How In The World Is ‘Snowpiercer’ An Art House Movie?
It’s a strange time we live in where two of the non-‘Transformers’ movies released this weekend are considered small indie films, yet one is a romantic comedy (sort of) staring Paul Rudd and Amy Poehler and the other is an action movie starring the guy who plays Captain America.
If ‘Snowpiercer’ were released at some point in the 1990s, I suspect that it would be a very popular movie at the box office. It’s a quintessential action movie – albeit a very well-done action movie – in which Chris Evans leads a band of renegades from one end of a giant train to the other end of a giant train. Along the way, there are gunfights, sword fights and fistfights. It’s almost all action, all the time, with a big star as the lead character … yet this is a small film?
After some experiments gone wrong in an effort to stabilize Earth’s climate, in 2031, the remaining living inhabitants all live on a train that speeds around the now snow-covered world. The rich live near the front of the train, while the poor live near the back. Eventually, the poor revolt (led by Evans) and make their way, fight-by-fight, toward the front of the train. It’s a high concept disguised with a simple story. It’s a movie with a message that is infinitely entertaining to watch.
I’ve seen interviews in which ‘Snowpiercer’ director Bong Joon-ho has lamented that he doesn’t like that his film is being referred to as “small” in the United States, and frankly I can’t blame him. (The film cost $40 million to produce and in South Korea, that’s still considered a lot of money for one movie.) And, if nothing else, it undermines just how big this story actually is and how much people would enjoy ‘Snowpiercer’ if it were marked as it should be … an action movie.
It’s baffling that it’s not being marketed as a summer action movie starring that guy you like who plays Captain America. Let’s compare that to when, in 2011, the Nicolas Winding Refn film ‘Drive’ was marketed as a pure action movie – with a trailer that focused on the film’s star, Ryan Gosling, in an adrenaline-spiked car chase; which, as it turned out, was the only car chase of the movie – and, not surprisingly, audiences were pissed. ‘Drive,’ which is a good movie, achieved a terrible Cinemascore … which is actually really hard to do. (The one rule of achieving a good Cinemascore is, no matter how lousy your movie is, don’t trick people into seeing it.) Famously, a woman even sued for false marketing. That’s quite an achievement.
And, even as a fan of ‘Drive,’ I get why a guy in Missouri, who maybe worked all week at a job he hates, and all he wanted to see in the world that night was a few mindless car chases, might be a little miffed that he spent his hard-earned money on a movie that was not at all what he thought it would be. Having said that, ‘Snowpiercer’ could totally be marketed as a high-octane action movie and they would completely be within their rights to do so. No one is going to sue The Weinstein Company for false advertising … but, alas, this time around, ‘Snowpiercer’ is a small art house movie. Sure.
The other “art house” offering this weekend (distributed by Lionsgate) is ‘They Came Together,’ a film starring Paul Rudd and Amy Poehler – two very popular actors that most people enjoy. Yet, here’s another film that flies under the radar this weekend. Again, if this movie came out 20 years ago, it would be something that a lot of people would be looking forward to this weekend.
To be fair, ‘They Came Together’ is slightly more offbeat than ‘Snowpiercer,’ which is an odd thing to write. It’s a send-up of the romantic comedy genre that sometimes works brilliantly and sometimes doesn’t. There’s a painful dinner scene that frames the film as Rudd and Poehler’s characters explain how they meet in flashback. From what I understand, these scenes were filmed long after the film was completed and it really feels like it – the tone of the framing device feels nothing like the tone of the rest of the film. Though, even so, I laughed out loud eight times during this movie, which I watched as a screener (with my name floating around the screen as a protective watermark) by myself.
‘They Came Together’ would work better as a 15-minute Funny or Die sketch, but I don’t really mean that as an insult to co-writer/director David Wain. I admire the fact he tried to make this movie, but there’s just not enough material to mine to make this a full-length film. Though, again, I suspect this will be a movie I watch repeatedly with friends when I want to laugh.
But, even with both of these film’s quirks, they are still quite conventional films – yet, there’s a chance that most moviegoers have no idea that anything is coming out this weekend other than ‘Transformers: Age of Extinction.’ But, in the strange domestic movie going landscape that we live in today -- especially when we look at theater counts -- those moviegoers aren’t entirely wrong.
Mike Ryan has written for The Huffington Post, Wired, Vanity Fair and GQ. He is the senior editor of ScreenCrush. You can contact him directly on Twitter.