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Seven years ago, an ambitious science fiction film from a visionary filmmaker starring Chris Evans was released in a competitive summer. That film was Danny Boyle's Sunshine, a flawed masterpiece of the genre that continues to gain fans today, long after the abbreviated American theatrical run. The picture wore its ambition on its sleeve, which scared Fox Searchlight into only giving it a mild indie platform release.
This weekend, it's happening again. June 27th sees the release of Snowpiercer, another bravura science fiction picture from a master filmmaker, also starring Chris Evans. Sunshine debuted at ten measly locations at first: The Weinstein Company is only giving this film eight. With the weekend's big attraction being Transformers: Age Of Extinction, that doesn't give many options to several territories that would conceivably be fascinated by one of the most purely cinematic experiences of the year.
In our review, Kristy Puchko calls it "riveting, hugely entertaining, and unforgettable." All due respect to Ms. Puchko, but she's selling the film short. This is a one-of-a-kind movie, the sort of thing you have never seen. Taking place during a post-apocalyptic future where the remains of humanity are stuck on a train, Snowpiercer concerns itself with the dying masses at the very end of the train, surviving on "protein bars" and surrendering to the orders of a looney-tune administrator (Tilda Swinton in drag). The stakes are simple: the 99% are huddled together on one end, with the 1% safely ensconced on the other.
You're probably thinking, okay, so they make it from one crowded part of the train to another less-crowded part. Not exactly compelling. Wait until you see this train... every single car has its own world, it's own ecosystem. The rich/poor divide is much more complex, allowing for a wide canvas of familiar actors to shine, from Evans' steely go-for-broke hero to Octavia Spencer's grimly-determined mother to, ultimately, a sinister and pissed-off Ed Harris. Every time the group moves up to the next car, blood is shed and lives are lost, and you're never going to guess who takes the fall each time. This is a violent movie, sometimes outlandishly so, but the blows hurt, the wounds don't heal. A whole lotta people aren't going to be coming back for the sequel, if you get my drift.
All of this stems from Jacques Lob, Benjamin Legrand and Jean-Marc Rochette, who put together the graphic novel on which this is based. But for the cinema, it's refracted through the wildly restless lens of Bong Joon-ho. One of Korea's cinematic titans, the auteur is making his English language debut, though it should be clear by the way the camera moves that this guy speaks the language of cinema fluently. His accomplishments are many thus far: his thriller Memories Of Murder is one of the all-time great serial killer films (similar to Zodiac, if that's your bag). But he earned a boatload of international attention for The Host, a brilliant monster that's a lot like what would happen if you fused Godzilla with Little Miss Sunshine.
In a summer of sequels and xeroxes, the numbers show that American audiences are getting a little fed up with the same sad leftovers. Currently, only one summer release – X-Men: Days Of Future Past – has surpassed $200 million domestically. People want to see something different. Well, it doesn't get much more different than Snowpiercer. This is unique, brawny, thrilling filmmaking on a large scale, a risk-taking picture so unique it should form its own cult. We're not going to get another Snowpiercer again. For the love of all films that dare to be unpredictable, dare to be silly, dare to be gloriously, wildly imperfect, Snowpiercer is the event film of the summer. Skip it at your own peril.