Filmmaker Bong Joon-ho is extremely adept at juggling many different tones all throughout his diverse body of work (Barking Dogs Never Bite, The Host, Mother, Memories of Murder) and his latest, the ambitious sci-fi thriller Snowpiercer is no exception. Visually bold, gloriously alive in every frame, and filled with enough ideas and subtext to match the almost endless violent action, it’s a work almost expressly designed for film-buffs and people who are itching for a Terry Gilliam movie. Production designer Ondrej Nekvasil deserves an Oscar nomination for his stunningly realized work as each train car is its own unique character and it’s a blast to guess what’s coming next from scene to scene. The performances from a deep and eclectic cast are all uniformly excellent, with Tilda Swinton stealing the entire show every time she shows up, and Chris Evans doing his predictably strong and commanding hero routine.
But here’s my one big beef that prohibits me from doing a full flip-out for this otherwise sensational piece of movie-making: every time the camera would cut to outside of the train I lost all involvement due to the dodgy (and sometimes horrendous) CGI. I know this wasn’t a $100 million production, and yes, I know, it’s always about the IDEAS, but a ton more work needed to be done to the exterior of the train and the snow-smashing shots, some of the vistas looked obscenely artificial, and the climactic action scene was very, very, very video-gamey. If you don’t have the budgetary means to get some of these bigger things accomplished, maybe it’s best to leave them out in favor of something else? Not a movie-crusher for me, but something that bothers me about this otherwise visually robust and exciting piece of cinema.