• Snowman, The

    Released by: Universal Pictures Home Entertainment
    Released on: January 16, 2018
    Director: Tomas Alfredson
    Cast: Michael Fassbender, Rebecca Ferguson, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Val Kilmer, J.K. Simmons
    Year: 2017
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    The Movie:

    Nothing held back here, folks; I was terribly disappointed by The Snowman. Despite the mostly negative reviews that greeted the latest feature from the prolific Swedish filmmaker Tomas Alfredson, I held out hope that the surfeit of talent on both sides of the camera had made a riveting pulp thriller that was simply too underwhelming by audiences hornswoggled by the prestige involved into expecting high art. Boy was I let down big time. The Snowman isn’t good art or good pulp. Pure and simple, it blows.

    The vast amount of potential in the adaptation of the seventh novel in author Jo Nesbo’s series of mysteries starring his best-selling detective hero Harry Hole, first published in 2007, is wasted almost right from the start. Cast as Nesbo’s hard-drinking Norwegian cop was the always watchable Michael Fassbender, but not even he can do much with a character who was probably much more interesting in the books than he is in the script by Peter Straughan (Frank), Hossein Amini (Drive), and The Killing creator Soren Sveistrup. We’re introduced to Harry as he wakes from a bender in a playhouse built for children on a playground. Not since Joe Doe Baker entered Mitchell looking hungover in the back of a squad car has the lead in a cinematic crime drama been granted such an ignoble bow, but it only gets worse from there.

    Strap in for a two-hour slog through every cliché in the serial killer detective story genre, a plodding bore that buries a halfway decent mystery beneath a mountain of repressive atmosphere, boring characters, and incoherent plotting. Martin Scorsese was originally tapped to direct The Snowman, but perhaps sensing what a waste of time that would be, stepped aside in favor of Alfredson. The filmmaking legend remained on board as an executive producer and even had his equally brilliant longtime editor Thelma Schoonmaker join the production to assemble something memorable, or at least viewable, out of the mess of footage Alfredson was able to get printed during what he later revealed to be a rushed, compromised shoot.

    Joining Hole in his pursuit of a serial killer who has possibly emerged from years in hiding to begin claiming victims during the first snow of winter is Katrine Bratt, an ambitious new recruit to Oslo’s elite crimes unit played by Rebecca Ferguson (Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation). When the first victim goes missing, Hole and Bratt reopen a cold case and begin an investigation that pits them against the usual gaggle of unsavory individuals – including Arve Stop (J.K. Simmons), a powerful businessman with perverted appetites angling to get Oslo named as the next location for the “Winter Sports World Cup” - and naturally puts their own lives at risk.

    The murderer, as they’ve been known to do throughout history in real life and fiction, likes to taunt their pursuers with mocking notes, only this particular psycho is nowhere nearly as eloquent as Jack the Ripper or the Zodiac Killer. Dismissing our man Hole as “Mister Police” (the insipid insult that inspired Internet memes destined to be The Snowman’s greatest pop culture contribution), the maniac of the story’s title likes to leave snowmen as calling cards that don’t exactly inspire fear or intimidation, just unintentional humor. It’s far more effective, though still pretty freaking hilarious, when they use the severed heads of their victims to top off said snow-built creations (and in one special case, putting a snowman head in the place of a dead body’s missing dome).

    When the woman who won an Academy Award for editing Raging Bull and also cut together several Scorsese masterworks such as After Hours, Goodfellas, and Casino can’t salvage your movie – even when she’s joined in the cutting room by another ace editor, Claire Simpson (Platoon) – it is doomed. Backed up by a score composed by the usually reliable Marco Beltrami (Logan) that sounds like a lullaby, The Snowman fails spectacularly on every conceivable level to accomplish the simplest goals in being an edge-of-your seat crime drama. It’s a serious letdown from the director responsible for Let the Right One In, one of the seminal horror films of the 21st century, and the superb literary adaptation Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (also scripted by Straughan), but perhaps Alfredson’s meditative approach to filmmaking was entirely wrong for a story like The Snowman that requires a fast pace and wire-taut tension to get the job of entertaining the viewer done.

    The director took Nesbo’s novel and turned it into a miasma of murky relationships and ill-advised narrative choices, leading to a finale drained almost completely of energy and thrills where Hole confronts a killer whose identity would be obvious to anyone who ever studied Roger Ebert’s little glossary of film rules. It took me practically the entire movie to realize that Oleg (Michael Yates), the teenage son of Hole’s ex-girlfriend Rakel (Charlotte Gainsbourg), was not his son too despite their somewhat close relationship. There is much that is left unsaid in The Snowman that would give us a better understanding of who these people are and what, if anything, drives them in their daily lives. However, what is said isn’t all that interesting, and only leads to the movie’s overwhelming lack of urgency and abundance of crashing boredom.

    The plot is provided with precious little forward momentum. Straughan, Amini, and Sveistrup’s screenplay often stumbles drunkenly into flashbacks involving Hole’s predecessor in the investigation (Val Kilmer, his voice dubbed with another actor due to his still recovering from cancer at the time of filming) that actually promises a better story we’re promptly shut out of watching as Alfredson returns us to the reluctantly welcoming arms of his much less fascinating central narrative. What little heart or wit could have been mined from the uninvolving mystery is tossed aside as soon as it threatens to rear its head, with the filmmakers plunging us further into a depressing wintry environment that offers no serene beauty and is as dry, bitter, and chilled as the people who occupy its stark white landscape.

    Fun is an essential ingredient even in a story that involves people being murdered, because this is supposed to be an entertaining pulp thriller and not an esoteric arthouse feature. You won’t find much empathy here either; the characters are merely soulless avatars who exist to execute the tired machinations of an unoriginal boilerplate plot, and the cast is wasted playing their roles only as such. No one ever seems engaged in the story, treating every crucial event as if it really matters. Harry Hole is a real drip of a hero too. I never cared if he solved the case because he obviously didn’t care either.

    It may be a real stretch for us to buy a bunch of British and American actors as Norwegians, even if this is a Hollywood studio film, but had the cast been more invested and supplied with meatier dramatic material that distraction would have been wisely relegated to the background and only referred to as a minor flaw. I mean, we could handle a predominantly British cast playing Swedes in David Fincher’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo because the filmmaking and storytelling craft on display was outstanding.


    The Snowman certainly looks good on Blu-ray, as the crisp digital cinematography of Dion Beebe (Collateral) benefits from the 1080p resolution. Presented in its original 1.85:1 widescreen aspect ratio, the high-definition transfer preserves the chilling bleakness of the Norwegian locations with clarity, depth, and visible black levels for the many nighttime scenes. Detail is present and sharp, and grain is minimal but true to the source.

    The English DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 track offers a fantastic home exhibition of the theatrical Dolby Atmos sound mix, an immersive experience with dialogue, ambient effects, and the sleepy Beltrami soundtrack integrated into the soundscape with strong balance on the volume levels and luxuriously spaced across all channels. French and Spanish DTS 5.1 tracks and subtitle options in English, French, and Spanish are also included.

    Extras are limited to a quintet of brief featurettes: “Cast of Characters” (8 minutes) focuses on the actors and what they brought to their respective parts; “Creating Jo Nesbo’s World” (4 minutes) finds the author of the Harry Hole novels reflecting on his literary creation and the film adaptation; “The Snowman Killer” (4 minutes) is devoted entirely to the creation of the killer, from motivation to wardrobe, and might spoil some plot details if you watch it before the movie; “Norwegian Landscape” (6 minutes) is all about the location filming in Norway; and finally, “Stunt Files: The Sinking Lake (2 minutes) quickly examines the making of the setting where the opening and closing sequences takes place. Each featurette contains a fair amount of interviews with cast and crew offering only surface-level observations about the production.

    Universal has not included any trailers for The Snowman, but previews for All I See Is You, Death Race: Beyond Anarchy, Happy Death Day, and The Foreigner play upfront before the main menu loads. A DVD copy and digital download code are also included with this Blu-ray.

    The Final Word:

    The Snowman is a thriller that never thrills. It’s a dreadful mess of a movie that attempts to make pretentious art out of a bloody pulp mystery and fails miserably. Watching it is sure to be one of the most depressive film viewing experiences I will have this year, and only strong picture and sound quality make this Blu-ray from Universal Pictures Home Entertainment worth a single watch if you’re anything like me and you dearly hope that it delivers on its multiple prestigious promises.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!