South Korean director Bong Joon-ho’s (Mother) English language debut, the post-apocalyptic Snowpiercer, is one of our most anticipated upcoming films. Since being released in Bong’s home country less than a week ago, the film has been crushing box office records, garnering rave reviews from critics, and generally being awesome. No official release date has been set for the rest of the world, but it looks increasingly like we won’t get to see the original cut of the film. That is, unfortunately, all too common a practice, but in this instance the reason feels especially insulting. When we finally lay eyes on Snowpiercer it could be 20 minutes shorter than Bong’s ideal version, and the reason is that the Weinstein Company thinks we’re stupid.
Film critic Tony Rayns, talking to Twitch, says, “TWC people have told Bong that their aim is to make sure the film ‘will be understood by audiences in Iowa … and Oklahoma.'” Am I the only one who feels their logic is like a slap in the face, that we’re too dumb to understand a movie? Maybe it will go over our heads because the narrative isn’t spoon-fed to us, but that should be up to audiences and ticket buyers. We all suspect that mainstream moviegoers probably aren’t going to flock Snowpiercer anyway. Despite big American stars like Chris Evans, and ample action scenes, it definitely skews towards the art house realm.
Harvey Weinstein is notorious for hacking up international movies his company buys—for instance, he shredded Shaolin Soccer and Princess Mononoke. Snowpiercer is 126 minutes, which is on the longish side, but not unheard of. For reference, The Lone Ranger was a bloated 149 minutes, each of which scrapes by at a snail’s pace. From all reports, Bong’s tale of class conflict on a train full of survivors of a new ice age, is tight, well paced, and without a lot of room to make cuts that don’t significantly alter the film.
According to reports, most of the edits will details about the characters and their stories, which, it is noted, would “effectively turn this rich Sci-Fi thriller into a straightforward action film.” Again, how can you not find this offensive, since the implication is that we would rather gawk at a spectacle than have well-rounded characters and a full, rewarding story. Don’t get me wrong, spectacle is great—I loved Pacific Rim, and that movie is all spectacle—but you know what makes it even better? A compelling narrative and people you actually care about. You really can have both. Bong proved that with The Host, which mixes family drama, comedy, and giant monsters without a hitch.
But wait, that’s not all—I feel like I’m hosting the shittiest informercial. Not only will 20 minutes of important detail be purged from Snowpiercer, the plan is also to add voiceovers to the beginning and end of the film, just in case you still don’t understand it. We wouldn’t want movie audiences to have to think, now would we? Sci-fi fans especially, know how well unnecessary voiceover narration works, Blade Runner is a prime example of that.
The UK, and possibly Australia, will apparently protest this move. Good for them, but that still leaves U.S., and other territories, with the streamlined, dumbed-down version of Snowpiercer. I keep getting the horrible feeling that they’re going to gut the movie and dump it in the dead zone that is January.
This whole thing is insanely frustrating as a movie fan, in both a broad narrow way. It begs the question why even buy the rights to a film in the first place if all you’re going to do is tear it to pieces and corrupt the filmmaker’s ideas? In general, I hate having to scour the web, searching for the real version of a movie I desperately want to see. Specifically, Snowpiercer is a movie I’ve been salivating over since I first heard about it, and Bong is a director whose work I love, and whose choices I trust. I want to see his movie, not some watered down facsimile that’s mostly his film.