In 2013 Bong Joon Ho wrote a story that explored the human condition set to the backdrop of humanity’s last stand. An uplifting tale detailing how the last bastion of mankind banded together to survive a man-made global extinction event; finally realizing in our darkest hour that little things like social standing were constructs of the world of old, freeing us from the binds of division. Yes, that is the plot of Snowpiercer, if Snowpiercer took place in an alternate dimension maybe! Alternate dimensions will be a recurring theme throughout this review of the Snowpiercer pilot, as I attempt to properly categorize what TNT’s television adaptation hopes to achieve. The original version of Snowpiercer was met with much acclaim upon its release (no thanks to Harvey Weinstein), leaving audiences with much to ponder, upon leaving their respective theaters. Mulling over the parallels between the fantasy world depicted on the perpetual engine powered train and our own, Snowpiercer casts a conspicuous light on our own societal failings, offering a conclusion that barely passed for a glimmer of hope. For those who are fans of the film and those seeking to learn more about the world before the film’s events, I have something unfortunate to tell you; TNT’s Snowpiercer may not be the show for you. Yes, there is a healthy dose of civil unrest and a hierarchical structure subsisting off the backs of the downtrodden to explore here (with an occasional disciplinary amputation), but the scope of Snowpiercer is vastly different than the world you knew. You see, this truly is an alternate take on the story, represented by an altered history of events, and a shiny new train.
Replacing the linearity and tight pacing of the film is a new narrative thread crafted specifically for this freshman procedural drama. Born out of the necessity to keep audiences tuned in for its inaugural first season. This departure represents a challenge; can they appease an audience expecting a prequel to a story they’ve already connected with, and can they repackage the lore for those new to the property? The short answer is no, but the longer answer begs the question; what is most important about the story of Snowpiercer? The answer to that question will either make or break this series. Judging solely by the premiere of Snowpiercer, the series mostly retains the framework of the world you know, but at a cost that may prove offputting to those familiar with the original story. For newcomers and those looking for an alternate take on a familiar tale, Snowpiercer appears to offer just that, but it, unfortunately, seems to come at the expense of the story’s soul.
“The Series appears to offer just that, but it, unfortunately, seems to come at the expense of the story’s soul.“
The original story of Snowpiercer explored the deplorable and highly unethical treatment of the average man by the affluent survivors of a global cataclysm, set aboard a futuristic dystopian train. Witnessing the measures the downtrodden took to survive, while also carving out a semblance of life immediately drew you into their plight, while their persecution and brutality by the train’s authoritative forces made it easy to rally behind their quest for liberation and equality. The television series echos many of the original’s themes, while drastically watering them down to make them more palatable for a primetime timeslot. This, unfortunately, forces the series to rely too heavily on tropes from the film. This presents a narrative that feels disjointed, as the show attempts to form a new identity of its own. The new additions and characters to the world of Snowpiercer appear perfectly balanced for this new medium, with a mystery element added for the necessary progression of the series. While the plight of our tail section survivors remains prevalent, the new focal point becomes something of a futuristic take on “Murder on the Orient Express”, as a “Tailie” is commissioned to solve a series of murders of the affluent while uncovering a plot to kill “Mr. Wilford”; the creator and operator of the 10 miles long, 1,001 car life pod. Unique to the series is the prospect of a chaotic hierarchal structure not seen in the original Snowpiercer, leading the audience to wonder if the grass is truly greener within the upper cars. It also brings into question the very nature of “Mr. Wilford” himself, as our premiere casts doubt on his existence at all; with our new antagonist (played by Jennifer Connelly) acting in a manner beyond her role as the first-class “Voice Of The Train”.
Besides sporting dreadlock extensions seemingly borrowed from Mekhi Phifer, Daveed Diggs does a respectable job as our new protagonist Layton Well. I would be remiss if I were to say he was a perfect substitute for Chris Evan’s “Curtis”, but due to the series being an alternate take on things, the two serve vastly different purposes. Where Curtis was characterized as a reluctant leader for his people, Leyton appears to have fully embraced that role. We as an audience are also forced to believe that Leyton is the last surviving police detective on earth, which appears implausible when weighed against the sheer size of the Snowpiercer. It gives the audience a tether back to the underlining theme of the story while giving Leyton a layer of duality as he works towards accomplishing his commissioned task. The machinations for our hero’s struggle are dutifully laid out within our premiere, aided by an action-packed fight scene that plays out like a Redbox knockoff of a vastly superior action movie. If you’re like me, this too will be forgivable, but I’m left wondering why they even made the attempt at all. One shining moment of the premiere was the inclusion of more diversified cars not previously seen before in film. It’s exciting to imagine what wonders (and horrors) we’ll witness as we journey through all of the 1,001 cars of the Snowpiercer. Having already completed the season, I can assure you that there will be a perfect mix of both.
Snowpiercer: The Series struggles with identity. While expanding upon the world established in the film, it struggles to find a proper footing. While the exploration of new train cars presents a world of opportunities for character development and expanded lore, hedging audience engagement on a murder mystery wouldn’t have been the direction I would have taken to attract fans of the property, or those looking for a new and unique viewing experience. Every story begins somewhere and for its pilot episode, there was enough to keep me mostly engaged throughout its 45-minute runtime. I simply wish that it had delivered more than what ultimately felt like a highlight reel of a better product. There have been many great shows that have been slow out the gate (Star Trek: TNG comes to mind) in television history. One cannot predict how a series will ultimately be received from its first episode alone, but sadly, first impressions are everything.