The world is shockingly less than three weeks away from a Snowpiercer TV series debuting on TNT. I have a terrible tendency to miss trailer releases, and I had forgotten all about this series until last week, when I saw the second trailer. I could recall it being announced and a news update that production had started, but it appears I missed the first trailer release late last year. I think I might have been excited about the series announcement when it first came to my attention but now, I’m left to wonder… how on earth would a Snowpiercer series work?
I wrote about the movie a few years ago in my Personal Favorites series, touting it one of my ten favorite movies of all time – a claim I stand by several years later. And now that I’ve seen the trailer for this new series I think that it looks… I don’t know. I could stand to be more excited by it. Of course, this is mere speculation because the series isn’t out yet. But I watch the trailer, and though I can’t say there’s anything about it that doesn’t look good, it doesn’t jump out at me as in any way related to the action/dystopian tour-de-force that the movie was.
For those of you who haven’t seen the 2014 movie this series is based on, or read the 1970’s graphic novel the movie is based on, I’ll do my best to avoid spoilers, giving only a general plot overview: Snowpiercer tells the story of a society who lives on a perpetually-moving train after an environmental disaster that freezes the world. The society is portrayed as classist and dystopian, and we watch as the main characters start a rebellion, fighting their way from the poorer back of the train, towards the front, where the upper classes live.
The movie was an international production that helped to make Bong Joon-Ho a household name, before he would go on to sweep the 2019-2020 Oscars with his slam-dunk Parasite. It was Bong’s first movie primarily in English, starring American and British stars such as Chris Evans, Tilda Swinton, Octavia Spencer, and John Hurt, as well as [Spoiler Redacted] playing the movie’s big-bad mastermind.
Over the past decade, longer television adaptations of genre movies have become increasingly popular, with two of my favorite 2010’s television shows being Fargo FX and HBO’s Westworld. There are dozens of these kind of shows, but the particularly relevant example being Westworld.
Westworld managed to stretch a 90-minute movie into ten hour-long episodes, while adding a level of depth that was absent from the original film. The 1973 movie was a sci-fi slasher film, about a malfunctioning theme park in which robots were coming to life and killing people. The HBO series took a different route, focusing not just on the guests, but more on the staff behind the park, and providing more character to the robots. It became a more thought-out exploration of artificial intelligence and man’s relationship to it. HBO’s Westworld was able to bring a much more nuanced perspective to the concept of artificial intelligence, which isn’t all that suprising when one considers that the original movie came out when computers were the size of a large room.
2016’s Westworld felt like an improvement on 1973’s Westworld. I can’t possibly imagine how 2020’s Snowpiercer could be an improvement on 2014’s Snowpiercer. Bong Joon-Ho’s movie was so near perfect – thematically poignant and bolstered by world-class action – that it could only be worse, I think. 1973 Westworld was an exciting, if not thematically deep movie. By contrast, one feels that 2014’s Snowpiercer fully explores its ideas about class structure, inequality, and climate change.
When I look at that trailer, I don’t see anything different from the movie. I have to wonder if I’m just being too critical, but most of what I see retreads similar scenes in the movie. The revolutionary talk in the back of the train, the protagonist befriending a child, and the tense, close-quarters fight scenes. The most obvious is the character whose arm is put outside the train to freeze and then is violently smashed, which will likely be as brutal to watch – and hey, it’s iconic. If I were going to borrow from the movie, I would definitely borrow that.
The one new thing that appears to be included is that the front-of-the-train characters seem to have a plot line where they’re dissatisfied with Big Brother Wilford. “Our fortunes built this train and Mr. Wilford is losing control,” proclaims the woman in the trailer. This doesn’t quite interest me; at no point while watching Bong Joon-ho’s movie did I find myself saying, “Boy, I’d like to know more about these fabulously wealthy assholes in the front of the train!”I suppose that more time could be given to exploring race and race relations on the train, which the series does seem to have an interest in… but not that much more of an interest than the original movie does. All of the characters in the film and TV series who come from the front of the train appear to be white, whereas those who come from the back of the train are more diverse (with some white people mixed in). That’s a good way of indicating how race and class are inherently intertwined in this world. The difference between the two is that the show’s lead rebellion leader – their equivalent of Chris Evans’ Curtis – is a black man named Leyton, played by Daveed Diggs from Hamilton. This seems like a welcome change, and this different angle will likely give the show a slightly different ethos as far as race is concerned, but it’s likely not going to result in a unique story.
What’s more is that the setting is so finite; it’s all set on one train, which works rather well for a movie that’s just over two hours, particularly because the movie chronicles the journey from the very back of the train to the front. That journey is part of what makes Curtis’ story so thrilling. I wouldn’t expect that same investment if I stretched out a journey like that over ten episodes.
Since the movie frequently references previous rebellions which did not succeed, I assumed that that would be the focus of the TV show. Additionally, there’s a character with a voice that is so reminiscent of Tilda Swinton’s chracter, Mason, that I expected this new character to have some connection to Mason, or to be a younger version of the character. Turns out, I’m mistaken, the TV series is not set prior to the movie, instead rebooting the series, and taking place seven years after the environmental disaster.
Frankly, I’m not convinced that this series has anywhere interesting to go, where the movie didn’t go already. But I hope I’m wrong; at the very least, I’m confident I won’t be 100% right. I’m sure it’ll be good, and I’m glad because it’ll bring more attention to the film, which is truly a masterpiece.