July 14, 2014
Given how much I hated Rise of the Planet of the Apes, there was no chance in hell I’d go see Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, despite the good reviews it’s getting. Good thing there’s another limited release under-the-radar science fiction flick out for me to go see instead.
This is the kind of hype Snowpiercer is getting: on The Mary Sue: “Review: Run, Don’t Walk, to See Snowpiercer, The Best Sci-Fi Film of the Decade So Far.” My Facebook news feed has had people raving about this. I confess to feeling raised expectations. Well…
This movie is not that good.
Science fiction has a long and glorious tradition of using the trappings of the genre to build up metaphor and allegory and commentary. Such tales work best when a) the story is rock solid, and b) the metaphor is consistent. (Like Edge of Tomorrow, to the shock and wonder of us all!) I was willing to give Snowpiercer a pass on logic (seriously, the economy of this thing made no sense), if it could give me something else — cleverness, consistency, sense o’ wonder. Alas, it wasn’t quite there.
First, it starts really slow. The page six problem — skip the opening scroll, skip the long meandering opening, and start when Claude enters to take away the two children. Next scene, the movie totally lit up when Tilda Swinton’s character walked in — thank God for Tilda Swinton! She very nearly saved the thing herself just by chewing all the scenery. And the movie got a whole lot better for awhile and I had great hopes that it was going to keep getting better. But then we get to that last forty five minutes, and it kinda fell apart.
I loved the set up. A globe-circling train carrying the last of humanity through an artificial ice age? Sold! All we had to do was get from the back of the train to the front. The tension ought to be built in. But the movie pretty much offered the same solution to every obstacle, and that solution wasn’t clever, it was violent. It got old quick.
It has some nice moments. It has some clever (the cigarette scene was great). It has a great aesthetic — reminiscent of Terry Gilliam, as the aforementioned reviewer said. (One of the characters is even named Gilliam! Is that an accident? Probably not!) Those scenes were lovely. But. But but but. There wasn’t enough surreal/absurd — it needed more Gilliam-esque — in story beats as well as aesthetic — and it needed to be consistent. But when Snowpiercer didn’t do clever, it fell back on cliches. I kept thinking…Gilliam would have been able to pull this off. (Fortunately, we have a Gilliam movie coming out later this year! Huzzah!)
(I have a rant about how for being a 99% v. 1% metaphor the movie has no grasp of Marxist theory and it really should, but we’ll skip that one.)
I kept waiting for a clever twist that never happened. Why do I keep expecting movies to be clever, dammit?
This is also yet another movie that posits that in dire circumstances, everybody will be totally horrible to each other in really horrible ways. All the previews before this? Movies about how in dire circumstances, everybody will be totally horrible to each other in really horrible ways. I’ve about had enough of this bullshit, y’all. I’m going to go watch Big Fish, which is free On Demand right now.