While much of the comics and film press has been focusing on various men of metal (iron, steel and adamantium respectively) alongside promising sequels and the lovely Thor, one comic film is being a tad overlooked. Starring Chris Evans, Tilda Swinton, John Hurt, Jamie Bell, Alison Pill, Ed Harris and Octavia Spencer, this looks set to be a very different kind of comic book film, and perhaps a surprise blockbuster.
Based on the popular bande dessinée Le Transperceneige, this is the story of a future world where the remnants of humanity live on board a single train, powered by a perpetual motion engine. The Earth is encased in a bitter Ice Age, induced by a failed attempt to halt global warming. The train, one thousand and one carriages long, holds an entire society within; the last society, segregated by class via position. The further away from the engine, the more poverty and tension can be found. Revolution is in the air.
The comic begins with the arrival of Proloff, an interloper from further down the train being captured by military late at night after breaking into a mid-section carriage. He is treated as if he might be contagious and locked away, while a supporter of train unity, Adeline Belleau, sneaks her way into see him and subsequently finds herself quarantined inside. Both characters have their heads completely shaved early in the story as part of this questionable imprisonment, resulting in that striking cover image of the two of them. (No spoilers!)
Created by Jacques Lob, who is perhaps most famous for Superdupont, Le Transperceneige was first published in 1982. Origially to be drawn by Superdupont collaborator Alexis, the artist sadly passed away not long into the project. The book stalled for several years until Jean-Marc Rochette came on board for art duties. It is, to my mind, one of the greatest sci-fi comics ever written. In all there are three albums/volumes, with only the first written by Lob and – I hazard a guess – it is only the first volume that the film adaptation will cover
Very little is known about the film, with only a couple of teaser posters, one still from the film set, and just recently several passport images of the characters released. The concept art is devastatingly beautiful, and faithful to the original comic. For director Bong Joon-Ho (The Host, Mother) it is his first English language film and the project is a collaboration between his native Korea, the comics native France, and the US with an estimated budget of $39.2 million (the most expensive film in Korean history). The soundtrack (sample here!) is by the wonderful Marco Beltrami, who has worked on the likes of The Hurt Locker and The Woman in Black. One producer in particular stands out – the mighty Chan-wook Park of Oldboy and Stoker fame.
Chris Evans is no stranger to the world of comic book films of course. He has brought Captain America to life in both his title film and the Avengers, as well as dabbling in another pool with The Fantastic Four. Add The Losers and Scott Pilgrim to the mix, not to mention the superhero-esque Push, and we have perhaps the ultimate comic book guy. Snowpiercer is more serious fare though, and it will be interesting to see him stretch himself more in that direction. As the biggest name on the cast list, it’s likely that Evans’ character, Curtis, is the main protagonist and the equivalent of Proloff in the comic.
While character passports have been released for Evans, Swinton, Hurt, Bell, Harris, Spencer, Ewan Bremner, Ko Asung, and Song Kangho, I would bet that the missing cast member – Alison Pill – is likely to be playing the equivalent of Adeline. In an interview late last year, Evans described working with Pill: “She’s fantastic, I did Scott Pilgrim with her. She’s just so good and her character in Snowpiercer is great. She’s perfect in it.”
Ed Harris gave some insight into his character and working with Bong over at Collider:
I play a guy who owns and runs a train. You don’t see me until the end. There’s a revolution going on with all the poor people that starts in the back of the train and moves its way forward. They finally get up to the front where I’m at. It was trippy. The sets were unbelievable. They had these big train cars that they build on a soundstage, and the whole thing was on this gimble deal. I hope the film works. I can’t see that it won’t, but it was amazing. That was really a trip, working on that. His whole way of working is so different. He’ll just shoot bits of a scene at a time. Normally, you’ll shoot a master and shoot the whole scene on one person and then shoot the whole scene on another, but he’ll shoot a little bit one way, and then shoot a couple lines another way. He just constantly gets the pieces that he knows he wants. And he had the editing thing down below the stage where the trains were, and the editor was cutting while he was shooting. It was out there.
Chris Evans too has been totally amped about what will be his third cold-themed movie of the year (Winter Soldier, Ice Man…):
It takes place in the future. The whole world was frozen over and all of society lives on a train. It is kind of like an allegory for social classes and class warfare. The poorest people are in the back of the train and as you move forward in the train the classes rise. And there is a revolt, a revolution from the people in the back to the front of the train. We have such a good cast: Tidla Swinton, Ed Harris, Octavia Spencer, and John Hurt. It was just a great experience. Director, Bong [Joon-ho], is just so good. He is so good. The way we shot the movie is so unique. Most times when you are doing a movie…like if you and I were doing a scene, we would start out doing the wide shot, do the whole scene, then we would do your coverage, the whole scene, then my coverage, and then the whole scene. And then the editor would find the cut and would spoon feed the rhythm and the pace to the audience. Director Bong has storyboards laid out so that…he has already edited it in his brain. For example, we will shoot the first line on you. We will shoot the second line on me. We will shoot the third line over here and you say, “Wait a minute. Don’t you want the whole scene here?” and he is like. “No. Don’t need it.” He has already committed to an edit. It is brilliant. It is borderline genius. It’s like building a house and instead of needing a bag of nails, it is like saying, “I need 53 nails.” It is literally committing to a vision ahead of time. The trust that you feel is like, “God, this guy is operating on another plane.” And I completely surrendered to it. You just completely commit to his vision and trust that he knows exactly what he is doing because he does.
Snowpiercer/Le Transperceneige as an allegory for social classes and class warfare is spot on, and perhaps why the comic feels as relevant today as it did in the early 80s. I’ve seen it described elsewhere as akin to Dante’s descent into hell which is equally apt as we see just how twisted humanity becomes in the so-called name of survival. It’s a claustrophobic and suffocating tale of human misery and perseverance, and something that has the potential to translate to the screen incredibly well. Certainly the moody and grimy shots released thus far – along with that snippet of the score – look promising, and I have a sneaking suspicion that this film could come out of nowhere this year to steal the glory from the DC/Marvel circus.
Sadly Le Transperceneige is not (yet?) available in an English translation and the French edition is annoyingly difficult to get a hold of. Perhaps a savvy comics publisher might want to pick up the translation rights before the film hits the cinemas? (Hint hint.)
Filming of Snowpiercer wrapped last July before heading to South Korea for post-production, and it’s been picked up for distribution over here by The Weinstein Company. Date to be confirmed but with my ear to the ground I’m predicting late summer/early autumn.
More of those passports and lovely concept art: