Snowpiercer the series has just arrived on TNT, but it isn’t the first time this property has been adapted. When it came out as a movie in 2013, there wasn’t much fanfare around Snowpiercer. Sure it had Chris Evans in a non-Captain America role and a pre-Parasite (pre- all the awards) Bong Joon-Ho at the helm. But you still probably caught it on cable or Netflix. Sure $86 million at the box office isn’t anything to sneeze at, but this wasn’t water cooler cinema.
Based on the graphic novel Le Transperceneige, the movie posited a world where we’ve entered another ice age brought on by scientific advancements trying to end global warming. But the “cool off” strategy meant plunging Earth into a total freeze. The only survivors (that we know of) are aboard Snowpiercer, a perpetual motion machine train that circumnavigates the world and acts as its own society with classes from the poorest of the poor to the richest of the rich depending on your car or place on the train.
The flick was excellent: quickly paced, inventive in its style, insularly contained inside a train but also created a rather expansive “world” within its many cars.
It was, on a basic level, a pretty simple escape movie. Curtis Everett (Evans) and his crew move car by car in a rebellion, fighting their way to the lead car. But it also dealt largely with the ideas and problematic nature around class warfare (taken to a rather literal end), survival, self-worth, inner demons, and much more. The style, tone, cinematography, and performances make it both a compelling and sometimes tough watch. But it’s worth it nonetheless.
The Road To Series
You couldn’t help leaving the movie without wondering more about this world, this train with all of its cars. All of society wrapped into one long stretch of track, the way the world shifted just by opening one door at a time. And that’s why a series expanding on the Snowpiercer world (train) looked pretty exciting. But it’s been a long time coming.
To say Snowpiercer, the television series has been through development hell is something of an understatement. It’s been pretty ugly. Boiling it down, Josh Friedman (Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles) had been working on a Snowpiercer series for three years but felt obligated to leave when executives wanted to tinker with his vision for the show. In steps Graeme Manson, who developed and show ran for Orphan Black, another series that dealt with plenty of moral and ethical themes through its five-season run.
Production turmoil and creative team overhaul are typically death knells for these projects. There’s simply too much to overcome and if the vision isn’t aligned. The pilot episode of the Snowpiercer series has dual credits for both director and writer because Friedman and Scott Derrickson walked off the show to be replaced by Manson and James Hawes.
Reviewing The Snowpiercer Series From The Pilot
What we get in the Snowpiercer series is aligned with the movie but a show much different in both tone and scale. The setting is the same, minus the year (it’s 2021), and the story, from a high level, remains unchanged. The world now rides the rails. We get some backstory on how folks came to be on the train (it wasn’t easy) and start (like the movie) with the “Tailees” who sit all the way in the back, the lowest of the low. “Led” by Layton Well (Daveed Diggs – Hamilton), they are at the edge of a rebellion which won’t be easy. It’s been almost seven years on the train and the last uprising came at a heavy cost with limited results.
Where the original Snowpiercer movie told a linear story, a car-by-car fight up the socioeconomic food chain, the Snowpiercer series takes it in a somewhat different direction. This is very much the tale of two trains because in this version we also get a glimpse at the front. The haves are “led” by Melanie Cavill (Jennifer Connelly) who’s something of the public relations chief for the train. Through her movements, we start to get a sense of what everyday life looks like for those with status.
What begins as an interesting case study into many parts of our society devolves quickly into a who-dun-it murder investigation. I can’t help but wonder if this is where some of the creative differences between the original director/writer group and the replacements came into play. Well is a former homicide detective (the only one on the train) pulled from the back to solve a mysterious death with a body left in a storage area. He leads the investigation as the only person aboard qualified for such a thing.
As a series Snowpiercer had a unique opportunity to tell a wide-ranging story in a very insular (and fascinating) world. There’s still plenty of time to get there. And in some ways, I get the need to extend the story over out for a whole season or maybe more. That can make things complicated confined in a bottle setting. I couldn’t help but feel a level of disappointment at the prospect of wondering over this contrived mystery. Is it a necessary plot piece to position Wells all over the train during the investigation? Sure, makes sense. But I felt deflated at this square peg/round hole approach.
The Snowpiercer series’ approach threatens to strip away the very essence of what made the original premise so cool. If the world is insular, it lets the characters scheme and bludgeon their way through the cars while we piece together the reality in our own minds. I get the sense we’re about to just get different episodes that lead us methodically through the new world with each episode a new car.
All of this said, maybe this is all getting too far ahead on the track. The Snowpiercer series pilot, as a whole, is fine television. This first episode layered a musical element that felt organic, established mysterious subplots that could go a number of different directions, gave us a certain level of brutality commiserate with Snowpiercer expectations, and showed desperation and camaraderie among the Tailees that is impossible not to root for.
There are strong pieces here. But the real review will come from the rest of Snowpiercer’s season. If it’s CSI on a train, then no thanks. If they go Lost on the rails, then I’m here for it.