Snowpiercer is an underprized classic, and hopefully like Blade Runner will get its due in time.
Both films owe their lineage to the pivotal Metal Hurlant, a radical French graphix magazine that combined underground comix with EC Comics and the New Wave of Science Fiction in 1975. Artists like Jean “Moebius” Giraud, Philippe Druillet, and Enki Bilal scandalized and revamped the form with a potpourri of erotica, fine art, vicious satire, and acid surreality. Their realms were worn, dystopian, jaded, rebellious. They set the standard for the used universe aesthetic of Star Wars, and Alien and Outland and Blade Runner and Mad Max and…
Many serials printed in Metal Hurlant, and its USA cousin Heavy Metal, were compiled as graphic novels. This is actually a long tradition. Since the ’30s, the Franco-Belgian publisher Casterman had compiled strips and serials into book form, treating the graphic arts as a legitimate literary form, from Tintin to Corto Maltese. In 1982 they printed Le Transperceneige by Jacques Lob and Jean-Marc Rochette.
The Snow-Piercer is a Bilal-esque allegory about an arctic future where a lone train carries the last remnants of humanity. It is a yobbish jab at classism with typical deadpan fatalism and catastrophic clashes. It seemed like there couldn’t be a sequel to it, especially in the wake of writer Lob’s death. But his friend Benjamin Legrand penned two sequels (1999, 2000) with returning artist Rochette. This triptych is the basis for the film. (a third sequel book, by Oliver Bocquet and Rcchette, was announced in 2015.)
This is the fine example of where the film improves on the sources. It does so by summing up all the strongpoints in a new story, and amplifying them further. In Director Bong Joon-ho’s vision, the class war is razor sharp, the cast cosmopolitain, the scope more grand. It compresses the extreme economic disparity of our current century succintly into the heirarchal length of the train, with the have-nots literally fighting for survival by advancing through the social rungs of the traincars. Chris Evans anchors the film, but Tilda Swinton steals it having a field day sending up the Thatchers and the Rands of the greed set.
Snowpiercer is the smartest kind of action film, its strongest punches polemical, its sharpest cuts the barbs, its parable ever timely.