Yeah... I'd never heard of Snowpiercer before, either. This despite it having a fairly-star-studded cast including Chris Evans (Captain America), John Hurt and Ed Harris.
I think this film is the reason for a bit of Avengers trivia. In The Avengers' shwarma end-credits scene, Evans is hiding his face with his hand. The reason being, he had grown a beard for another movie, and they couldn't completely hide it. And in Snowpiercer, he has a beard.
So I'm guessing Snowpiercer is that movie.
As for why I'd never heard of it, I suppose it's because it's not major studio release. It's a limited release of a South Korean production, filmed in Czechoslovakia, based on a French graphic novel. I'm guessing the only reason it's even hitting theaters here at all is because Captain America: The Winter Soldier was a big hit.
Anyway, Snowpiercer is... well... weird. But it's weird in a good way. In some regards it's a throwback to sci-fi of the 70's where weird concepts were okay. Ever see Zardoz? Well, that's way weirder than Snowpiercer, but not always by much. Snowpiercer takes elements from various sci-fi, disaster and post-apocalyptic movies, and loads them all on a train. A big one.
That's right, a train. So take elements of Logan's Run, Soylent Green, The Day After Tomorrow, 2012, Waterworld and others, load them all up on The Big Bus (IMDb it), and you kind-of have Snowpiercer.
In the film, due to science foolishly trying to fix global warming, Earth has been plunged into an ice age and everyone is now dead. Everyone, except those who somehow managed to get on board a massively-long train that never stops, and continually circles the now-frozen planet. Somehow never derailing, wearing out parts, or running out of fuel or food.
I mean... you'd think the wheels would wear out, right?
So, after 18 years of this, the people at the back of the train living in squalor have had enough, and decide its time to move up to first class. Mysterious messages guide them along their journey as they discover more secrets about the train. The further forward they move, the more history about the train and its passengers are revealed.
Although where a lot of these people are sleeping is still somewhat of a mystery. Maybe the Pullman car is in the Directors' Cut.
There are definitely some moments of humor in the movie (much of it dark), but the filmmakers take the whole thing rather seriously. Surprisingly, it actually kind-of works in the same way most of the other films I've mentioned work. Once you're on board with the concept (sorry), you can just go along and enjoy the ride (sorry again). The plot is something you just can't think too much about, or the whole film derails (sorry yet again).
The acting is all very good, with Chris Evans doing a solid job as a reluctant rebel leader, John Hurt as his enigmatic mentor, and Tilda Swinton's wonderfully oddball turn as the train's number-two in charge. There is quite a lot of violence in the film, but it never felt gratuitous. It served a purpose to set a mood, propel the plot, or have an emotional impact. I'm not a fan of violent films, but I didn't feel completely put-off by it here.
When so many movies are focused on being overblown blockbusters, it's nice to see a sci-fi movie that's really sci-fi. Not just action or effects for the sake of dazzling an audience. Maybe the best thing that can be said about Snowpiercer, is that it's unpredictable. It's such an odd mix of ideas in such a bizarre setting, it really does keep you guessing. Sometimes that guessing amounts to "what were they thinking with that idea?", but more often than not, Snowpiercer was worth the trip. If you're looking to relive some of those sci-fi films of the 70's, buy a ticket to ride Snowpiercer. I've certainly spent a worse two hours in a theater.
It's kind-of a hard film to score, but we'll just go with a 7.5/10.