From the monstrous, unimaginable castles of Minas Morgul in “The Lord of the Rings” to the biopunk, eugenics-driven dystopia of “Gattaca,” world building is key.
It’s what separates the believable, but still inspired, world of “Interstellar” from the forgettable universe of “Transcendence.” (There’s a reason you’ve probably never heard of it.)
In the case of “Snowpiercer,” director Bong Joon-ho pulls through.
In Joon-ho’s post-apocalyptic world, everyone on earth is dead, the world is frozen over and the future looks rather bleak.
But luckily for humanity, a few hundred survivors have packed into a virtually indestructible, self-sustaining supertrain created by the wealthy scientist Wilford.
And, naturally, Wilford is also the Machiavellian dictator of this train-bound society.
So, of course, with limited resources and too many mouths to feed, Wilford is going to have to make some adjustments.
In the front of the train, the wealthy enjoy a rather lavish existence, dining on sushi and attending dance clubs. But in the back, the only slightly less fortunate tailenders survive on slimy blocks of ground-up creepy-crawlies.
Not to mention, the grimy tail dwellers live in the train-car equivalent of a slum.
As your mother said, sharing is caring, and when you don’t share, the train peasants will stage a rebellion.
“Snowpiercer” isn’t revolutionary by any means. It’s admirable that Joon-ho creates such a captivating society in the confines of a train.
And as the tailenders hack and slash their way to the front, the audience learns more and more about the intriguing history, culture and facets of Wilford’s train world.
Instead of a photographer, the tailenders rely on a sketch artist for “photos” of their loved ones.
Instead of cocaine, heroin or meth, flammable industrial waste blocks are the currency and drugs of the future.
Instead of conventional torture, Wilford’s police punish insubordinates first by forcing limbs into a porthole to the outside world, and then shattering their frozen limbs.
But, surprisingly, due to Wilford’s ingenuity and foresight, much of the old world is preserved, at least for the more fortunate.
In the front of the train, there’s a self-sustaining aquarium and a UV-lit vegetable farm. And fresh water is gathered when the supertrain crushes through the ice of the outside world.
The imaginativeness of it all is wonderful. There’s something extremely captivating about watching a world that’s so different from your own, yet so similar. It’s the root of good sci-fi and good fantasy.
And if you don’t really care for any of this world-building nonsense and just want a bloody action movie, “Snowpiercer” is that too.
So suspend disbelief and take a journey to another world—a world much colder, much smaller and a lot more violent.