Spoiler Warning: The following story contains spoilers for the film and TV pilot of Snowpiercer. Stop reading here if you don't want to be pampered.
Bong Joon-ho's 2013 film Snowpiercer may be the perfect science fiction action film, something like the side-field scene from Oldboy that was made into a whole film. The concept, simple, intense, readable: fight against waves of attackers from left to right for two hours.
The film was a Korean-American collaboration and joined Chris Evans and Song Kang-ho (who would reunite with Bong for the best image-winning parasite ). It also exploded ̵
TNT and then TBS and then TNT started again with the development of a series, also Snowpiercer, which was to be produced by Bong as executive producer. However, it is unclear what role the original director played. Instead, the series was written by over ten different creatives. (The film, based on Jacques Lob's French comic, was only written by Bong and American screenwriter Kelly Masterson.)
Did all this back and forth and the chaos in the production change the original film? You bet. Was it the best? Probably not.
Here are all the differences between the film and the series.
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The film takes place in 2031, about 19 years after a man-made climate catastrophe that plunged the earth into an ice age. We never find out how passengers first reached “Snowpiercer”, a biblical arch-shaped train that circles the frozen earth. The details are not important as the film goes to its big revolution fairly quickly. However, we learn of an earlier revolution that took place earlier in the train journey. This revolt is apparently the central narrative of the TNT series, which takes place just over 6 years after the "departure" more than a decade before the film.
In the series we also learn that most of the passengers in the back of the train (the arms and the lower class) boarded the train by force; Apparently there was a lottery system that excluded poor people because of: class conflicts.
While still the same "Snowpiercer", the TNT series reveals more about the train's ecosystem than the film. In the film, we move through railroad cars that resemble different stations of the class, work and entertainment – a prison, dining car, a nightclub, a school, an aquarium, a greenhouse, various medical and nursing services, etc.
The series presents the Train the same way, though we spend a little more time in first class, which generally just looks like a fancy brunch restaurant. We also see a clearer demarcation on some middle-class trains that resemble dirty dystopian cities.
The main difference is, however, how the cars are revealed to the protagonist (and thus also to the viewer). In the film – as in the series – the rear cars have no windows, which makes the moment we encounter sunlight for the first time both shattering and revealing. In the series, however, this revelation comes earlier than ah-ha since we meet the sun-drenched first class early, as well as similar scenes with a greenhouse and aquarium. Although the series tries the same aesthetic moments, there are practically no payouts.
In the film we follow Curtis (Chris Evans). We know almost nothing about Curtis. Nothing about his past. Nothing about his family. All we know is his unique desire to reach the front of the train. However, one of the strengths of the film is this narrative efficiency. We only get limited information because we only need limited information.
In the series we follow Layton (Daveed Diggs), a former homicide officer. We also meet another character who apparently was Layton's lover on the train. In contrast to film, the series appears to be far more characterful than traditionally action-oriented (this shift is common in the most dramatic television).
The film finds Wilford, the train driver, at the very end. Wilford (Ed Harris) marked the culmination of Curtis' trip. He is the father / god figure with whom the hero is confronted and from whom he learns the ultimate secret of "Snowpiercer", the revolution and his own role.
In the series we learn about Wilford's identity (Jennifer Connelly) at the end of the first episode. The reveal will undoubtedly add a strong dramatic irony to the interaction between Layton and the unknown Wilford. However, whether this irony is more effective than a puzzle remains to be seen to find out.
The Driving Action
Where the series and the film primarily differ from one another, they are central narratives. While both productions record a revolution, the way the story unfolds varies with the medium. The duration of the film is only two hours compared to the ten episodes of the series. For this length of time, it would be almost impossible to maintain the same simple plot from the back to the front.
Although there are still several directions in which the series could have gone (e.g. anthologizing character struggles in different sections of the train), they instead opt for a singular subplot about noir murder that Layton allows, to cross the train and break up the train action. But the much more interesting science fiction concept – the train, the revolution, the division of the class – summarized under one cliché crime does little to the story. It could be that most viewers (and fans of the film) stay outside in the cold.
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