TNT’s television adaptation of the gripping 2013 film Snowpiercer about class warfare hits Netflix on May 25, but the first episode leaves much to be desired.
Adaptations (or inspirations), be it for film or television, are bound to be subject to greater criticism simply because of the fact that the audience has a ready frame of reference with which to compare them.
Bong Joon-ho’s 2013 film, based on the 1982 French graphic novel Le Transperceneige, set a fine example of an adaptation done right. The Chris Evans starring film was a box office hit and received widespread critical acclaim. Snowpiercer bagged several awards at some of the world’s most prestigious film festivals. So of course, when TNT announced the new show Snowpiercer, expectations and excitement were quite high.
- The story drags in an episodic format
- Powerful class commentary of the film diluted in a cliché detective drama
- Strong performances can’t salvage the weak character development
Despite a stellar cast consisting of Daveed Diggs and Jennifer Connelly, the pilot episode brought all the excitement and expectations crashing down. While the original film was a strong (even if a little too explicit) commentary on class difference, TNT’s TV show reduced Snowpiercer down to a murder-mystery on a train which can’t be stopped. So where does it go wrong?
Watch: TNT’s Snowpiercer Official Trailer
TNT’s Snowpiercer — The Plot
Both the film and the show have the same setting: a post-apocalyptic future where attempts to battle global warming have turned the planet into an inhabitable frozen wasteland. The surviving humans are passengers on a train called Snowpiercer which circles the Earth. Passengers aboard the train are divided by class, with the elites living in the luxurious front cars and the poverty-stricken classes surviving in the tail end.
The focus of the film was on the desperation of the lower classes, which leads to a rebellion against the elites. Within the short runtime of the film this desperation could be felt by the audience. As the rebels moved from carriage to carriage, new revelations were made at every stage about how much more comfortable the lives of the upper-class passengers were, and how truly appalling was their treatment of the tail-enders.
TNT’s Snowpiercer, however, has to be about more than that.
And so it begins with a tail-ender who happens to be the only detective on the train being called in to investigate a murder. There is nothing new in this premise but detective stories are an effective way of keeping viewers engaged from episode to episode, even if the mystery itself isn’t particularly intriguing. While the show does seem to be building up to the inevitable revolt, that build-up is slow, predictable and lacks any sense of urgency or desperation.
The Characters — Daveed Diggs and Jennifer Connelly
It might be a little too soon to pass a verdict on the character arcs. But if successful films are driven by plot and successful shows are driven by characters, then the show’s initial character development does not hold a lot of promise for their future.
The film develops a strong character in its protagonist, Curtis Everett. Curtis begins as a key member of the rebellion and ultimately ends up becoming a reluctant leader. As he physically moves from the tail-end to the nose of the train, a parallel journey is taking place within him which transforms him from a man driven by self-interest into a leader willing to make selfless decisions.
Although the protagonist of the show takes us from carriage to carriage as well, we do not see that same progression in his arc. It’s not that the performance isn’t strong. The actors do justice to the script, but it is the script that fails itself.
Should You Watch It?
By itself the show might make for a decent watch on a lazy weekend but if you’ve watched and appreciated the brilliance of the film, the show can be deemed an opportunist and disappointing attempt at milking director Bong Joon-ho’s recent popularity, ever since his Oscar win for Parasite.
In a time when we can watch shows like Hannibal and Westworld, which maintain the integrity of the original films yet manage to be praiseworthy television by themselves, there is no place for a show like Snowpiercer which seems like a mockery of its source material and, at its best, is mediocre. TNT’s Snowpiercer has already been renewed for Season 2.