Snowpiercer falls prey to Harvey Scissorhands as he mauls a new artistic vision
Nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public
- HL Mencken
American film audiences get a pretty bad rap in the eyes of the rest of the globe. Hollywood is of course, the centre of the world of cinema and from it we see all kinds of films.
For every great film there are at least twenty bad ones. For every brave artistic choice a Hollywood executive makes there are a hundred examples of cowardice.
Whether its test audiences bleeding out originality, rushed changed endings, perversions of iconic source material, corruption of the MPAA, or just general underhandedness (such as delaying American distribution of an international success so that you can film a quick, cheap knock-off). The Hollywood studio system largely thinks American audiences are idiots, and so continually compromise artistic content that is made under their gaze. Unfortunately they are often proved right by the fact that people will still turn up in droves to Happy Madison movies, while movies made with genuine love and independent spirit such as Pacific Rim, Dredd, and Kick Ass get shafted. Saying that, occasionally bad movies get decimated at the box office too, like John Carter and Disney‘s recent travesty, The Lone Ranger.
Now, don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a blanket condemnation of my American brothers and sisters, this is just what Hollywood does and how you reciprocate in kind. Here’s a recent story for all of you.
A lot of you will be familiar with the name Harvey Weinstein. He’s a bigshot Hollywood producer, responsible for half of the films nominated for Oscars each year, and he also handles the distribution of a lot of foreign movies to American audiences.
Snowpiercer, the political drama with action sequences set on a train hurtling through an Ice Age wasteland, is his latest acquisition in that field. You may be familiar with it if you’ve kept up with the Friday Film Trailer feature we’ve been running semi regularly. Now, I suppose there may be a small number of you that are confused by its foreign status. After all, it does star Chris Evans (Captain America himself), and a majority of English speaking actors. That’s because it’s the first English language film from South Korean director Boon Joon-ho (often referred to as South Korea’s Steven Spielberg, responsible for a number of great films including the unique and politically incendiary kaiju film The Host, as well as 2009 Cannes film festival favourite Mother); made as a Korean/US/French co-production so that he can avoid a lot of the bureaucracy inherent in the Hollywood studio system.
Boon Joon-ho is an incredible director, capable of imbuing his films with rich narrative and characters, as well as a strong undercurrent of political and societal subtext. Snowpiercer, despite some slightly shaky promotional materials, is apparently absolutely excellent, which is wonderfully refreshing for a great Korean director to succeed in making the language transition (it’s never normally that smooth). Snowpiercer has been breaking records left, right and centre in South Korea, which bodes well for its international release.
Of course, because Americans are stupid, you couldn’t possibly enjoy the film how it was made and meant to be viewed. Luckily, you guys have Weinstein looking out for you, as he’s just generously cut a whole twenty minutes from the film! These cuts are reportedly almost all character moments and scenes of drama, the idea being to make it more into an easily digestible action film for American audiences. As such, expect the US theatrical release to have none of the richness that has caused the film to be so widely praised. Weinstein demanded to Boon that the cuts must be made and that hamfisted voiceover narration should be added to the beginning and the end of the feature, so as to spoon feed the audience relevant information that may have been contained in the cut scenes. He then went on to say that American audiences wouldn’t understand the film in its current state, and that it needed these changes to be made in order for it to be understood, “especially by audiences in Oklahoma…or Iowa.”
Though I haven’t seen the film yet, it’s hard to figure out what could possibly be in those twenty minutes of footage that your average resident of Iowa couldn’t possibly comprehend that your average South Korean can. Especially when you consider that its central focus on class warfare, economic and societal depression, as well as rebellion will resonate deeply with many Americans as it’s a current hot button issue in politics. It’s hard to believe that any concepts presented in this film will be completely alien to American citizens. But then, we’ll happily show The Dark Knight Rises, whose version of events enforces that the poor in fact need the rich to survive in a stable system.
For those who didn’t know, Weinstein’s habits have generated him the unfortunate nickname in the industry of “Harvey Scissorhands” due to his tendency to tamper heavily with foreign films that he releases. Previously he demanded heavy cuts to Studio Ghibli‘s anime classic Princess Mononoke and to Yimou Zhang‘s historical action piece Hero.
This is an incredibly insulting development for a number of reasons; for one this is not even producer interference, but distributor interference, which frankly shouldn’t even be allowed. Secondly, the film is only 126 minutes long, and is reportedly excellently paced and does not suffer from any bloating, so cutting a full twenty minutes of it is a sufficient enough chunk to completely warp the tone, aesthetic, and even entire message of the film. Snowpiercer is reportedly rather cerebral and very dark, so clearly it needs some of that Hollywood polish to make it bland and shiny enough. Simply put, it’s a complete infringement on Boon’s original artistic vision, something that is very precious to all artists and could dramatically change his film, to a point where it barely resembles the original product.
That’s not even getting to the fact that it’s an unabashed insult to wilfully dumb down foreign films to appeal to American audiences, like a parent cutting the crusts off a child’s sandwich. What’s more, and let’s be honest here, foreign films only have a certain audience share in the US as it is. Snowpiercer is not going to break box office records in America, or make any kind of massive impact, and yet it’s being tailored towards people who probably will never even see the film anyway, at the risk of losing the audiences that are genuinely interested in seeing the film in it’s original form.
These cuts will apparently be also present on the UK theatrical version as well, although UK programmers are resisting it. Tony Rayns, a British film critic and programmer says:
Leaving aside the issue of what Weinstein thinks of its audience, it seems to say the least anomalous that the rest of the English-speaking world has to be dragged down to the presumed level of American mid-west hicks.
Snowpiercer won’t likely see a Western theatrical run until early next year. If, at the time of release you read American critic reviews that say the film is bland, weightless, and emotionless with thin characters and a non-existent plot or message – then you can thank Harvey Weinstein for that. Makes you wonder what other films are like, before people like Weinstein, with their low and offensive opinions about audiences, cut them to pieces. Suddenly it doesn’t seem so strange why everything in Hollywood feels so homogenized.
All I can say is I wish I had Weinstein’s job. It must be nice to be paid millions for continually recycling Oscar bait (and winning a whole bunch of awards for it), whilst also ruining artist’s dreams and openly insulting your audience. How will you respond?
Be sure to wait for the Directors Cut DVD to absorb the film as it was meant to be seen.