‘Snowpiercer’ pioneering new method of movie distribution

07/20/2014 12:00 AM

08/08/2014 10:25 AM

There hasn’t been a “buzzier” movie this summer than “Snowpiercer,” a post-apocalyptic tale about survivors aboard a train who are all that is left of mankind after a failed climate-change experiment brings a new Ice Age and wipes out the planet.

It has big-name clout: “Captain America” himself, Chris Evans, stars along with Jamie Bell, John Hurt and Oscar-winners Tilda Swinton and Octavia Spencer.

It has fanboy devotion: It’s based on the French graphic novel “Le Transperceneige” by Jacques Lob, Benjamin Legrand and Jean-Marc Rochette.

It has action-film appeal: It’s directed by Joon-ho Bong, the adventurous South Korean filmmaker who gave us the cult hits “Mother” and “The Host.” “Snowpiercer” is his English-language debut.

It has a reputation: For months, Bong and U.S. distributor Weinstein Co. head Harvey Weinstein butted heads on the final cut to be released in America (Weinstein reportedly wanted a shorter, more “commercial-friendly” version while Bong refused to change anything). Bong’s cut finally won out.

And it’s already a success: “Snowpiercer” made waves abroad last year, and broke box-office records in South Korea.

So anticipation in America was extremely high to see the film when it was finally released here on June 27 – in only eight theaters. But word about it spread quickly.

It garnered positive reviews (its Rotten Tomatoes score is a whopping 95 percent), and fans took to social media to tweet about it (several touted it as “the greatest film ever made”), further fueling anticipation.

Yet most people didn’t have access to it – until now.

In a daring marketing move, the film’s distributor Radius-TWC (a division of Weinstein Co.) has released the film digitally via Video On Demand outlets, just weeks after its debut in theaters. “Snowpiercer” then skyrocketed to the No. 1 spot on iTunes and other platforms less than a day after its launch.

It’s a bold experiment that has many industry insiders watching closely. “Snowpiercer” is drastically changing the model of how a film gets distributed.

In the past, skipping a full-blown theatrical release and going straight to VOD deemed a movie a failure. But “Snowpiercer’s” digital release is already a success – it has made more than $1 million in its first week on VOD platforms, according to Entertainment Weekly.

And that doesn’t seem to be hurting its theatrical run. The film will expand to about 200 more theaters this weekend (none in Wichita), for a total of about 500. Instead of competing against each other, the theatrical/digital releases are thriving in their own ways.

The film’s success is also surprising because it’s hardly your standard feel-good, blow-’em-up fare typical of summer blockbusters.

Instead, it’s downright bleak. In the film, a race society has formed in the 17 years that the population has lived on the perpetually fueled train. The elite live at the front of the train while the poor live in the back.

Tired of the status quo, the poor population stages a rebellion, led by Evans’ character.

It’s a thought-provoking action film, one that has vehemently found an audience. Its release strategy seems to be paying off in unprecedented ways.

So if “Snowpiercer” is any sign of how movies get released in the future, the train has already left the station.

About Movie Maniac

The Eagle's Rod Pocowatchit offers his musings on the screen scene.

Reach Rod at rpocowatchit@wichitaeagle.com.

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