Finally, Snowpiercer has made it onto Netflix in the UK, it may have taken 6 years but it’s been worth the wait. Until now, the film had only been available to rent via Amazon Prime, iTunes and the BFI Player since October 2018. By being released on Netflix, we can only hope that this phenomenal film finally gets the audience it deserves. However, the question on everyone’s mind, is what took it so long to make it across the pond?
Bong Joon-ho’s dystopian sci-fi was first released way back in 2013. It was very much a labour of love for Bong, who came across French graphic novel Le Transperceneige by Jacques Lob in 2005. The story takes place on a continually moving train carrying the last of the world’s population. The people are split along class lines until the lower classes at the back of the train revolt against the Elite at the front. This is a small movie, it and stars the likes of Chris Evans, Jamie Bell, Guy Pearce and Tilda Swinton, as well having a modest budget of $42 million.
Snowpiercer was Bong’s first English language film and was critically-acclaimed with the likes of Clarence Tsui of The Hollywood Reporter stating that “Snowpiercer is still an intellectually and artistically superior vehicle to many of the end-of-days futuristic action thrillers out there.” Scott Foundas of Variety said the film was, “An enormously ambitious, visually stunning and richly satisfying futuristic epic”. And Chris Nashawaty of Entertainment Weekly gave the film an “A” rating, declaring that “Snowpiercer sucks you into its strange, brave new world so completely.”
In South Korea, the film sold four million tickets in one week, which was the shortest time span for a film to secure that many ticket sales, in South Korean box office history. However, despite all the rave reviews and ticket sales in South Korea, it was never released in UK cinemas or even on DVD or BluRay.
Back in November 2012 (just before the film was completed), The Weinstein Company (yes, them) acquired the film’s distribution rights for North America, United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. They also secured the final cut for those regions, demanding 20 minutes had to be cut from the film which was typical Weinstein fashion.
However, Bong was having none of it. At the Snowpiercer premiere at the Busan Film Festival in 2013, he stated that his version of the film to be released, “would be the only director’s cut you will be able to see.” The ‘ever charming’ Harvey Weinstein was not happy being told no by anyone, and like the egomaniac he was (and possibly still is, as leopards very rarely change their spots), he instructed a very limited release of the film. It was released in the United States on 27 June 2014 in just eight theatres in selected cities. Weinstein was basically trying to force Bong into giving in to the Weinsteins demand for the cut.
In response, a Free Snowpiercer petition campaign demanding the director’s cut of the film to be released in the US was created by cinematic activist Denise Heard-Bashur. Eventually, Bong succeeded in getting the film released in an uncut form. Feeling the pressure, Weinstein gave in and Snowpiercer was given a wider release into 150 US cinemas.
Then the film was released in Australia, where it failed to perform as well as expected. So, the Weinsteins made the decision not to release it in the UK. When asked about his decision, Harvey replied that in Australia the film bombed, and then it continued to bomb in every other country, “with the exception of France where the comic book is based and South Korea where Bong Joon-Ho is a huge hero, and the movie didn’t work anywhere except for America.” The film did screen in the UK at the 2014 Edinburgh International Film Festival but was never released properly on British soil.
Snowpiercer quickly became one of the most highly sought-after movies to UK viewers leading to many importing copies on DVD and Blu-ray from other countries as well as many illegally downloading the film. It took an epic long four years before it was finally available on demand in the UK. The reason for this may lie in Weinstein’s fall from grace, as in 2017 a series of allegations of sexual abuse and rape was made public thanks to the New York Times. The company filed for bankruptcy in February 2018 which led to private equity firm, Lantern Capital, taking control of its assets and forming Lantern Entertainment.
This new independent film studio currently owns the rights to TWC’s 277-film library, including Snowpiercer, as well as the Scream TV series and Peaky Blinders. With Netflix’s prequel TV show currently experiencing some issues, we are lucky to finally have the chance to enjoy Bong’s vision. Now, can we get James Gray’s The Immigrant finally released in the UK, please?