At its most bare-bones level, the plot is about a near-future climate apocalypse and its aftermath. In response to global warming, governments seeded the planet’s skies with particles to block some of the sunlight reaching the earth’s surface and bring temperatures down to liveable levels, but they got it catastrophically wrong and threw the world into an ice-age. The last remnants of humanity are gathered in a sealed community with an autocratic leader, a decadent upper class, a subservient working class, a desperately poor underclass and a small army of amoral goons keeping everyone in their proper places. This is the setting for the movie’s main story, which follows a revolt of the underclass against their faceless, heartless ruler.
So far, the scenario is not, unfortunately, completely implausible. Global warming is all too real and geo-engineering, as described in the movie, has been seriously proposed by people with expertise in the field (and rightfully howled down by people with more expertise and common sense). And examples of brutally stratified communities controlled by more-or-less crazed dictators are all too common, as are revolts of the have-nots against the haves.
Once we move from generalities to particulars, however, implausibilities pile up faster and thicker than snowdrifts in a fimbulwinter blizzard. The sealed community, you see, is a train – huge, magnificently engineered and impressively fitted out, admittedly, but a train. Circling the globe on a grand loop of tracks purpose-built for it by its visionary engineering-tycoon creator (yes, we’re in mad-scientist territory here, folks), Snowpiercer hurtles endlessly through a wilderness of snow and ice.
If viewers can suspend their disbelief about the back-story, they can enjoy a well-crafted conventional against-the-odds action movie as our underclass hero gathers followers, plans his revolt and fights his way from the rear of the train to the ruler’s quarters at the front. It’s well done but, aside from the setting, not particularly new or original; Spartacus will serve as its archetype, just as 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea might serve as the archetype for the autocratic-mad-scientist meme. This last reference, incidentally, is apt in another way, since Snowpiercer has affinities with steampunk (choose an entertaining or pedestrian explanation of steampunk if the term is new to you).
Do the implausibilities matter? I think that depends on whether the film has any claim to be taken seriously. If it’s just another action movie, who cares? If it is to have any credibility as a comment on our social and environmental stupidity, however, it must have some integrity, at least on its own terms. Good science fiction movies (they are rare but The Matrix comes to mind) do that; bad ones (which are far more common) don’t. Rotten Tomatoes liked Snowpiercer very much but IMDB wasn’t quite as keen and neither, for what my opinion is worth, was I.
Townsville Cinema Group screens good non-commercial movies at Warrina every fortnight. If you live in Townsville but haven’t already got it, look at their programme and think about joining or, if you like, just dropping in and paying to see those which particularly appeal.