Based on the French graphic novel Le Transperceneige, Snowpiercer is set in AD 2031 and tells the story of a group of survivors stranded on a train in a post-apocalyptic world covered by snow and ice.
I was worried about 'Snowpiercer' prior to seeing it. When fans build up a movie prior to its actual release, it could go either way. See 'Snakes on a Plane' for an example of one that absolutely didn't deserve the hype. Before we even had a trailer for 'Snowpiercer,' geeks across the internet were up in arms about The Weinstein Company reportedly hacking the director's cut to pieces. Premature hype can be a bad thing, so I tried my best to go in objectively neutral.
While 'Snowpiercer' didn't crack the domestic $5 million mark at the box office, it's said that the On Demand revenue was through the roof (although the numbers proving that statement have not been released). I, for one, had never used any streaming pay-per-view services; however, I broke that streak and paid $7.99 to satisfy my curiosty and see 'Snowpiercer' in HD. To date, it's the only movie that I've done that with. While I completely enjoyed it then, it was during my second viewing – watching the Blu-ray – that I absolutely fell in love with it.
Set in the not too distant future, 'Snowpiercer' takes place after a second ice age has frozen-over the planet. When global warming got out of control, a chemical cooling agent was released into Earth's atmosphere to combat the growing issue. The compound backfired and killed every living thing on the planet. The only remaining life resides in a highly advanced super long train known as the "snowpiercer." From the back of the roaring machine to the front, it mirrors the various classes of society. In the back, you'll find the lowly – the broken, oppressed and impoverished. The front contains the wealthy and wasteful – the "one percent." And the working middle class separates the two extremes.
Chris "Captain America" Evans leads the international cast of 'Snowpiercer' as Curtis. Under the guidance of an aged leader figure in the back of the train (John Hurt), Curtis is like the general of Hurt's under-armed and rebellious army that's plotting to take the train one car at a time, breaking the damning social system and restoring equality to the last hope of humanity. With his trusty young sidekick (Jamie Bell), courageous friends (Octavia Spencer) and a father-daughter pair of rebellious technically savvy friends (Kang-ho Song and Ah-sung Ko, 'The Host'), Curtis will attempt to make his way through countless villains (Tilda Swinton, Allison Pill, Ed Harris) just to get to the front.
South Korean filmmaker Bong Joon-ho killed it with his last two feature films, 'The Host' and 'Mother,' so it's no surprise that 'Snowpiercer' is also another amazing title under his belt. When I first viewed 'Snowpiercer' on demand, I felt that it dragged on a little to long; however, when I re-watched it on Blu-ray, that opinion was reversed. From beginning to end, despite knowing exactly what was going to happen next, it flew right on by. The pacing issue that I noted on my first round were nowhere to be found – which brings me to rewatchability. Now, just two nights after viewing 'Snowpiercer' for the second time, I'm already looking forward to watching it again.
IThe hype is well=earned. Joon-ho has proven himself as a strong filmmaker. He's not a one-trick pony. Yes, 'Snowpiercer' has the awesome stylized action that we've come to expect from Korean cinema, but there's so much more than just that going on here. It's got a purpose, meaning, social relevance and a pure, believable, unforced heart.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
The Weinsteins have given 'Snowpiercer' a Blu-ray release that's worlds better than what you'd expect from an indie flick. The silvery reflective embossed slipcover that comes with it has an unfoldable front panel that features a cool concept art image. The two-disc blue Elite case itself is standard, but instead of being a DVD combo pack, the second disc is another Blu-ray that contains all special features (with the exception of the feature commentary). The main feature disc is a Region A BD-50, but the special feature disc is a Region A BD-25. Included in the case is a paper with an advertisement for the original comic. Nothing but two unskippable vanity reels play before the main menu.
'Snowpiercer' features a 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode and a 1.78:1 aspect ratio. It's not entirely perfect, but it's almost there. The only faults stem from the low budget shining through.
Because there's so little wrong with the video quality, let's start with its flaws. These issues are hardly consistent and they're not fatal - but they're there. Both stem from the movie's overtly dark beginning. In the rear section of the train, there are no windows. Its passengers haven't seen daylight in 17 years. Sporadically throughout the first act, you'll notice instances of crushing and some inconsistencies with black levels due to contrast issues. The constrast faults will leave some should-be black areas of the screen looking gray. Aside from those mostly first-act flaws, the rest of the picture quality is fantastic.
Sharp details are ever-present. The tail-enders live in absolute poverty. As we tour their filthy cabin, you'll see the detail put into the high quality set decoration, including stains, smudges and tattered clothing fibers. Shots of the actors' faces reveal grease and grime embedded into their individual facial pores. Bloodbath battles feature soaring spatter. The tiniest individual droplets can be seen amongst the globs. The details never let up.
The dreary back section is almost entirely void of colors. The palette is black and gray with accents of warm lighting. As we move forward through the train, the palette gets more and more colorful. One nightclub car features explosive neon lights. An orange sauna section of the train carries a glowing vibrancy. Crushing pops up a little bit more in the end, but not often and not nearly as much as the first act.
'Snowpiercer' carries a 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio tracks that's also nearly perfect. The film kicks off with an opening credits sequence that allows the fitting score to boom through all channels. Once we get into the train, the natural creaks and rattles can be heard randomly emitting from different speakers. Effects are always well-mixed like this. Be it gunfire, clanking metallic weapons during chaotic barbaric battles or the expected train sounds, the effects are always fantastically mixed. Great amounts of rumbly bass and LFE are peppered throughout the track.
The vocal mix is where the one flaw lies. The levels are always great. No dialog is lost. Background "peanut gallery" dialog is fun to hear as it plays through the back speakers. Because of the boxcar settings, during scenes where voices are projected loudly through the car, the voices sound narrowly confined. It's a fantastic small touch that adds to the experience. The only problem comes from dialog being flatly mixed when it absolutely shouldn't be. An instance will offer an opportunity for voices to be spread through the channels, but they will be flatly confined to the front instead. Luckily, just like the video flaws, this one audio flaw is rare.
For once, there's a movie that deserves all of the fanboy hype it's received. 'Snowpiercer' is a creative, original and thought-provoking social commentary film that's disguised as a futuristic action thriller. Yes, there's action and, yes, it's thrilling – but there's so much more to it than that. It contains everything required of a noteworthy film: an excellent screenplay, a capable director, strong actors (Chris Evans actually delivers one of his best performances to date), characters worth giving a damn about, et cetera. The Blu-ray itself contain near-perfect audio and video – the flaws being minor and inconsistent – and enough special features to warrant them being housed on a second Blu-ray disc. With a high amount of rewatchability, the 'Snowpiercer' Blu-ray comes highly recommended.