‘Snowpiercer’ Review: Unjustly Neglected Sci-Fi Thrill Ride


Movie Rating:


Thrilling, satirical, beautifully designed and packed with stars, ‘Snowpiercer’ is one of the finest and most satisfying movies of the summer. And yet, because it’s a Korean production that landed in the hands of the Weinstein Company, it’s barely getting released at all. Seek it out. You won’t regret it.

2013 should have been the year when the master Korean genre directors of the 2000s took over Hollywood. Park Chan-wook (‘Oldboy’) made the excellent Hitchcock homage ‘Stoker’, Kim Jee-woon (‘I Saw the Devil’) delivered the worthy Arnie Schwarezenegger comeback vehicle ‘The Last Stand’, and best of all Bong Joon-ho (‘The Host’) made the sci-fi masterpiece ‘Snowpiercer’. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen. ‘Stoker’ was barely released, ‘The Last Stand’ flopped, and ‘Snowpiercer’ has been sitting on a shelf for over a year. All three movies deserved better, but ‘Snowpiercer’ is by far the most mistreated.

With the film, Bong managed to deliver an intellectually satisfying sci-fi think-piece that plays like an action movie, comes laced with biting social satire, and even stars Captain America himself, Chris Evans. It should have been an easy sell that would debut on the fall film festival circuit to critical acclaim before lapping up millions from genre movie fans at the box office. Instead, Harvey Weintstein fruitlessly tried to re-edit the flick for no apparent reason and is now barely letting the movie slip into theaters. Thankfully, the film speaks for itself. Even if this unceremonious release buries ‘Snowpiercer’ for now, cult status amongst genre movie aficionados is pretty much assured.

Based on a French graphic novel from the 1980s, the film is an apocalyptic yarn set on the titular Snowpiercer, a powerful train that circles the globe in perpetuity following the second Ice Age. All of the remaining human population lives on the Snowpiercer, with class divides running from back to front. The poor live on top of each other in back cars eating disgusting protein bars with little hope. In the front cabin, the train’s creator (Ed Harris) lives like a god, with all other social classes and human weaknesses filling the cars in between. Chris Evans lives in the back, and decides to launch a revolt. That journey goes from back to front in a viciously violent, yet goofy and satirical story that could only come from the mind of Bong Joon-ho.

The likes of Tilda Swinton, Jon Hurt, Jamie Bell, Octavia Spencer, Alison Pill and even Bong’s regular star Song Kang-ho all pop up in colorful roles clearly written for each actor, which perfectly define Bong’s uniquely somber, yet lovingly silly tone. It’s a story that gleefully pokes fun at itself and revels in the silliness and action potential of the concept, before delivering a tragic, cynical and rather brilliant finale that feels just as inevitable as it does unexpected.

‘Snowpiercer’ is the movie that Neill Blomkamp’s ‘Elysium‘ desperately wanted to be. It’s a pointed, troubling and heartbreaking portrait of the current world economic climate thrust into a perfectly constructed sci-fi action film. As a pure thrill ride, the movie delivers through the thunderous forward momentum of Bong Joon-ho direction. As visual spectacle, it borrows liberally (while directly referencing) the gritty live-action cartoon style of Terry Gilliam (‘Brazil’, ’12 Monkeys’) and Jean-Pierre Jeunet (‘Delicatessen’) without feeling redundant. As a work of political commentary, it’s on point and disturbing without ever distracting from the genre movie thrills with political didactics.

In many ways, the film is a perfect example of this genre, filled with wonderful performances and characterization within the carefully crafted mechanics of the screenplay. It’s a movie that deserves every little bit of the adoration and respect it will get, even if most of the public appreciation won’t come until it hits Blu-ray and streaming services. This should be the alternative blockbuster and the sleeper hit of the summer. Sadly, it’s a buried cult movie in waiting. Find it, love it and spread the word.


  1. Drew

    “It is in many ways, the film is a perfect example of this genre, filled with wonderful performances and characterization…”

    What? It is in many ways a perfect example of this genre? It is in many ways the film? 🙂

    • Editing failure on my part. Corrected now, thanks.

      For the record, Phil’s original draft said, “It is in many ways, a perfect example of this genre.” I added “the film,” but neglected to take out the “It is.” So it’s my fault, not his.

  2. Chris B

    Oh snap! I actually just heard about this movie last night and now I can’t wait to check it out. I’m keeping my fingers crossed at least one theatre in my area is going to be screening it.

  3. Ryan

    I am interested in this one, but I have no idea when or if it’ll be in my area. Might be forced to wait for BluRay

  4. Chris B

    I’d be interested to hear the story of why the Weinstein’s felt the movie needed to be hacked up in the first place. What is it with executives going “let’s cut the movie all to hell, there’s no way North American audiences are smart/patient enough to appreciate this movie”. Hopefully the Blu Ray release will include a fully restored director’s cut as it was originally intended. Damn this shit makes me so mad. JUST LET THE AUDIENCES SEE THE FUCKING MOVIE THE WAY THE FILMMAKERS INTENDED! I can’t think of a single example when a studio intervened in a theatrical release and I came out of the film going: “Gee, I sure am glad those rich pricks in suits decided I was too stupid to handle the whole thing and cut it down to size”..

        • The Weinsteins believe that they need to adapt foreign movies for the domestic market, usually by speeding up the pacing and cutting out things (such as cultural references) that American viewers won’t get. The subtitles on Weinstein movies are also often nowhere close to being literal translations of the dialogue. They’ll “Americanize” the dialogue by dumbing down the content and adding in American phrasing. (The American release of Hero, which was released by Miramax when the Weinsteins were still in charge, is notorious for its bad subtitles.)

          The Jackie Chan movies that the Weinsteins distribute are only available dubbed into English, with significant footage cut and new hip-hop soundtracks added. They’re travesties.

          The sad thing is that this strategy has been pretty successful for the Weinsteins, which is why they keep doing it.

          • Chris B

            Maybe part of the reason it’s been so succesful because the majority of American movie-goers don’t even know the full extent of how much it’s being done.

            I’ve noticed that sort of approach in other media as well. Like I’ll watch an English tv show that was a huge hit in the UK, and when they bring it overseas they never fail to dumb it down to an almost insulting level….that’s it! I’m moving to Europe!

  5. Timcharger

    “it borrows liberally (while directly referencing)”

    These comments basically boils down to that you like the film.
    When you like the film, it’s a tribute. It’s referencing. It’s honoring.

    When you don’t like the film, then the critic says:
    It’s a hack. It steals from other better, original films.

    There’s no bibliography on a works cited page in the closing credits,
    so there is no evidence of “directly referencing”.

  6. Timcharger

    I watched the film on an airplane.

    So how do I know if I watched the original cut or the Weinstein cut?
    What are significant scenes that left on cutting room floor?

    And Phil, in your write-up, it is unclear whether you saw the original
    or the Weinstein cut-up one.

    But the “fruitless” part reads like there is NO Weinstein cut:
    “Instead, Harvey Weintstein fruitlessly tried to re-edit the flick for no apparent reason and is now barely letting the movie slip into theaters. Thankfully, the film speaks for itself.”

    But all the complaints in the Comments Sections, reads that
    Weinstein DID cut up the film.


    By the way, the discussion of the film seems to be mostly
    located in the Steelbook section of the Forums.

    • Drew

      I really hope that Phil responds to your comments. My thoughts, upon reading this review, echoed your own. Some of the statements that he made seem to be contradictory; others were flat out unclear.

      Phil, please respond to Tim, and offer some clarification. I think that this would be much appreciated, by everyone.

  7. Bryan

    I saw this movie months ago (and already have the import Steelbook Blu-ray) but I really was tempted to see it on the big screen this weekend. While I can see that there are elements borrowed from other sci-fi/apocalyptic movies of the past, it really comes off as a very unique film overall. I’m glad to see it getting some decent press here in the U.S. – I figured the theatrical release would come and go without any notice whatsoever.

  8. Phil Brown

    Hi Gang, more than happy to reply. Sorry for not doing so earlier.

    First up, the referencing. Terry Gilliam sense of visual design and radical tonal shifts between goofy comedy and harsh drama are all over the movie and a major character’s name is Gilliam. There are other things too, but that’s the big one. It’s all subtle. Not quotes or score drops. References and allusions that never distract, but make it clear that Bong Joon-ho knew where he was pulling from and was happy to tip his hat while still making a movie that is completely his own.

    In terms of the Weinsteins editing job, thankfully Snowpiercer did eventually come to North American in it’s original version (unfortunately, it was dumped into theaters in a small release out of spite, which is a shame because I feel it had big box office and even awards potential if handled properly. But that’s just Harvey for ya!). That’s what I was trying to say with the “fruitless” comment. Apologies if that was unclear.

    • Timcharger

      Thanks for responding, Phil.


      “it was dumped into theaters in a small release out of spite.”

      “OUT OF SPITE”?!

      How does that make any sense? Weinstein invested in this film.
      To get a return on his money, people need to buy tickets. And
      Weinstein wants LESS people to see it?!

      Look I disagree with studios forcing changes to interfere with
      the artistic goals of the director. But it makes sense, that the
      studio believe these changes would bring in better results. Not
      that the studio is correct, but that the studio is pursuing what it
      believes is correct.

      The ultimate goal is the same. Both the director and the studio
      want people in the theater seats.

      How exactly does this benefit Weinstein to have a small release?

      • Both Weinstein brothers are infamous for being very hot-headed individuals. It would not be at all out of character for them to deliberately sink one of their movies to spite the filmmaker, especially in a case like this where the filmmaker publicly fought back against the changes they tried to make to his movie.

        They’ll trickle it out to a small handful of theaters with no promotion, where it won’t make any money, so that they can say, “SEE? Nobody wants to see your garbage movie! You should have listened to us. We could have fixed it!”

        Then they’ll put it on VOD, where they make most of their money anyway, and it will silently turn a profit that they’ll never acknowledge to anybody.

        • Timcharger

          That can’t be true.

          VOD pays only the studio without a cut to the artistic talent?!


          If the film does great business in the limited release, it will
          get wider distribution. Certainly, the Weinsteins don’t believe
          it will. But if the per screen numbers are there, capitalism will
          win over spite.

          • All film studios fudge the numbers so that every movie looks like it lost money, in order to write it off on their taxes and deny profit-participants their fair cut.

            Google “Hollywood Accounting.” Many articles on the subject.

            This is why all A-List stars demand to be paid big salaries up front, and refuse back-end profit participation that they’ll never see.

          • Timcharger

            According to Luke’s most recent blog:
            “be sure to check your local listings because ‘Snowpiercer’ is expanding to more theaters. An exact theater count has not been announced, but if it’s playing in my region (Salt Lake City), then there’s a good chance that it’s playing in a region near you.”

            Does that mean Weinstein’s spite of Snowpiercer is thawing?

            Ba-da-bump! I’ll be here all week. Tip your waitresses.

      • Phil Brown

        Yeah, as ridiculous as it sounds Harvey Weinstein has done this many times before. Even just this year the guy essentially dumped The Immigrant out with little effort or care when that movie easily could have been an awards contender if he’d coddled it through a fall release. Who knows what goes on in that guy’s head. He’s an odd one.

  9. Phil Brown

    As far as the “referencing” vs. “ripping off” debate. I think they’re two completely different things and it’s very clear when you see one over the other. For example, when the Coen Bros take on a genre or Tarantino fills a movie with bits and pieces from other movies, that’s referencing. It’s an artist taking something they love and making something of their own that’s similar while tipping their cap to their influence.

    On the other hand, when someone takes a previously successful work and rehashes it to try and capitalize on the previous success, that’s a rip off (Transformers Vs. Gobots, Star Wars Vs Battle Beyond The Stars, ET Vs Mac And Me). And by the way, that doesn’t mean all rip offs suck. Sometimes it works and the ripoff can be plenty of fun in it’s own right, like the original Piranha or Critters.

    A reference or homage is an artistic appropriation of past work. A rip-off is a cynical attempt to repeat past success with a similar product. Choose to use one term over the other is not a qualitative statement that I choose to make based on whether or not I like the movie.

    Believe it or not, I usually put some thought into the things I write. 🙂 But thanks for challenging. I have no problem defending or explaining. Just don’t call me names like Smelly Poo-poohead or Dumb-Dumb Stupid Face. That I don’t care for and thankfully it hasn’t happened yet.

    • Timcharger

      “Choose to use one term over the other is not a qualitative statement that I choose to make based on whether or not I like the movie.”

      Proof is in the pudding.
      (Or proof isn’t in the pudding.)

      Not just your reviews, but have you seen any published review that does this?-

      1) Strongly, positively rave about a film AND say it is a rip-off.
      2) Fiercely, negatively rant about a film AND say it is an homage to the great
      works of the past.

      Nope, that has never happened.

      Comments about homage or rip-off are dependent on whether you love or
      hate the film.

      But this isn’t a bad thing, Phil. It’s perfectly alright to call it an homage,
      instead of rip-off, since you did love the film. It makes sense, that way.

      But you did do a bad thing, Smelly Dumb-Dumb Poo Face. You put
      Michael Bay in the same category as Lucas and Spielberg.

      Please never, never pay homage (or even rip-off) Michael Bay. Don’t
      copy him in any way.

      • “Homage” implies that the movie acknowledges the works it borrows from with the expectation that the audience will understand that the similarities are deliberate.

        “Rip-off” implies that the movie copies from other sources while pretending to be original.

        Homages can be bad, and rip-offs can be good.

        *I have not seen Snowpiercer.

        • Timcharger

          Prove it Josh.

          Show me someone who loves Vanilla Ice AND admits that the ripped-off Queen.

          Or show me someone who hates Vanilla Ice AND believes Ice Ice Baby paid homage to Queen.

          Can’t be done. 🙂

      • Phil Brown

        I’m too lazy to look it up, but I’m sure that someone has used “homage” in a negative review before. I still stand by my statement that they are two different things, even if that statement contains a horrible typo. In fact, I might go out of my way to do that in the future.

        And I didn’t put Michael Bay in the same category as Lucas and Spielberg. I was referring to the cartoon/toys in the transformers/gobots comparison. But even if I had one that, there’s no denying that Michael Bay makes successful movies. He just doesn’t make good ones. And the success was what I was referring to.

        Also, I specifically said no name calling! Not cool Tim. Not cool. Hang your head in shame smelly bottom.

        • Timcharger

          Don’t worry Phil, I know you don’t mean to categorize Bay and Lucas/Spielberg together (though Spielberg produced Transformers, yet never gets any blame
          for it).

          As long as you didn’t write that Snowpiercer paid tribute to Bay with a slo-mo,
          720 degree panning shot of Chris Evans kissing Tilda Swinton with the train
          transforming into a robot in the background…
          …(thank goodness that wasn’t in Snowpiercer)…
          … you’re okay.

  10. Ryan

    Watched On Demand last night. Really disappointed. Maybe I was expecting too much, but the movie was just too simple for my liking. And that ending…UGH

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