The Many Lives Of ‘Snowpiercer’

by Frank Martin

As a media property, Snowpiercer has had a very interesting life. It first began as a French comic book before becoming a Korean film and then finally winding up as an American television series. An entire article could be written about the business side of this transition, but from a storytelling perspective, Snowpiercer‘s narrative life is perhaps even more interesting and deserves an analytical look.

From the most general of perspectives, the overall premise of Snowpiercer remains the same in each of its presentations. After temperatures plummet across the Earth, a group of survivors live in a fabricated society within a train that keeps warm by never stopping. The train has essentially become its own ecosystem. But the stories that spin out of this premise are wildly different in each iteration. Normally, fans of a property get perturbed when the source material is not followed, but Snowpiercer is different. The premise is such a powerful jumping off point that neither the show nor the film suffer by taking the reins of the premise and launching into entirely different, yet somehow similar, directions.

The film and the show focus more or less on a revolution of the social order within the Snowpiercer. The books eventually touch upon this point, but it’s never a main factor like it is in the live action adaptations. In the film, the revolution is hyper-charged and compressed to fit a certain time frame. The show, however, has a lot more time to play around and expands the revolution over the course of a season, playing in the background of a murder mystery. What’s even more interesting is that the show continues on for two more seasons. Although it is a high concept premise, such a small world to play around with can get tired very quickly, so it’s probably the right move to end the show after its third season. But still, the showrunners have done an admirable job keeping the plot fresh and the characters relevant.

Which is best? The book, film, or movie? I would say the question is irrelevant. I have my opinions, but this isn’t about which does a better job highlighting the premise and expanding upon it. It’s merely about taking a seed — a very strong seed at that — and spinning it off into something, unique, relevant, and poignant.

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