a movie starring Chris Evans (reviewed here and discussed here), the futuristic, post-apocalypse universe of Snowpiercer is now making its way to your television set.  For the 2013 movie, the casting of big names, Marvel superhero Chris Evans, Academy Award-winning actor Tilda Swinton, and multiple Oscar-nominated actors John Hurt and Ed Harris, reflected the critical and popular appeal of the comic version of the story more than the resulting B-movie that ended up on the screen.  Now it’s up to Academy Award-winning actor Jennifer Connelly (A Beautiful Mind, Alita: Battle Angel, The Princess Bride) carry the baton.

Originally published in French in 1982 as Le Transperceneige by Jacques Lob with art by Jean-Marc Rochette, Snowpiercer, Volume 1: The Escape is available in an English translation by Virginie Selavy with follow-on English translations of Volume 2: The Explorers by Benjamin LeGrand and Volume 3: Terminus by Olivier Bocquet also available, and a prequel Extinction by Matz, on the way.  For the new TBS television series (available on Netflix elsewhere), stage actor Daveed Diggs joins Jennifer Connelly with several new faces and background actors.  And it’s already been renewed for a second season.

Repressive like the world of George Lucas’s THX-1138 and Kurt Vonnegut’s Harrison Bergeron, thematically political like the similarly wintry Dr. Zhivago, and drawn with the stark, black and white look of Aha’s Take On Me music video from the 1980s, Snowpiercer is a bleak, but ambitious, series of graphic novel about many things.  The back of the train like the back of the bus in the 1960s, or the lower sections of the ship on the Titanic, you can analogize the social strata of the train to many things. But neither the rumored horrors at the “tail” of the train, nor the “golden carriages” of the first class at the front of the train are what they appear to be.  At one level Snowpiercer is a strange, existential retelling of Plato’s Allegory of the Cave.  As with the movie, the trailer for the series shows something different from the graphic novel that inspired it, but maybe an alternate story of the train a la Beyond the Poseidon Adventure.

Here’s the trailer for TBS’s new series, Snowpiercer:

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Mad Max Fury Road

How do you like your post-apocalyptic nightmare?  Hot or cold?

This month brings the release of Max: Max Fury Road on 3D Blu-ray, standard Blu-ray, digital HD Ultraviolet, and DVD.  We reviewed the 3D Blu-ray and found it to be one of the best of the converted 3D Blu-rays to come to Blu-ray from a pure quality of film standpoint.  Story aside, 3D fans will have plenty of in-your-face explosions and old school 3D gags, like a steering wheel flashing out of the screen and into your lap, as well as other unexpected oddities–and a whole lot of bleak, ugly, and sand, in perfect clarity.

Nine behind-the-scenes featurettes accompany the home release, including Maximum Fury: Filming Fury Road, Mad Max: Fury on Four Wheels, The Road Warriors: Max and Furiosa, The Tools of the Wasteland, The Five Wives: So Shiny, So Chrome, Fury Road: Crash & Smash, I Am A Milker, Turn Every Grain Of Sand!, and Let’s Do This.

If you haven’t seen Mad Max: Fury Road, trust your instincts and skip this one.  If Fury Road is for you, you would have seen it in the theater already.  As post-apocalyptic storytelling is concerned, Fury Road is thin and uninspired.  As world-building goes, Fury Road adds nothing to the mythos in the original Mad Max and Road Warrior.  It is less silly than Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome, but Fury Road cries out for humor, or any other pleasantness of the third film in the series.  When humor arrives it is absurd (the lead bad guy takes along a turbo-charged guitarist and over-sized timpani band) and reminds us we’re well outside the realm of any possible future reality. How did these repulsive creatures become leaders so soon after the downfall of today’s reality?  How was a religion based on cars so quick to arrive in the same lifetime let alone the few years since the young star was a police officer in today’s world?  The number of unanswered questions are endless.  Writer/director George Miller, who directed each entry in the series, would have done better directing someone else’s story.  This is definitely a “story” in need of a backstory, which is available in prequel comic books for those wanting to delve further into the “revisited” Mad Max universe.

Theron Mad Max John Seale

Miller’s success is his ability to nicely copy the cinematography from epic scenery-laden films like those of the great John Ford–the technical production is top-notch (Oscar winner John Seale will likely net another Oscar nod for his efforts here).  But Fury Road is nothing but a Western updated for an ugly future, one long “cowboy and Indians” race to escape the Indians, and one shorter race back to the fort again, and a B-Western at that.  Sure, spiked and retooled 1960s and 1970s cars are inexplicably swapped for horses, but plenty of stuntwork is piled on as with the old Westerns.  We see some similarities: instead of wise old men mentoring John Wayne how to avoid the noose, here it’s wise old women helping to save the day at film’s end.  Miller’s other success is his selection of Tom Holkenborg aka Junkie XL to compose the film score–this is a rousing, pulse-pounding score worthy of a much better film.

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Snowpiercer clip B

Review by C.J. Bunce

After a long and clunky path to theaters that we first discussed in our review of the graphic novel source material here at borg.com, Snowpiercer, the highly, almost ludicrously improbable story of a train carrying the last humans on Earth akin to Noah’s Ark is finally in wide release.  With below freezing temperatures and the wind howling across the country this week, it’s a good time to hunker down and take a look at this new home release.

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 call 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’s 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.

Snowpiercer strange cargo

Likewise, don’t try to compare it to the much heralded 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.

Yet if you can watch Snowpiercer for what it is, an action vehicle (no pun intended) for star Chris Evans between big picture roles, then you might agree it’s a winner.

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 peppers 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.

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Snowpiercer train

WELCOME TO EARTH-4

A Weekly Column with J. Torrey McClain

I did not expect an eternal train ride, yet that’s exactly what Snowpiercer gave me.  Then it took a look at the plight of the less fortunate and the caste system that keeps those undesirables in the back of the train.  I didn’t expect action sequences that amazed me in their freshness and scope.  I saw a fantastic apocalyptic future look that had me guessing what would happen as it had me laughing and had me enthralled.

(If I wasn’t so spoiler adverse and had read CJ Bunce’s review of the graphic novel Snowpiercer then I might have expected the train ride to last forever.  However, reading his review now and checking out the graphic novel at Skylight Books after the movie tells me the two versions of the material explored separate stories.  Even with differences, I didn’t even check out the preview and looking back at the controversy on whether or not it would get a U.S. release, I have no clue how 20 minutes could have been removed from anywhere in the film.)

As good as the movie is, the setup keeps me thinking about the movie.  I love the beginning explanation for the apocalypse. Global warming threatens to destroy the earth.  Scientists desperate for a solution try to cool down the planet.  They succeed too well.  The planet is now a land of ice and snow and the only people left alive are aboard the aforementioned train.

Snowpiercer class car

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Snowpiercer poster art

It must be one of the strangest ideas for a science fiction film yet.  Bad planning reduces the planet to a freezing state where no one can survive outside.  This who remained after the world became devastated live on a single, giant train called the Snowpiercer, which stays in operation for years.  It’s so huge that a society is formed, with rich and the poor, including members of all walks of life, and a generation comes and goes living entirely on this train.  Strange is right.

But stretching the bounds of sci-fi is what it’s all about, isn’t it?

Evans in Snowpiercer

We’ve previously reviewed here at borg.com the source work for the film, the graphic novel also called Snowpiercer.  It’s strange, yet entertaining as it find a new setting to ask age-old questions about culture and society’s struggles.  Finally it looks like the film has a June released date for limited showings in the U.S.

Chris Evans Snowpiercer

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snowpiercer

Review by C.J. Bunce

If you’re a glutton for punishment and the Polar Vortex is child’s play for you, then Snowpiercer may be in your future.

In the future a bomb destroys the climate.  A luxury train called the Snowpiercer, intended to take passengers on weeks-long travels becomes the only vehicle for survival, taking on lower class cars to become 1,001 total train cars.  It’s the last bastion of civilization.  Snowpocalypse, Snowmageddon–call it what you will, the planet is now ice and snow and being outside for even minutes means a certain end from the “White Death.”  Originally written in French as Le Transperceneige by Jacques Lob with art by Jean-Marc Rochette, Snowpiercer, Volume 1: The Escape is now available in an English translation by Virginie Selavy from Titan Books.

Snowpiercer is also a new sci-fi film, starring Chris Evans (Captain America, the Fantastic Four), John Hurt (V for Vendetta, Doctor Who, Harry Potter, Hellboy), Ed Harris (The Truman Show, Apollo 13, The Right Stuff) and Tilda Swinton (The Chronicles of Narnia, Constantine), by Korean director Joon-Ho Bong.  A major hit in South Korea, it is yet to be released in the States yet, a result of directorial disputes with distributor The Weinstein Company, including a feud over cutting 20 minutes of footage for U.S. audiences that inexplicably “may not understand” the longer version.  Here is the South Korean trailer for the movie:

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