Blog /Snowpiercer: 0/5

February 16, 2021 14:22 -0800  |  Movies 0

It's been a long time since I posted a movie review, but this blog has been so dire for so long, I thought it a nice change of pace.

I've seen a lot of movies over the years, but only a select few were so very terrible that they get the coveted 0/5. The only other one that comes to mind at the moment was the fantastically terrible Eyes Wide Shut where I walked out of the theatre relieved that there would never be another Kubrick film. Snowpiercer however has joined these ignoble ranks.

The Plot

Spoilers: though I would think I'm doing you a favour by giving you one more reason not to see this movie

The story goes that a bunch of scientists thought they'd fix global warming by putting a chemical in the atmosphere, but they made a mistake that somehow turned the planet into a frozen wasteland. Instead of bunkering down underground and concentrating our energy sources to generate heat in one place, some "brilliant" individual built a train that travels all around the world in roughly one year. In constant motion, this train of fewer than a hundred cars apparently has the only living creatures left on the planet on board.

Our Hero (played by Captain America](https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0262635/)) lives in the tail of the train where all the poor people live, and he leads a rebellion to take control of the train so his people won't starve anymore. The rebellion ends with nearly every insurrectionist killed, and the Boss of the Train offering his job to Captain America after he explains that this has all be part of his Super Enlightened Class War. Instead, our hero blows up the fucking train, killing all but two people, effectively ending the human race.

What made it Terrible

(As if that plot wasn't enough)

Yes the ending was stupid, but that's just a fragment of the disjointed, nonsensical ridiculousness of the movie. There's so, so much more. Really the problem with Snowpiercer is that it tries to pretend that it's science fiction (there is absolutely no science in this movie) when it's really poorly written fantasy. Had they declared that the train is made of magic, a lot of the problems could have been explained away (though the premise is still ridiculous), but they didn't do that. Instead, they just put a bunch of people on a train and said "it's cold outside".

Physics

The idea of a train being a solution to the problem of keeping humanity alive in this situation is nuts. Movement costs a lot of energy, movement through massive cold at crazy speeds costs a shittone of energy. Couple this with the fact that a few hundred people (not to mention food and other resources) must live exclusively on this tiny train, and you've got an entire movie premise that's absurd on its face.

Assuming for the moment that the train itself is magic such that it can run 24/7 on magic fuel that weighs nothing and takes up no space, are we also expected to believe that the tracks laid all over the planet in a post-apocalypic hellscape never need maintenance, even with a magic train ripping over them in -100C once a year?

Character Development

The characters are left completely undeveloped. Not one of them shows any growth, let alone demonstrates any characteristics that makes you want to like them or identify with them.

  • There's the Best Friend, whose backstory we never get into. He's killed early-on.
  • The grieving mother who does little more than scream about her kid that was stolen before she's killed.
  • There's the wise-old-man who keeps telling our hero that he's got to be the next wise-old-man. He gets killed off pretty early too, and we later learn that getting himself killed was always part of the Grand Plan. I guess that... counts?
  • The Korean junkie who knows how to open the doors between cars. He's basically a junkie who opens doors for the whole movie until the last 10 minutes when he explains that what he really wants to do is get off the train.
  • The junkie's teenage kid who somehow is clairvoyant (what? how? why?) but whose skills are never used.
  • The Boss of the Train who fancies himself some sort of enlightened caretaker of humanity. He tells our hero why this was all his grand design before he's killed.
  • Our hero, who never accepts the mantle of leader, has a brief stint at the end about how he once did some Terrible Things as a teenager before cutting off his own arm for symbolism rather than function and then killing everyone left on earth.

The Action Scenes

I think the director watched Old Boy and thought: "lets do that hammer in the hallway scene, but for like, 2 hours". The action is ridiculous, poorly choreographed and completely illogical. If you want to stop a rebellion on a train, you don't fill a car full of blindfolded men with hatchets and wait for the rebellion to come to you. You vent the cars and let everyone freeze until they submit or die.

Then there was the just plain stupid gun battle between cars as the train rounded a loop. Captain America has an automatic weapon (short range, high bullet count, low accuracy) and he's shooting holes in the window (-100C anyone?) so he can hopefully get a bullet through a 3cm hole a few hundred metres away in high winds on a train moving at crazy speeds. This is made more ridiculous by the fact that the Bad Guy is trying exactly the same thing on his end.

For that matter, where the hell are they getting all of those bullets in the first place?

And the Bad Guy -- he was just... dumb. The dude is stabbed straight through his side, we watch him die and then 20min later he just shows up again without even a limp to fight with a bunch of coked-out strangers on a tiny bridge before the engine.

The director just wanted stupid gun battles and ridiculous hatchet fights in the dark with torches -- which to be clear, is totally fine but you can't do that and couch your story in any world with rules like our own.

Resources

This is really the whole "the premise is the problem" thing. Judging by what we saw in the movie, you've got, maybe a few hundred people on this "ark" train. Those people need the basics to just survive: food, water, shelter. There's a brief moment where they explain that the water actually comes from outside (ice is pulled from the air as they move to create water), the food bit however is where everything falls apart.

As our hero progresses through the train, he's introduced to all of the amazing things they have to keep them alive: there's a car that's just one big aquarium, another for hydroponics, and another that's a slaughterhouse, complete with hanging beef ribs... on a train with no cows.

Now ignoring for the moment the whole thing about eating animals without any animals around to eat, a fish tank the size of a train car is not enough to feed a few hundred people, not even just twice a year as they claim in the movie. A single hydroponics car is again, far too little To provide food for just 100 people indefinitely would likely require dozens of hydroponic cars like the one we saw.

Interestingly, while it's apparently so cold on earth that humans can't survive for more than 30minutes, there's still polar bears -- though it's not clear what they eat.

Rebellion is the Answer

The Boss of the Train explains in his big monologue at the end that all of this has been part of his Grand Plan to thin the numbers of people in the tail of the train in an effort to keep things in "balance". While it's obvious that a train with limited resources would need to worry about such things, opting for armed rebellion is about the dumbest thing you can do in that situation.

He wanted to cut the population of the tail by 75%. He could have poisoned their food supplies, or just starved them out. He could have staged gladiator battles with the prize being promotion to a better place on the train. Anything else would have been less costly and less risky for the preservation of the train, but he opted to send blindfolded people with hatchets, guns and bombs to do battle in the dark with night vision goggles (why the hell do they have night vision goggles?). It's messy, pointlessly risky, destructive, and has absolutely no upside.

The Eugenics Premise

And finally the part that people point to to argue that this is some sort of thoughtful work of social commentary: the whole eugenics thing.

So it is. Now, as in the beginning, I belong to the front. You belong to the tail. When the foot seeks the place of the head, the sacred line is crossed. Know your place. Keep your place. Be a shoe.

It's clear in these (many) scenes that the writer is trying to appear thoughtful around things like class warfare and eugenics, but the attempts are so ham-fisted and obvious that they come across more like breaks in the story: they're telling you what the moral of the story is rather than letting you see it yourself or find your own message.

It's not even a well thought-out premise though. For all of the preaching about a system of delicate balance where everyone and everything must remain in their place, the people crammed into the tail never demonstrate any use to the train or its passengers. They perform no labour at all for any train function, and there are multiple references to them being "freeloaders" and stowaways. Indeed the only function they appear to serve is that their children are occasionally harvested to work in the train engine (our magic engine sometimes needs parts, but those parts don't exist anymore so children do the work instead because... reasons).

The people on the rest of the train don't seem to do much of anything really. With the exception of a few farmers and 1 teacher, everyone else we meet is a freeloader as well. The only reason they're not in the tail eating bug-bars is that they paid for a ticket.

In this world, class doesn't serve any real purpose. The people in the front of the train aren't afraid of being demoted, and the people in the back have no opportunity to move up. The people in the back don't do anything for the people in the front, and are more of a drain than anything else. They could just as easily have jettisoned the last few cars on the train and absolutely nothing would change... except that there wouldn't be a movie then, and I would have my two hours back.

Conclusion

People will tell you that this movie is all about the social commentary, but it's just not thought-out enough to qualify for this. Merely shouting "class war" every 20 minutes does not mean you've had anything valuable to say.

The biggest fault though is in the setting. So many of the idiotic, nonsensical problems in this movie could have been explained away if they'd bothered to think it through.

  • If that fight in the dark with blindfolded hatchet fishmongers was truly important (I can't imagine why) they could have written in some sort of magic paling that prevents automatic weapons in certain areas.
  • If the unkillable bad guy was something they wanted, we could have had some sort of newfangled shielding or medical technology that explains this all away.

...but this is set in 2031 and the train had been running since 2014. There are rules in the universe they've set here, and they ignored them only when they want to do something stupid.

IMDB classifies this as "science fiction" which is just... insane. If anything it's anti-science. It's not fantasy either because they go to great lengths to remind us that they live in our world governed by common rules. Harry Potter, with magic wands and trolls, and flying cars is fantasy. Ant-Man, where there's a mysterious technology that makes you tiny is fantasy, Spider-Man with radioactive spider bites giving you super powers is fantasy. Snowpiercer is just... bad.

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