The Snowman is one of the more disappointing movies released in 2017, but it's by no means the disaster many have made it out to be. Based on the best-selling novel by author Joe Nesbø and directed by Tomas Alfredson, the Blu-ray impresses with some wonderful visuals of Norway and an impressive 7.1 aural experience, but even solid tech specs can't overcome the at-times confusing plot. All but the book's fans will want to Skip It.
The Snowman got a lot of press at the end of 2017, but not the good time. The movie, based on a popular book (and book series) by Joe Nesbø and directed by Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy's Tomas Alfredson, made more than a few critic's worst films of the year list. Alas, the movie is not that awful, although it is a bit of a mess. But it's more slow and confusing than a disaster, and if one looks hard enough, you might actually see the glimmer of what could have been a decent flick.
Michael Fassbender stars as Norwegian police detective Harry Hole, who can best be described as brooding, as that's pretty much what he does half the time. The other half he spends smoking cigarettes. Hole is one of those cops who has seen too much and is bored with the minutiae of day-to-day police work. So, when a young up-and-coming detective, Katrine Bratt (Rebecca Ferguson), clues him in on a case involving a series of murdered women, Hole joins the investigation – if only at first to try and bring a little excitement back into his life.
The killer has been dubbed "The Snowman" for a number of reasons. First, snowfall seems to spark his killing sprees, and second, he builds a snowman near each victim's house or place of residence that stares eerily in the victim's direction. The Snowman seems to have knowledge of Hole as well, sending him a message about the first victim before Harry even finds himself involved in the case.
The problem with The Snowman as a movie is that it is both too long and too underdeveloped. That seems like a contradiction, but despite this title's two-hour run time, there are a string of characters and plot threads that seem to go nowhere. The most confusing of these is the character of Gert Rafto, played by Val Kilmer. Rafto is a detective in the city of Bergen (Hole is in Oslo, a good six or seven hours away), where one of the victims has been found. Rafto is a drunk who participates in some bizarre behavior, and to make matters worse, all of Kilmer's dialogue has been dubbed...and dubbed horribly (if reports are true, it's because Kilmer was recovering from a cancer scare and his voice wasn't up to par). Perhaps readers of the novel will have a better grasp of this character, but movie viewers are going to be left scratching their heads as to what exactly is going on with Kilmer and the character he plays.
A more respectable, but no more meaningful, performance comes from Oscar winner J.K. Simmons, playing Arve Støp, a local philanthropist who has the hopes of bringing a national winter sports event (think Winter Olympics, but in a movie that isn't allow to use the "Olympics" name) to Oslo. Of course, Simmons's character is around so viewers can ponder whether he might be The Snowman, but he really serves no other purpose here and is dismissed in such a way that I felt that there must certainly be another scene with him that got left on the cutting room floor.
If there's something to enjoy in The Snowman, it's in watching some of the beautiful shots of the stark Norwegian landscape that director Tomas Alfredson and cinematographer Dion Beebe have provided viewers. There are not many mainstream English-language films shot in Scandinavian countries, so when we get one that takes advantage of the locales the way this movie does, it's a treat to see – it's just a shame the story couldn't have been just as engaging.
But I'm not going to join the other critics and continue to pile on about the failure of The Snowman. The movie doesn't work, but it's obvious an effort was made here and things just didn't go the way everyone intended. I can't recommend picking this one up, but I wouldn't be surprised if it gained a small cult following in the years to come – it's just odd enough to gain that kind of recognition.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
The Snowman hurries its way onto home video in a Blu-ray/DVD/Digital HD combo pack. The dual-layer DVD and 50GB Blu-ray come housed inside an eco-LITE Vortex keepcase along with an insert containing a code for a digital copy of the movie. A slipcover with artwork matching that of the keepcase slides overtop. Both the DVD and the Blu-ray are front-loaded with trailers for All I See is You, Death Race: Beyond Anarchy, Happy Death Day, and The Foreigner. The Blu-ray's main menu is the standard Universal design, with a still image of star Michael Fassbender that matches that of the box cover, and menu selections vertically down the left side of the screen.
The Blu-ray in this release is region-free.
The Snowman was shot digitally on Arri Alexa XT cameras and is presented here in its original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1. While the cinematography dials back on the color, there's an appeal to the barren white Scandinavian landscape in many of this movie's outdoor sequences. White dominates those shots, but the transfer never blows the whites out, allowing for pleasing visuals.
Indoor shots are much less stunning, with noise creeping into the background of many scenes, while others just look kind of flat. This is less an issue with the transfer itself, I'm guessing, than with the digital photography, as I've seen this time and time again with movies shot on Arri equipment.
Whether indoors or outdoors, however, facial features are well defined here, showing nice detail and consistent, if undersaturated, skin tones. I detected no glitches in the overall image and didn't pick up on any aliasing or banding while watching the presentation.
The featured audio on the Blu-ray disc is an English 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track. For a movie that features a far-from-aggressive soundtrack, I was actually impressed by some of the ambience and immersion that this lossless track provided. Things like wind, cracking ice, and other natural sounds that could only come from a winter landscape add a lot to the movie's presentation. There are a couple of fun uses for the rear speakers as well, including coffee beans rolling across the floor in one scene, and hearing a cell phone conversation travel from the back speakers to the front as a car drives away from the viewer's perspective in another sequence.
Dialogue is mostly – but not always – front and center, and crisp throughout. Everything is properly mixed as well, so neither the soundtrack nor ambient sounds ever drown out the spoken word. The track is also free from any obvious glitches. It all provides a well-done and impressive aural experience for the home viewer/listener.
In addition to the English lossless track, lossy 5.1 DTS Digital Surround tracks are available in both Spanish and French, as well as an English DVS (Descriptive Video Service) track. Subtitles are an option in English SDH, Spanish, and French.
Note: All of the bonus features on this release give away major plot points/spoilers about the movie. It is recommended that you only view them after you've watched The Snowman.
Cast of Characters (HD 7:46) – This featurette take a look at the primary roles in the movie, and includes comments from actors Michael Fassbender, Rebecca Ferguson, J.K. Simmons, Jonas Karlsson, Michael Yates, and Sofia Helin; Producers Robyn Slovo and Piodor Gustafsson; and Director/Executive Producer Tomas Alfredson.
Creating Joe Nesbø's World (HD 4:05) – A brief look at how the author's popular novel was brought to the big screen. This featurette includes comments from actors Michael Fassbender, J.K. Simmons, and Rebecca Ferguson; Producer Robyn Slovo; and the author himself – Joe Nesbø.
The Snowman Killer (HD 4:03) – The actor who plays the killer in the movie (which I won't reveal here) talks about the character. Other members of the cast and crew also share comments.
Norwegian Landscape (HD 6:33) – If there's a highlight to this otherwise disappointing movie, it's the visuals it provides – shooting on location in Norway. This featurette showcases the Norwegian shoot and some of the beautiful locales.
Stunt Files: The Sinking Lake (HD 1:36) – This featurette takes a short look at two of the sequences in the movie: a car breaking through the ice and sinking it (and its driver) into the icy water below, and the same thing happening to a character at the end of the movie.
The Snowman isn't as nearly as awful as you've heard, but that also doesn't mean it's a good movie. It's more of a convoluted disappointment than it truly is a "bad" film and may hold some interest for those who enjoyed the novel upon which this movie is based. For the majority of movie fans though, this one is safely dismissible. Skip It.