Autopsy of the Snowman: Potential Lost in the Movie-Making Machinery - Review

Image courtesy of Universal Pictures 

It’s easy to forget the complex process involved in making a movie. The people in front of the camera interacting with the writers, producers, and directors is one layer to that process. Funding, shooting locations, and external factors are another. Managing the potential chaos can produce those shocks, moving movements, or laughs that we all want to see in a theater or other type of screen. 
When that chaos proves to be too much, movies fall apart, get shelved, or, nowadays, get relegated to a streaming-only release. The film’s potential takes a backseat to the reality of movie-making, and the best intentions can’t stop all the moving parts. 
The Snowman (2017) seemed to have unlimited potential, but it was ultimately a casualty of  production chaos. All that the movie had going for it failed to prevent an extremely limited theatrical release and director’s public response of essentially saying, ‘Well, I did my best given the situation.’ 
That Swedish director, Tomas Alfredson, was a rising star after directing two engaging literary adaptations: Let The Right One In (2008) and Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (2011). Each film garnered numerous nominations and awards and allowed Alfredson to demonstrate his ability to direct intense period pieces. He also had solid source material for this film: the eponymous novel by Jo Nesbo, another rising Scandinavian literary star. Norwegian and Swedish noir enjoyed world-wide attention during the late 2000s and early 2010s. 
So, a Swedish director adapting a Norwegian novel attracted a stacked cast of (mostly) British actors with a few Americans. However, the majority of the talent was not actually Scandinavian. Rebecca Hall, Michael Fassbender, Val Kilmer, JK Simmons, and Chloe Sevigny were just a few of the names featured in speaking roles. Well, what ended up in the film might not be considered a speaking role for Val Kilmer, who had just completed throat cancer treatment. 
But a rocky start foretold how the rest of the production was going to go. Martin Scorsese was originally going to direct, though he stepped down to just executive produce. So Alfredson inherited a movie in media res. 
Funding unexpectedly came through, which rushed the filming in Norway. Alfredson later admitted that ten to fifteen percent the script wasn’t filmed during this rush. Some scenes were completed later in London, and the evidence of this is painfully obvious with hero Harry Hole (Fassbender) having a different haircut during one of the last scenes of the movie. 
The rushed production made some of the movie’s strange plot even stranger. A serial killer (with a rushed backstory) starts killing people during fresh snowfalls. Sometimes a snowman’s head is left in place of a person’s head, or sometimes an actual head is left on top of a snowman. Had that ten to fifteen percent of the story been filmed, some elements of the novel’s twisty plot might have melted together more.
Adding to the chaos was how to incorporate Val Kilmer into the film. In a Reddit AMA, the late star admitted to having just finished treatment and to having a very swollen tongue. Because of this, his lines were dubbed into his scenes, and he was often facing away from a camera when ‘speaking’. 
The result is a skeleton of a film that barely holds together. Subplots and backstories are referenced instead of explored, creating a final product that temporarily works. Like the object in the film’s title, it can hold together and resemble what it’s supposed to represent, but it can’t survive in warmer temperatures. 
The Snowman is currently streaming in Netflix. 
- Eric Beach