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"Snowpiercer": only sci-fi schlock to the untrained eye

Stakes on a train

Train of Cruel: Another day, another meal of protein bricks.

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During the late 80s, my dad was a big Lionel Richie fan, so my earliest formative years were filled with the dulcet tones of Brick House, (about a busty woman made of masonry), Dancing on the Ceiling, (about the inexpressible emotion you experience while dancing on a ceiling) and Night Train - where Mr. Richie likens the titular locomotive to a "smooth alligator". What kind of a metaphor is that?! Apart from lots of teeth, lack of smoothness is the major defining trait of an alligator! A smooth alligator would just be a giant, toothy salamander! (Though I suppose that wouldn't fit the cadence or rhyme scheme nearly as well.) My point is, I had no idea what train could conjure images of fanciful reptiles until I saw Snowpiercer.

Snowpiercer is the latest from Korean director Bong Joon-ho (The Host). It's adapted from the French graphic novel Le Transperceneige by Jacques Lob, Benjamin Legrand and Jean-Marc Rochette. Americans, Koreans and Brits make up its cast. This could be the most world-spanning film I've ever covered.

Too bad the world is frozen solid.

An experiment to counteract global warming worked too well, turning the earth into a giant snowball and killing nearly everyone and everything. The remains of humanity survive onboard the Snowpiercer, a 1001-car train that forever roams the rails because if it ever stops, they'll all freeze. Not only does the Snowpiercer house the last of humanity, but the last of our technology and the Earth's entire ecosystem. In this locomotioning microcosm of the old world, it's pretty easy to live some semblance of a normal life - provided you live towards the front of the train. If you're one of the unlucky "tail-sectioners", life is like a late-night ad for Christian Children's Fund. The tail-sectioners crowd together in filth and squalor, subjugated and preyed upon by rest of the train's citizens.

When front-sectioners take away two tail-section children, Curtis Everett (Chris Evans) and the rest of the tail-sectioners stage a bloody coup to fight their way to the front of the train - and to Mr. Wilford, the Snowpiercer' s inventor and ruler.

At first glance, Snowpiercer seems like a Syfy Channel Original Movie, but it's so much more. It's a masterfully crafted commentary on society, economics, philosophy and religion. All of the train's cars are dependent on each other for their individual survival and the survival of the train, and yet there is a marked decrease in the quality of life from front to tail. Wilford's emissary and Ayn Rand look-alike Mason (Tilda Swinton) admonishes that everyone must adhere to their preordained social stratum for the overall good of the train. And I suppose you could read some symbolism into a movie where a bearded guy with bullet wound stigmata leads people out of bondage to conquer a fabled promised land and confront their mysterious, godlike ruler.

That's just for starters.

Snowpiercer takes a schlocky sci-fi framework builds a deeper, more thought-provoking film atop it than I ever thought possible.

All aboard.

SNOWPIERCER, opens Friday, Aug. 1, The Grand Cinema, 606 S. Fawcett Ave., Tacoma, $5-$9.50, 253.593.4474

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