Introducing Frank Bruni and Ross Douthat as the Moviegoers – NYTimes.com
Douthat: …And then weirdly, the season’s best sci-fi blockbuster — one of the best such since “The Matrix,” for my money — ended up getting, essentially, an art-house release, because the director, Bong Joon-ho, feuded with Harvey Weinstein, and Harvey banished the movie to limited release and video-on-demand. I speak, of course, of “Snowpiercer,” a gripping work of right-wing propaganda in which global warming alarmism led hubristic scientists to accidentally deep-freeze the planet, and we learn the true horror of high-speed rail … and O.K., yeah, maybe there are some Marxist-class warfare themes in there as well, but don’t let that dissuade you.
Have you seen it? If not, tell me which of the blockbusters caught your fancy, and I’ll tell you why — as someone truly, deeply exhausted by superhero movies — “Guardians of the Galaxy” made me feel ever-so-slightly better about the genre’s possibilities.
Bruni: Ross, Ross, Ross. It’s summertime and we’re talking art-house fare. We must belong to one of two categories. We are big, pale nerds, or we are Op-Ed columnists for The New York Times.
I am so glad you brought up “Snowpiercer.” I have seen “Snowpiercer.” I have thought a lot about “Snowpiercer.” I am fascinated by the way it and “Elysium,” the 2013 Neill Bloomkamp film, are creating a whole new genre, not just of future dystopias but of future dystopias in which the salient dynamic is the income inequality — no, the cosmic inequality — between the self-indulgent rich and the wretched poor.
In this sense I do think moviemakers are tapping into the American psyche, but I also think they’re replicating a flaw of the American political debate. I’m not sure we’ll get very far by painting the rich as morally hopeless people who must be subverted, vanquished, overtaken.
I think we’re better served by arguing to the rich that we’re all in this together, and that everyone will suffer if the experiment gets so lopsided that it collapses. Ours is not a tale of two cities my apologies, Mayor de Blasio but a tale of one city with too deep and broad a fault line running through it.
“Snowpiercer” and its ilk don’t allow for that kind of cartography or nuance. But then why should we expect movies to show a sophistication that our elected officials can’t or don’t bother to?
“Snowpiercer” broke my heart, because it’s almost a great movie, it’s so close to a great movie, but it falls prey to the bloat and the bangs and the decibels that have become a third-act requirement of action flicks today.
I wish someone would hire a truly neutral party — I raise my pudgy hand — to take scissors to these movies and strategically cut 20 minutes from each. I could have done that with “Snowpiercer” and with “Apes,” which also has enormous merit and then devolves into a final 15 minutes of explosions and fire. I went deaf. I went numb.
But before we leave “Snowpiercer,” may I say that part of what I found so absorbing — and many critics, smartly and rightly, pointed this out — were its echoes of “The Poseidon Adventure”? It had a similar arc, a similar rhythm, a similar ragtag group of voyagers. Octavia Spencer was Shelley Winters and . . . O.K., I haven’t worked out the casting/character parallels any better than that. But they’re there, trust me. Somebody on that train was Red Buttons, and somebody else was Pamela Sue Martin.