It’s been three long years, but TNT’s much-anticipated series Snowpiercer—an adaptation of the critically acclaimed 2013 film by Oscar-nominated director Bong Joon-ho (Parasite)—is finally emerging from development hell and coming to television. The network just dropped a teaser trailer, and despite all the production drama, it looks like a promising fleshing-out of the original dystopian vision.
Bong Joon-ho’s film itself is an adaptation of a 1982 French graphic novel Le Transperceneige, about remnants of humanity trying to survive an ice age inside a 1,001-car train. The director has said he was especially captivated by the “unique cinematic space of a train” as a futuristic Noah’s ark. “Hundreds of metal pieces moving like a snake carrying people squirming inside gripped by heart,” he said. “And the people inside were fighting against each other.” There’s also a viral outbreak that starts wiping out the passengers.
While the basic premise remained the same, Bong Joon-ho created a new narrative arc and fresh characters for his 2013 film. The train is run by a reclusive transportation magnate named Mr. Wilford, who has separated the passengers according to class and has a nefarious plan to ensure life on the train remains sustainable. It starred Chris Evans as revolutionary leader Curtis, with Tilda Swinton as second-in-command Minister Mason. Bong shot much of it on a specially constructed set: a train mounted on a giant gyroscopic gimbal, the better to mimic the movements of an actual train. Snowpiercer earned critical raves and went on to gross $86 million worldwide, against a roughly $40 million production budget.
TNT first ordered the TV pilot in 2017, tapping Scott Derrickson (Doctor Strange) to direct and Josh Friedman (Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles) to pen the script. But the production ran into trouble the following year, when the network picked up the pilot to series but replaced Friedman as showrunner with Graeme Manson (Orphan Black). Derrickson departed the project in June 2018 over “creative differences” with Manson regarding requested reshoots. As Derrickson explained on Twitter:
The 72-page Snowpiercer TV pilot script by @Josh_Friedman is the best I’ve ever read. The feature-length pilot I made from that script may be my best work. The new showrunner has a radically different vision for the show. I am forgoing my option to direct the extreme reshoots.
TNT brought on James Hawes (Black Mirror, The Alienist) to complete the reshoots, which were extensive—almost no footage of the original pilot remains, further delaying the series. But the network was pleased with the results and ordered a second season last May, with Manson returning as show runner.
Set seven years after the climate catastrophe that produced the ice age, the series is essentially a reboot of the film, fleshed out into a full-length series. “That’s one of the advantages of TV, you have time,” series star Daveed Diggs (Hamilton, Blindspotting) told IGN in 2019. “So the politics that are hinted at in the film are explored in much more depth, and the mechanism of the train [is explored further]—just the little things that create a world.”
Diggs plays Layton Well, a prisoner at the tail end of the train who spends much of his time sniffing Chronole (basically industrial waste) until he gets caught up in a revolutionary struggle against the imposed social hierarchy abroad the Snowpiercer. Jennifer Connelly (Alita: Battle Angel) co-stars as first-class passenger Melanie Cavill, who is the Voice of the Train, responsible for daily public announcements.
The show’s large ensemble cast also includes Mickey Sumner (The Borgias, also daughter of musician Sting) as brakeman Bess Till, who stumbles upon a mystery that threatens the train’s status quo. Bonus: Sean Bean (Game of Thrones S1) is listed as joining the cast for season two. Place your bets now on how long his character will survive.
The S1 teaser is short but packed with detail, opening with Diggs’ voiceover declaring, “Only the visionary Mr. Wilford foresaw the future.” We see Melanie receive a message from Wilford via pneumatic tube. “Snowpiercer is an ark,” the message reads. “We’ll ride out this hardship and outlive the ice.” We get snippets of life aboard the train, including the opulent first-class accommodations and children in a classroom being indoctrinated, chanting praise to the great Mr. Wilford and “to the engine eternal!” The snowy shots of the train racing through a frozen landscape are gorgeous, and it looks like we’ll definitely get a violent uprising of some sort as the narrative unfolds.
Snowpiercer debuts on TNT on May 31, 2020. And maybe someday we’ll have the chance to see Friedman and Derrickson’s unaired pilot, just for comparison.
Listing image by TNT