Starring Jennifer Connelly, Daveed Diggs, Mickey Sumner, Alison Wright, Iddo Goldberg, Susan Park

Science-Fiction, US, certificate 15.


Now streaming on Netflix.


For those unfamiliar with the premise, based on a series of French graphic novels which started in 1984, Snowpiercer is an ark for humanity; a train one thousand and one carriages long continuously circling the globe after a human-made cataclysmic event has seen the entire planet fall into an ice age. At the rear of the train are what is referred to here as the “Tailies.” The lowest of the low struggling to survive in poverty. The further along the train you go, the better the conditions get with the affluent and wealthy lounging in luxury. This carefully set up system seems to erupt at any given moment, with the tailies planning a revolutionary raid. It is this situation which seems to be the inciting set up for the series but then quickly deviates from the main plot of the original film when the tailies leader Andre, Daveed Diggs, is taken into custody on the orders of Melanie, Jennifer Connelly. As the chief representative for Wilford Industries, Snowpiercer’s manufacturer, Melanie tasks Andre, a former homicide detective, with solving a murder. An event which also threatens to derail the trains delicate balance of power.


It may be unfair to judge by only these two first episodes, but so far the series fails to stand alongside its source material. Where the film took two hours to concisely set up a world with a large cast of characters and tell a self-contained propulsive story, the television series drags far behind in all respects. The beginning of the first episode is, so front-loaded with exposition in setting up the same environment and feels the need to introduce absolutely everything at once. The opportunity to get to know the characters and their environment, something that the medium of television can afford to take the time to do as opposed to film, is wholly jettisoned here in favour of plunging into the murder mystery aspect. So far, this storyline is the least interesting part of the show as we still have no idea who the victim is.


Its portrayal of a cramped, class-based society on the edge also draws comparisons to the reboot of BATTLESTAR GALACTICA. Where that series managed to successfully juggle the struggles of survival in a fantastical environment alongside its main storyline of man vs robot, this series with its glimpses of the upper classes passing the time in a diner car or cliched nightclub comes across as more of a dystopian version of THE LOVE BOAT than anything else. When Andre’s wife exclaims “You know hard it is to find love on this train” the comparison is hard to shake.


Characters may have different names, but a lot of the same character types are on display here. Diggs lacks the desperate hard edge and revolutionary zeal of his cinematic counterpart Chris Evans. While Alison Wright’s strait-laced take on Tilda Swinton’s northern English, Thatcher-like spokesperson seems to signal a reluctance to indulge in the more unique qualities that made the original film so distinct.  The titular train it runs along smoothly, but the series has yet to strike its tone. Hopefully, as the series progresses, it will settle into its own story and forge its distinct path.


Iain MacLeod.


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