Snowpiercer

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Snowpiercer
Snowpiercer poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Bong Joon-ho
Produced by Park Chan-wook
Lee Tae-hun
Jeong Tae-sung
Steven Nam
Screenplay by Bong Joon-ho
Kelly Masterson
Story by Bong Joon-ho
Based on Le Transperceneige 
by Jacques Lob
Benjamin Legrand
Jean-Marc Rochette
Starring Chris Evans
Song Kang-ho
Tilda Swinton
Jamie Bell
Octavia Spencer
John Hurt
Ed Harris
Music by Marco Beltrami
Cinematography Hong Kyung-pyo
Edited by Steve M. Choe
Changju Kim
Production
company
Moho Films
Opus Pictures[1]
Distributed by CJ Entertainment
United States:
RADiUS-TWC
Release dates
  • 1 August 2013 (2013-08-01) (South Korea)
  • 27 June 2014 (2014-06-27) (United States)
Running time 126 minutes
Country South Korea[1]
Language English
Korean
Budget $39.2 million[2]
Box office $86,758,912[3]

Snowpiercer (Korean: 설국열차; hanja: 雪國列車; RR: Seolgungnyeolcha) is a 2013 South Korean science fiction action film based on the French graphic novel Le Transperceneige by Jacques Lob, Benjamin Legrand and Jean-Marc Rochette.[1] The film is directed by Bong Joon-ho,[4][5] and written by Bong and Kelly Masterson. The film marks Bong's English-language debut; approximately 80% of the film was shot in English.[6][7]

The film stars Chris Evans, Song Kang-ho, Tilda Swinton, Jamie Bell, Octavia Spencer, John Hurt, and Ed Harris.

Plot[edit]

In 2014, an experiment to counteract global warming causes an ice age that kills nearly all life on Earth. The only survivors are the inhabitants of the Snowpiercer, a massive train, powered by a perpetual-motion engine, that travels on a globe-spanning track. A class system is installed, with the elites inhabiting the front of the train and poor inhabiting the tail.

In 2031, the tail inhabitants prepare for the latest in a series of rebellions. Guards arrive periodically to deliver protein blocks for food, and take some of the children. During the guards’ next visit, Curtis Everett leads the tail inhabitants in revolt, forcing their way through several train cars to the prison section. There, they release prisoner Namgoong Minsu, the man who built the security system that controls the doors dividing each car, and his clairvoyant daughter Yona. They offer him uncut Kronole, a drug that both he and his daughter are addicted to, as payment for unlocking each of the remaining doors.

One of the cars is filled with armed men. Under the orders of Minister Mason, the men battle Curtis' forces. Curtis' side prevails, and he captures Mason, but he is forced to sacrifice his second-in-command, Edgar, to do so. Mason agrees to lead the group through the high-class cars in exchange for her life. In the school car, the teacher points out seven frozen rebels through the window. She and a henchman then draw machine guns, slaughtering many of Curtis' followers, and executing his mentor Gilliam. As revenge, Curtis kills Mason.

Curtis, his few remaining followers, and Namgoong and Yona continue through the train, discovering the extravagance in which the elites have been living while the poor wallowed in squalor. One of Mason's henchmen, Franco the Elder, kills the rest of Curtis' followers, before the henchman is himself seemingly killed. Curtis resolves to complete his mission, accompanied by Namgoong and Yona. The trio moves through the remaining cars where the elite indulge in food, partying and Kronole; Namgoong steals much of this Kronole from the inebriated revelers. As they arrive at the Engine door, Namgoong suggests they use the collected Kronole, made from explosive chemical waste, to blow open the side of the train, and escape into the outside. Namgoong explains that every year, the train has passed a crashed plane buried in snow, which has become less buried with each passing year, suggesting that Earth is warming, and that survival outside is now possible.

Curtis explains why he must confront Wilford, creator of the train and its hierarchy. When the tail dwellers first boarded the train, they were deprived of food, water, and supplies, and in crowded conditions, forcing them to turn to cannibalism. Before the introduction of the protein blocks, Curtis had kidnapped an infant Edgar to eat him, and killed his mother, before Gilliam cut his own arm off and offered it in Edgar's place. Namgoong resolves to use the explosive, but the engine door opens, and Namgoong is shot and wounded by Wilford's assistant Claude, who forces Curtis inside. Curtis confronts Wilford, who explains that the revolution was orchestrated between himself and Gilliam as a means of population control, necessary to maintaining balance aboard the train for supplies, but Curtis was too successful and Wilford's own losses too great, so he executed Gilliam as punishment. The aging Wilford says that he wants Curtis to replace him as the train's overseer, while in the tail, Wilford's henchmen execute all but 26% of inhabitants.

Meanwhile, Yona and the recovered Namgoong fight off the irate partiers and Franco (who survived the previous fight). Yona knocks Claude unconscious, gets inside the engine room and pulls up the floor to reveal that Wilford is using the tail children as slave labor, to replace the train's failing components. Outraged, Curtis sacrifices his arm to block the train gears, freeing one of the children, Timmy. Yona recovers the explosive from Claude and ignites it, before retreating into the engine with Namgoong. The damaged engine door fails to close, and Namgoong and Curtis sacrifice themselves to shield Yona and Timmy from the resulting explosive fire. The explosion sound wave causes an avalanche in the surrounding mountains that strikes and derails the train, destroying many of the cars. In the aftermath, Yona and Timmy step outside into the snow. In the distance Yona spots a polar bear, revealing that life exists outside the train.

Cast[edit]

The leader of the revolution who leads the passengers of the tail section.[8][9][10] About the character of Curtis, Evans said, "I mean, for me, the tail section is, I think that’s Curtis. I think that’s who he is. The tail section is hard; it’s grinding; it’s tough; it’s real. So that’s where I had the most fun. Back there." [11] Casting directors suggested Evans to Bong, who initially had misconceptions of Evans before they met due to the "caricature of the American all muscle", but quickly departed from that notion and described Evans as "[...] he's actually very sensitive and has a quiet and introverted side. He’s a very, very smart person, and he’s a director." [12][13] Bong was introduced to the films Puncture and Sunshine where he described Evans' performances as showing his "sensitive acting abilities". Bong and Evans spent months talking about the dialogue, and Bong received help from the cast and crew including Evans due to it being his first English language film.[14] Bong said that for the role of Curtis, hiding Evans' muscular physique was the most difficult thing about working with the actor. Explaining, "He’s supposed to be in the poor tail section for 17 years, eating only protein blocks, and it was tricky to hide all of that muscle mass with costume and make-up." [15] On whether he was surprised by the fan response, Evans said, "I’ve been surprised about everything about this movie. Every movie you make, you hope people will enjoy it, but this movie has surpassed all of my expectations across the board." [16][17]
The specialist who designed the security features on the train.[10][18][19] On taking the role, Kang-ho said, "This was the third time I worked with director Bong, and working with director Bong is a wonderful experience. [...] this time around, working with the wonderful cast members was a tremendous experience." [20][21] Describing Nam, Bong said, "He sets up the ending, because he has a vision about this world that’s different from Curtis’. He has a desire to go outside of the train." [22] On the name of the character, Bong stated, "I was looking for a name that would be most difficult for foreigners to pronounce. Namgoong ... it is difficult. There are some name-related jokes in the film." [23] Kang-ho was the only Korean speaking actor in the film, and although as difficult and uncanny as it was, he expressed, "[...] but at the same time, it was very refreshing and fun to do." [20]
Wilford's right hand, the second in command on the train and has been the spokesperson for Wilford for the past 17 years.[10][18][19] About the character, Swinton said, "Mason is a pretty monstrous construct so we felt we were dealing with extremes, but the truth was that we didn't have to go that far. Look at Hitler with his dyed black hair and Gaddafi with handmade medals stuck on his jacket." [24] Swinton prepared for the role by studying clowning politicians throughout history, and Mason is, in Swinton's words, "a complete smash cut of all the monstrous, maniacal, political clowns." Swinton added that the character is a mix of Margaret Thatcher, Colonel Gaddafi, Adolf Hitler and Silvio Berlusconi.[25][26] The Yorkshire accent Swinton uses is based on someone from her early life who had the accent and to her, "was an early example of authority".[27] Tilda and Bong met at the Cannes Film Festival when We Need to Talk About Kevin played and both wanted to work together. In one original scenario, Mason was a middle-aged man and first mentioned as "peaceful," so Bong changed it and offered it to Swinton. Bong added, "I originally talked to John C. Reilly about playing Mason." [28][29] On Mason's appearance, Bong stated, "Tilda actually wanted to take the look further and I had to pull her back. She at the time really wanted to transform herself and look different than she ever looked before. I was all for it. Obviously there was something that started the whole look." Additionally Swinton stated, "As we were playing we had these ideas, like fantastic pendulous breasts [...] And Jamie Bell loved wearing them of course. We have a picture of him. Our crew picture involves [Bell] wearing Mason’s breasts." [30][31] Bong was inspired by a photo Ondrej Nekvasil found of a lady inside the National Museum of Natural History, and he showed the image to Tilda who "loved it" [32][33] The appearance of Mason was based on Roxie Collie Laybourne.[34]
Curtis' second-in-command.[10][18][19] On taking the role, Bell said, " "The reason why I wanted to be a part of the film was because of what Director Bong had to say about it; it was his vision that he brought to the table and I thought what it stood for was important to me." [35] When asked of performances that were interpreted differently onscreen from the screenplay, writer Masterson stated, "[Bell] is very impish and mischievous as Edgar, which I didn’t predict from his character. That might just be Jamie." [36] and of his performance, "I think [Bell]'s performance, a lot of it is improvised, and quite brilliantly." [37] On relating to the character, Bell said, "You know, I come from a very working-class background myself. There was the sense that I had to overcome something and really test myself. So in a way Edgar is very similar, he genuinely doesn't have anything and he's the lowest of the low of these people." [35]
A determined mother who is set on getting her son back.[18][19] She doesn't posses the qualities of a fighter, but nonetheless takes part in the rebellion and speaks for the people of the tail section.[10] The film marks Spencer's first time working in the science fiction genre. Spencer described Bong as "an auteur" and expressed sadness at the studio's proposal to cut the film.[38] On imagery from the history base of references, Bong said, "When [Spencer]'s character is being beaten by the soldier, it’s meant to remind people, somewhat, of the Rodney King incident." [22] On the message of the film, Spencer said, "We are all covered in smoke and dirt from years and years of not washing and particles in the air, and we are all the same color if you look at it." [22]
A helpless father whose only wish is to protect his son.[18][19][39] On taking the role, Bremner said, "I watched director Bong's film Mother which I was really knocked out by. He has a much adventurous sense of a character and he's a rare director in his route to cast actors that he really likes." [10] Despite the weak and frail imagery of the character of Andrew, Bong needed an actor who was able to convey the raw emotion of the character to the audience directly.[10] Bong became a fan of Bremner's after watching his appearance in Naked. On Bremner, Bong said, "He would become an actor like Byun Hee-bong one day." [10]
The spiritual leader of the tail section.[18][19] Director Bong first saw Hurt in The Elephant Man while at middle-school, which made him curious about the actor; for the part of Gilliam he wanted an older actor, though one with the ability to "exude the ambience of spirituality." [10] On the character of Gilliam, Hurt said, "He is certainly shadowy, but he is shadowy for a reason. Even though I still am not entirely certain what the reason is," adding, "[...] as far as Gilliam is concerned, he believes in the status quo, but he also sees himself as a true humanitarian. I mean he has literally given his limbs to these people." [40] Hurt stated that the role of Gilliam was physically challenging one at that, because, "[...] the fact that I had one leg strapped behind me, trying to stagger around on those not very easy-to-use crutches. [...] and having to make it look like as though I’d been doing it for years." [41] He too acknowledged Bong's encouragement of collaboration in allowing the cast and crew to "interpret things as we want, as we see fit" as well as adding pointers to the act.[40] Hurt said of Bong, "I just fell in love with him. He was wonderful. I hadn't seen anything. I hadn't seen Mother or anything, which I immediately did when I got home. I went, 'Wow, that's the chap I was talking to.' Thank God instinct has left me completely. I adored him then, I adored him ever since." [42][43] as well as previously adding, "He is quite different but technically, he is as clever as Hitchcock. That's saying something. [...] He is one of the best directors I've worked with. I absolutely adore working with him." [44]
The creator and caretaker of the engine.[18][19] Dustin Hoffman was considered for the role.[45] About the character, Harris said, "He’s so built up, who this guy is, and then there’s this big thing open, and he’s just this old guy making dinner with his robe on, but director Bong really wanted him to be matter-of-fact and very mundane, and simple, and kind of freaky that way." [46] also added that the character is "probably a coagulation of various folks".[46] The role of Wilford was the last to be cast, and it was friend and fellow filmmaker Park Chan-Wook who suggested Harris for the role.[47] Bong stated that Wilford needed to be played by someone with "tremendous presence and performance from the first moment that he appeared in order to convince the audience," adding that "[Harris] turned Wilford into a lively and ironic character with added appeal." [10] On taking the role of Wilford, Harris mentioned, "When I was sent this script, I was told director Bong is a Korean director, and that he’d made some other films, but I had never seen any of them [...] I thought they were wonderfully accomplished films, which really made me want to work with the guy. I’m a big fan of his." [48] Harris was very praiseworthy of Bong, especially his tendency of editing the piece whilst shooting.[49] Since the film's release, Bong has revealed background information about the character, such as, Wilford being bisexual, "He slept with Claude, the Egg-Head, Mason, and the pregnant teacher. Yet, his the One is the Engine." [50] Tyler John Williams portrays a young Wilford.[51]
The 17-year-old daughter of Namgoong Minsoo.[18][19] On taking the role, Ah-sung said, "It was like going back to where it all started. Director Bong gave instructions and Mr. Song gave me advice or guidance, so it felt like I had returned to being on my first film, The Host [...]." [10] About her character's name, Ah-Sung said, "[Bong] couldn't think of any name for Yona; he just left her as "The Inuit Girl." [20] I gave him Nastyona’s album, and he went "This is it!", adding, " It also matches the Biblical figure Jonah [pronounced Yona in some languages, including Korean] and had a right feel to it." She added that she spoke with a mixed accent of the United States, Philippines and India, and spoke to fellow cast member Ewen Bremner for advice on her English pronunciation.[52] Ah-sung described Yona as being, "[...] someone who was completely indifferent to Minsu’s ambition. Even if she knew, she wouldn’t have cared." [53] Of Yona's background, Bong revealed, "Yona’s mother was the leader of the Frozen Seven’s revolution - because she was an Inuit. She was confident that she could endure the coldness. However, she went out too early." [54]
Gilliam’s bodyguard, a muscular, agile, fast-moving warrior who is handy with knives.[55][56] On taking the role of Grey, Pasqualino said, "I got to work with a dream cast and [Bong] who I think is frankly a genius. I feel very lucky and privileged to be given the opportunity [...]" [57] On his experience, Pasqualino said, "A massive thank you very much [...] Director Bong, my Korean friends Go [Ah-sung], Song [Kang-ho], all of my other cast members, Octavia [Spencer], Jamie [Bell], Tilda [Swinton], John [Hurt] and Chris [Evans]. Everyone was absolutely amazing and made my time on [Snowpiercer] incredibly enjoyable." [58] Grey has various tattoos on his body, each seeming having a specific story, including Gilliam’s name tattooed on the heart side of his chest.[56][59] After the film's release Bong revealed background information, "There are homosexual relationships among the men. Gilliam and Grey seem like a couple with a large age gap. Gilliam is someone whom Grey admires deeply, of course, but one could imagine they sleep together too. And Gilliam sends Grey to Curtis." [50]
The woman in yellow [60] and employee of the mysterious Wilford.[61][62] Rebel Wilson was considered for the role.[63] About the character of Claude, Levie said, "I play Claude, the accomplice of the big boss of the train [...] My role remains somewhat shadowy." According to Bong, "they have a relationship. " [64] As to why she took the role Levie said, "The film Lena played at the 2011 Toronto International Film Festival. There saw director Bong Joon-Ho stood nearby a poster where I was. He was intrigued by the trailer of [Lena] and approached me." [64][65]

Additionally, Alison Pill appears as a teacher on the train Snowpiercer.[66][67] Vlad Ivanov as Franco the Elder, one of Mason's henchmen.[68][69] Adnan Hasković as Franco the Younger, an executor of the army led by Mason.[70][71] Clark Middleton as the Painter, who's often seen drawing other passengers or key events, visually chronicling underclass life and death.[72][73] Tómas Lemarquis as Egg-head;[74][75] Stephen Park as Fuyu;[76][77] and Paul Lazar as Paul.[78][79] The creators of the graphic novel, Jean-Marc Rochette and Benjamin Legrand, have cameo appearances in the film.[80][81][82]

Production[edit]

  • Bong Joon-ho – director, writer
  • Kelly Masterson – writer
  • Park Chan-wook – producer
  • Hong Kyung-pyo – cinematographer
  • Ondrej Nekvasil – production designer
  • Catherine George – costume designer
  • Steve M. Choe – editor
  • Changju Kim – editor
  • Marco Beltrami – composer
  • Eric Durst – visual effects designer

Development[edit]

"When I first came across Transperceneige, the first thing that grabbed my attention was the unique cinematic space of a train. Hundreds of metal pieces moving like a snake carrying people squirming inside gripped my heart. And the people were fighting against each other. They were not equal in this Noah's ark that held the last survivors as they were divided into cars.

Bong Joon-ho, speaking on what captivated him to the story." [83]

In the winter of 2005, Bong found Jean-Marc Rochette's French graphic novel series Le Transperceneige at a graphic novel shop near Hongik University and finished reading the entire series while standing in front of the bookshelf where he found it.[84][85] He was fascinated by ideas of people struggling on the train for survival, and how every section is classified in social stratification. Bong showed the series to his friends, fellow director Park Chan-wook and producer Lee Tae-hun, who loved it as well.[86] Albeit praising the original graphic novel, he soon realised that a film like Snowpiercer needed an original take, Bong stated, "[...] I had to come up with a completely new story and new characters in order to create a new, dyamic Snowpiercer that was packed with cinematic exhilaration." [87]

In the following year, Park's production company Moho Films acquired the copyrights to the original story of Snowpiercer for Bong, and in the following year of 2007 the copyrights to the story extended. On 15 September 2010, the first draft of the screenplay for Snowpiercer had been completed and in December, the second draft of screenplay for completed and modified alongside Park.[88] On 4 October 2010, Bong, whilst at the Vancouver International Film Festival, had initially entertained the idea of shooting the film in Canada due to it having "[...] a great infrastructure for filmmaking, and Korean expatiates are involved in the film industry a lot." [88] During the pre-production in South Korea, around the January and October period of 2011, Bong wanted a film studio with a 75–100 meters long space to fill with four train cars connected together. Therefore, Bong and his production team travelled to Europe for a studio scouting and ended up with two studio choices: Barrandov Studios in Czech Republic and Korda Studios in Hungary. In August 2011, a Czech producer hired by the production team began negotiations with two film studios for availability; Barrandov Studios was chosen eventually for the film studio and production service provider of Snowpiercer.[89][90]

On 18 January 2012, Kelly Masterson was hired to rewrite the script, before it went into production this spring, due to Bong seeing his screenplay work on Before the Devil Knows You're Dead and being impressed with the tonality of darkness and acuity in the story.[91][92] Bong and Masterson had originally envisioned a romantic story for the protagonist; however they jettisoned that idea in subsequent drafts of the screenplay.[93] On 8 October 2013, at the Busan International Film Festival, Bong acknowledged the challenges in adapting such a story to fit the apparent constraints of cinema, to which had to omit certain scenes from the graphic novel, "[...] I had to capture that long story in a two-hour film, so rather than cut out some scenes from the comic, I just rewrote the whole story to fit this time frame." [94][94][95]

On 13 January 2012, Chris Evans began negotiations to star in the film adaptation, and was later confirmed as the film's male lead after Bong was recommended by the casting director of the choice of Evans.[96] On 17 January 2012, Tilda Swinton and Jamie Bell were confirmed to be in talks to join the project.[97] Swinton first met Bong at the Cannes Film Festival, where she was of the mind that she did not want to make any other films, a decision she takes after each film: "And that one (and only) condition in which I will make another film is that I will have some fun.[98] So we started to play with the idea of what would amuse us about this." Bong and Swinton experimented with voices, mannerisms and the general appearance of the character of Mason.[99] On 18 January 2012, John Hurt was confirmed to have been cast, with Hurt stating, "All the film crew refer to [Bong], with great reverence, as 'Director Bong'. I love the fact that I am working for Director Bong." [100] On 2 February 2012, Octavia Spencer had joined the cast of Bong's project in the role of a "passenger on the train who joins the revolt in order to save her son.[101] Ed Harris spoke of his love of all three films of Bong Joon-ho and wanted to work with him, "I want to do this. I don't care what he’s asking me to do because he’s a really great filmmaker." [102] On 27 February 2012, Ewen Bremner had joined the cast of Bong's film in the role of "a man looking to rescue his kidnapped son [...] Bremner will be a father who offers to help." [103][104][105] On 3 April 2012, Luke Pasqualino was confirmed to have joined the cast of Bong's Snowpiercer.[106][107]

Bong states that it took four years to develop the project, with an additional three to produce with Park.[14] Stating, "Today, I feel I have overcome a terrible disease, like cancer cells had occupied my body during that time.", as well as expressing an interest in making smaller films in the future.[108]

Filming[edit]

Bong filmed Snowpiercer with anamorphic 35mm film photography as well as using 1.85:1 aspect ratio.[109][110] On 16 April 2012, Principal photography had officially begun in Prague, Czech Republic, at the Barrandov Studios on gimbals on its interconnected sound-stages after preparatory filming in the production occurred at the end of March, with a said budget near to $42 million, which was the largest film budget of all time for any film with Korean investors.[111] On August 2011 the studio was determined as the shooting location and on October 2011, Bong and his production team moved to the Czech Republic.[112][113][114] During the period of November 2011 and April 2012, the key members of the crew were secured and confirmed, those being: Ondrej Nekvasil, Eric Durst, Julian Spencer and Marco Beltrami. The preparatory production began in Tyrol, Austria during mid-March for one day to shoot some snowy scenery on the Hintertux Glacier, which made for excellent conditions and perfect weather.[115][116]

Roughly ninety percent of the film was shot on set. Bong's original wish was to shoot the film entirely in Korea, but a studio large enough to accommodate a set of such scale was difficult to find, thus Barrandov Studio was the ideal place of shooting instead, requiring the construction of a 100-meter replica of the title train.[111][117] In choosing Barrandvov Studio, Bong explained, "All the artwork, huge train sets and the gimbal were greatly completed and fully operational. Shooting at Barrandov Studios will never stop with a perpetual engine." [118] Bong's usage of the studio allowed his team and himself to carry out meticulous experiments to contrive perpetual movement by staging the film on a giant gyroscopic gimbal, which can roll from side to side or bend realistically, to give three-dimensional feel to the train [119]

Flash SFX, the team involved in the construction of the gimbal stated, "The main challenge of physical effects work was that of inventing and developing a system that would perfectly simulate movements of train in motion. We managed to create a massive gimbal system supporting train cars with a total weight close to 100 tons. It was capable of simulating all sideway motions and vibrations of the train, including perfect make-believe curves of railroad tracks." [120]

On 14 July 2012, principal photography officially wrapped in the Barrandov Studios after a 72-day shoot,[121][122] with post-production carried out in South Korea, and Bong started editing the film for its release.[122]

Visual effects[edit]

The visual effects company Scanline VFX worked on Snowpiercer.[123] Primarily the company worked mostly on the exterior shots of the film: the frozen city, the Yekatarina Bridge, the Frozen Harbour landscape in the sushi lounge, the "Frozen Seven" sequence, the industrial park in the shoot-out sequence and the post crash environment/avalanche at the end of the film.[124] Already having multiple designs, storyboards and basic concepts of the train cars, it set in motion the development of over 60 different versions of the various wagons for the train Snowpiercer, thus, "[...] we [had] a good idea of the vision of director Bong, we saw what he liked, and what did not work for the movie.", said visual effects supervisor Michel Mielke.[124]

Visual effects designer Eric Durst spoke of the Aquarium Car being an intriguing challenge of lighting, with the differentiation of a water-based environment on one side and a frozen-based landscape at the other. Durst and his team, including director of photography Alex Hong, had light "travel through water trays on top of the aquarium structure".[123] Himself adding, "These refracted the light spilling on the actors, replicating the way light would react in an actual aquarium environment." In the task of creating that world, Mark Breakspear and his team in Vancouver spent a great amount of time at the Vancouver Aquarium to study " the fish, the lighting environments, the way the light refracted through the water and glass, along with how it distorted the fish as they passed."[123]

One of the most challenging effects, on the train, was the length of the train, and the number of cars needed to be handled. Mielke had a "very complex rig" created and built to provide the animators involved in the creating process with enough capability as was possible, he stated, "The rig managed that the train automatically followed the rails, that the motion of the wagons where simulated depending on the rails, that the wagons could be changed easily and so on." [124]

Parallel to principal photography in Prague, the first designs of visuals spanned from May 2012 up until the final shots of early March 2013, with team of over 70 artists developing over 186 VFX-shots with almost 50 being full of computer-generated imagery.[124]

Design[edit]

Costume design[edit]

Costume designer Catherine George explained that Mason was initially inspired by a Smithsonian photograph that production designer Ondrej Nekvasil had found of an older lady amongst a room full of dead birds at the Museum of Natural History, who was a real person from Swinton's childhood.[125] In designing Mason's costume, George found images of women from their late 60's and early 70's, adding that, "[...] a certain type that I remembered growing up who would wear their fur to go into town and scoff at people who were less better off, a bit of a Margaret Thatcher type, really." [126] George also designed Mason's suit to look "a typical conservative politician shape and style" with the purple adding a royal quality to the attire.[126] She had "collected pictures of dictators wearing elaborate uniforms and crazy hand-made medals" to experiment with the designs of such a character.[127] George later admitted to the similarities to Ayn Rand, although not intentional.[127] George and Bong travelled to Swinton's home in Scotland with "a couple of suitcases of clothes, wigs, glasses and teeth" to play around with ideas.[125]

On creating individuality for the passengers in the tail section, George had the designs come from random materials they would use to fashion practical clothing, "The tail section clothing was pieced together from different garments and repairs were made on top of that. They had to improvise with any materials that were left on the train." [126] For the design of Curtis, Bong and George wanted him to be anonymous but at the same time recognizable. The design was difficult as George had to conceal Evans' muscular physique and muscle mass thus, "We had to cut out the sleeves of his under layers to help him look leaner." [128]

George personally designed the costumes for Nam and Yona, who wear the "darker-coloured intense black".[127] Taking inspiration from photographs of train engineers from an early industrial period and vintage French railway jackets, it was designed while she looked at utilitarian clothes due to Nam previously being a train engineer before his imprisonment. George also designed many of the tail section costumes, including Nam's, using Japanese Boro fabric.[126]

In creating Claude’s yellow coat and dress, George was mindful of the fact it was the first colour of brightness in the tail section scene and well as the property of yellow being the most luminous colour in the spectrum.[126] She expressed, "It’s the colour that captures our attention more than any other and in colour psychology yellow is non-emotional and lacking compassion." Camera testing occurred before deciding the final colours as well was observing how they'd interact, with the back drop of darker costume colours.[126]

Production design[edit]

Director Bong and his illustrators created various pieces of concept art for the train cars of Snowpiercer, led by Czech production designer Ondrej Nekvasil, who was brought onto the production team to help realize those visions.[87][129] Nekvasil approached the atmosphere of the train section it as if it were a "dark, monochromatic [...] life", emphasising poor living arrangements, to which he found inspiration from poor areas of Hong Kong and elsewhere to put in the set designs. In order to make the colours appear "used" and "dirty", Nekvasil and company started with colourful props that were subsequently washed out and forcibly aged to create a feeling of "really used property and space", while creating a back story to justify the appearance.[129]

When designing the train, Nekvasil and director Bong hit upon the idea of the train not being designed by one man in one specific moment; the idea that "these various train cars were built in different periods of Wilford’s life".[130][131] Another idea was the logical scale of the train itself, though Bong entertained the notion of it being beyond a logical scale, Nekvasil stated, " [...] if it’s 20 feet wide, it’ll no longer seem like a train." [131] Dimensions and sizes were discussed, and the design sized finalised was "slightly bigger than a typical train", though enough to allow space for camera movement inside the train. The design was difficult due to distance limitations, as Nekvasil said, "... the biggest stage we had, which was about 300 feet long, was not big enough to fit everything." [131]

Instead of overly relying on CGI, Nekvasil's production design team constructed twenty-six individual train cars and used a giant gyroscopic gimbal in Prague’s Barrandov Studios to simulate the movement of an actual train when shooting.[132][133] Director Bong stated that the gimbal was used on the third day of shooting, explaining, "Sometimes we felt carsick on set." due to realistic effect of the gimbal.[132]

Release[edit]

Snowpiercer premiered at the Times Square on 29 July 2013 in Seoul, South Korea,[134] before screening at the Deauville American Film Festival as the closing film on 7 September 2013,[135] the Berlin International Film Festival as the part of Berlin's Forum sidebar on 7 February 2014,[136] opening the Los Angeles Film Festival on 11 June 2014,[137] and the Edinburgh International Film Festival on 22 June 2014.[138]

US release controversy[edit]

On 9 November 2012, The Weinstein Company acquired the distribution rights to Snowpiercer from CJ Entertainment, based on the script and some completed footage, with a plan for wide release in North America, as well as throughout the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa.[139] It was released in the US on 27 June 2014 in just eight theaters in selected cities.[140] This delay was caused by Harvey Weinstein, an owner of The Weinstein Company, requesting 20 minutes of footage be cut and opening and closing monologues be added. Bong refused to cut it. American fans anticipating the film were outraged, spawning the Free Snowpiercer petition campaign (founded by cinematic activist Denise Heard-Bashur) demanding the director's cut of the film to be released in the US.[141] Eventually Bong succeeded in getting the film released in an uncut form;[142] however Weinstein retaliated by relegating the film to Radius-TWC, which meant the film only received a limited release in art house cinemas.[143] On 3 July 2014, it was announced that thanks to the positive reviews and buzz the film would get a wider US release and play in over 150 theaters.[144]

Home media[edit]

The film was released on DVD and Blu-ray in various countries, including France and Korea, over the Spring and Summer of 2014 first, before the movie was finally debuted in North American theaters. The film was eventually released on home media in North America on 21 October 2014.[145] Very shortly after, it became available on Netflix for streaming on 1 November 2014.

Reception[edit]

Box office[edit]

Since its South Korean opening, the film has earned US$86.7 million worldwide.[146] As of April 2014, it is the tenth highest-grossing domestic film in South Korea with 9,350,141 admissions.[147] The film holds the domestic record for the fastest movie (domestic and foreign) to reach four million admissions, which it achieved in its fifth day after premiere, and another record for the highest weekend figure (from Friday to Sunday) for a Korean film, with 2.26 million viewers.[148] The film took in a total of $171,187 on its US opening weekend, averaging $21,398 per theater.[3]

Critical response[edit]

Snowpiercer received widespread acclaim from critics, audiences, and at festivals all over the world, particularly for Bong Joon-ho's direction, the film's cast (especially Chris Evans, Song Kang-ho and Tilda Swinton), visual scope, social commentary, Hong Kyung-pyo's cinematography, and Ondrej Nekvasil's production design.

Film review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reports that 95% of critics gave the film a "Certified Fresh" rating, based on 164 reviews with an average score of 8.1/10, with the site's consensus stating, "Snowpiercer offers an audaciously ambitious action spectacular for filmgoers numb to effects-driven blockbusters." [149] Metacritic, another review aggregator, assigned the film a weighted average score of 84 (out of 100) based on 36 reviews from mainstream critics, considered to be "universal acclaim".[150]

Chris Nashawaty of Entertainment Weekly gave the piece an "A" rating, stating, "Snowpiercer sucks you into its strange, brave new world so completely, it leaves you with the all-too-rare sensation that you've just witnessed something you've never seen before...and need to see again." [151]

A.O. Scott wrote, in his review for The New York Times, "Planetary destruction and human extinction happen a half-dozen times every summer. It's rarely this refreshing, though." [152]

Andrew Pulver of The Guardian scored the film most positively, writing, "Snowpiercer works brilliantly, the sum of extremely disparate parts that adds up to cinematic excellence." [153]

Joshua Rothkopf of Time Out New York scored the film five out of five stars, writing, "Sprung from a 1982 French graphic novel and bearing its era's trickle-down tensions, Snowpiercer is a headlong rush into conceptual lunacy—but you'll love it anyway." Rothkopf praises Joon-ho, stating, "[...]Bong grabs onto the grungy conventions of postapocalyptic adventure with relish. He serves up claustrophobic action scenes (one largely shot in the dark) and ominous, messianic overtones as the band of rebels makes its way forward." [154]

Lou Lumenick of The New York Post gave the piece high acclaim, writing, "Don't miss it—this is enormously fun visionary filmmaking, with a witty script and a great international cast." He added, "The beautifully designed train is one of the most memorable in screen history [...]" [155]

David Denby of The New Yorker spoke highly of the piece, stating it to be, "Violent, often absurd, but full of brilliant surprises, while Bong keeps the center of the action moving toward the front of the train, a considerable feat of camera placement, choreographed mayhem, and cohesive editing," and praising Nekvasil's production design, "Bong and [Nekvasil], provide them with a series of sybaritic astonishments." [156]

Clarence Tsui of The Hollywood Reporter wrote a highly positive review, commenting, "Snowpiercer is still an intellectually and artistically superior vehicle to many of the end-of-days futuristic action thrillers out there." Speaking highly of Bong's film-making, Tsui wrote, "Bong’s vivid depictions—aided by Ondrej Nekvasil’s production design, Hong Kyung-pyo’s cinematography and Steve M. Choe’s editing—are exceptional." [157]

David Thomson of The New Republic remarked that "The most bracing and liberating thing about Joon-ho Bong's Snowpiercer is not just its lyrical forward motion, but the exuberance with which the film revels in its plot predicament." He furthers praises Nekvasil's "progression of design set-pieces" and Tilda Swinton's performance, saying "She is the life and soul of this riotous party, and you will be sad to see her disposed of, no matter that Mason’s ghastly manner has earned it." [158]

James Rocchi of Film.com wrote that, "If the film has one element that never flags or falters, it's Evans." [159]

Scott Foundas of Variety wrote, "An enormously ambitious, visually stunning and richly satisfying futuristic epic from the gifted Korean genre director Bong Joon-ho." Foundas added that Beltrami’s original score was "among the generally impeccable craft contributions [to the film]." [160]

Soundtrack[edit]

Snowpiercer: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
Film score by Marco Beltrami
Released 26 August 2013 (2013-08-26)
(CD)
Genre Film score
Length 55:57
Label CJ E&M Music
Producer Marco Beltrami
Buck Sanders

In May 2012, Marco Beltrami was hired to compose the incidental music for Snowpiercer.[161] In January 2013, a song titled Yona Lights was released on the film's official website in South Korea.[162] On 12 July 2013, during the 007 Fimucité at Tenerife International Film Music Festival in the Canary Islands, a few pieces of the three films composed by Beltrami (Snowpiercer, Soul Surfer and The Wolverine) were selected for the performance.[163] The pieces played for the Snowpiercer part were "This is the Beginning", "Go ahead", "Train riot" and "Ec Yona".

The film's official soundtrack was released in July 2013 in South Korea and the international release date was on 26 August 2013.[164]

Track listing

All music composed by Marco Beltrami.

No. Title Length
1. "This Is the End"   3:41
2. "Stomp"   1:00
3. "Preparation"   3:10
4. "Requesting an Upgrade"   3:40
5. "Take the Engine"   2:04
6. "Axe Gang"   2:22
7. "Axe Schlomo"   1:47
8. "Blackout Fight"   4:24
9. "Water Supply"   2:32
10. "Go Ahead"   2:45
11. "Sushi"   1:14
12. "The Seven"   1:00
13. "We Go Forward"   2:05
14. "Steam Car"   2:38
15. "Seoul Train"   2:26
16. "Snow Melt"   2:02
17. "Take My Place"   5:56
18. "Yona Lights"   3:33
19. "This Is the Beginning"   4:00
20. "Yona's Theme"   3:38
Total length:
55:57

Accolades[edit]

Awards
Award Date of ceremony Category Recipients and nominees Result
Asia-Pacific Film Festival[165] 13 December 2013 Best Director Joon-ho Bong Won
Best Supporting Actor Kang-ho Song Nominated
Best Supporting Actress Tilda Swinton Nominated
Best Cinematography Hong Kyung-pyo Nominated
Best Editing Steve M. Choe, Changju Kim Nominated
Best Production Design Ondrej Nekvasil Nominated
Best Sound Design Tae-young Choi Nominated
Asian Film Awards[166] 27 March 2014 Best Film Nominated
Best Director Joon-ho Bong Nominated
Best Screenwriter Joon-ho Bong, Kelly Masterson Nominated
Best Production Design Ondrej Nekvasil Nominated
Best Costume Designer Catherine George Nominated
Baek Sang Art Awards[167] 27 May 2014 Best Film Nominated
Best Director Bong Joon-ho Won
Best Supporting Actress Go Ah-sung Nominated
Most Popular Actress Go Ah-sung Nominated
Blue Dragon Film Awards[168] 22 November 2013 Best Film Nominated
Best Director Bong Joon-ho Won
Best Supporting Actress Go Ah-sung Nominated
Best Cinematography Kyung-pyo Hong Nominated
Best Production Design Ondrej Nekvasil Nominated
Best Technical Aspect (Editing) Steve M. Choe, Changju Kim Nominated
Best Technical Aspect (Special Effects) Eric Durst Nominated
Busan Film Critics Awards[169] 1 November 2013 Best Screenplay Joon-ho Bong, Kelly Masterson Won
Gotham Awards[169] 1 December 2014 Tribute Award Tilda Swinton (Snowpiercer, Only Lovers Left Alive, The Grand Budapest Hotel, and Michael Clayton) Pending
Grand Bell Awards[170] 1 November 2013 Best Film Nominated
Best Director Bong Joon-ho Won
Best Screenplay Bong Joon-ho, Kelly Masterson Nominated
Best Supporting Actress Go Ah-sung Nominated
Best Cinematography Hong Kyung-pyo Nominated
Best Editing Steve M. Choe, Changju Kim Won
Best Art Direction Ondrej Nekvasil Won
South Korean Film Critics Awards[171] 18 November 2013 Best Film Won
Best Director Bong Joon-ho Won
Best Cinematography Hong Kyung-pyo Won
Sydney Film Festival[172] 15 June 2014 Best Film Nominated
World Soundtrack Awards[173] 25 October 2014 Film Composer of the Year Marco Beltrami Nominated

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