Snowpiercer started out as a series of French graphic novels (Titan Comics has been translating them). Then it became a film by director, Bong Joon-ho (Parasite). Now it’s a TV show on TNT.
Snowpiercer is the name of the train that’s been carrying the last humans on Earth. Animation must be the new way of explaining the apocalypse because Love and Monsters began the same way. Instead of showing the end of the world you have the main character explaining what happened over voiceover and an animated simulation. In Snowpiercer’s case that person is Layton (Daveed Diggs), leader of the Tailies. Basically, Snowpiercer’s doomsday involves scientists trying to counteract global warming and causing The Freeze instead. It’s so cold that sticking a person’s hand out the train is used as a punishment – their arm smashes like glass – and the train can’t stop moving or else the electricity peters out.
While most of that should sound familiar to folks who saw the movie, liking the film isn’t a guarantee you’ll like the show, and vice versa. In the film, viewers traveled uptrain with the Tailies (to use the show’s terminology). Tailies are the passengers who didn’t pay for a ticket to be on Snowpiercer but stowed away in the back. While the passengers in first and second-class live in luxury, the conditions in the Tail couldn’t be worse. In the film, though, you discovered first and second class with the Tailies. You didn’t go anywhere without or before them. On the show, there’s more of a mix of perspectives and you get to see the different classes interact.
If the train cars in the film felt more claustrophobic (or truer to the dimensions of a real train car), Snowpiercer on the show is 1001 cars long. There’s also more people period. In the film the cars always seemed eerily empty or silent, with a few exceptions. In many ways the film felt like a videogame, with each car being a new level to beat and more violent. On the show you get more snobbery and a better idea of what a typical day on Snowpiercer is like. Even when there’s not a rebellion going on, life on Snowpiercer is precarious.
The best part of the series, though, is Melanie Cavill, a character who didn’t exist in the film but is played on the show by Jennifer Connelly. Melanie is head of hospitality and the voice of the train. She’s also Mr. Wilford’s second in command. Whereas Wilford’s role, as Snowpiercer’s creator, was more straightforward in the movie, on the show there’s a lot more mystery around him, and it’s Melanie who wears all the different hats. Wearing them is one thing but pulling them off is another and the fact that Melanie is so convincing no matter what role she plays, from hostess to engineer, is down to Connelly and her terrific costumes. Cynthia Ann Summers and Caroline Cranstoun designed them, and they’re so deliberately chosen. Melanie doesn’t wear anything by chance.
In terms of survival and trying to keep the human race from going extinct, Snowpiercer is a lot like Battlestar Galactica on a train. On the show, you get to stew with the logistics more and I personally preferred that to the action of the film.
Snowpiercer: The Complete First Season is available on Blu-Ray and DVD from Warner Bros. Home Entertainment now and comes with a few bonus featurettes. Season 2 just started on TNT/Netflix.
[* Warner Bros. Home Entertainment provided me with a free copy of the Blu-Ray I reviewed in this article. The opinions I share are my own. *]