Back in 2014, one of the biggest stories in the cinema world was the long-running war between studio mogul Harvey Weinstein and Korean director Bong Joon-ho over the American edit of Bong’s science fiction dystopia movie Snowpiercer. Weinstein wanted to cut 20 minutes from the 126-minute film, and Bong mounted a public fight against the edit. Snowpiercer finally made it to viewers intact, but only in a limited theatrical run, with a VOD release just two weeks after its big-screen debut. So it seems ironic that a film once considered too long for American audiences now may become a full-length TV series. According to Deadline, TNT has ordered a pilot for the show.
The initial details are sketchy but promising: Bong has signed on as a producer, alongside other Snowpiercer producers, including The Handmaiden and Oldboy director Park Chan-wook. Josh Friedman, creator of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, will write the pilot and serve as showrunner. Still, it’s hard to imagine what a Snowpiercer TV series would look like, unless it either erased the film and retold the story in a new way, or went back to the French graphic novels that Bong’s film adapted.
The film takes place in a dystopic horror-future where an attempt to repair the damage of global climate change brought on a new Ice Age that killed off most of humanity. For some reason, the survivors all boarded a train that endlessly circles the planet. The rich elite live up front in decadent luxury; the disenfranchised live in crowded, filthy quarters in the back, eating disgusting protein-gelatin and getting lectures in gratitude from Tilda Swinton. (“Know your place! Keep your place! Be a shoe!”) Then the MCU’s Captain America, Chris Evans, leads a rebellion against the train’s leadership, and the film ends in a way that leaves a little open-ended hope, but not much story left to tell — at least not on the train.
Ultimately, the biggest problem with Snowpiercer the movie was an unsatisfying ending that brought the rebellion plot up short for no clear reason, halting the action in favor of long, windy speeches. If Snowpiercer the series takes the original idea as a premise, and otherwise starts from scratch, it has the potential to build up the same complicated dramatic tension without squandering it because of a medium’s time constraints.
A television show’s length, and its episodic structure, could let a showrunner dive deep into the train’s faction system in a way that seems less simplistic, obvious, and baldly metaphorical. Much like HBO’s Westworld series borrows a basic premise from the 1973 film, but takes the opportunity to look at different aspects of its theme park world, Snowpiercer the series could find a richer depth in the premise by looking at different areas of the train, how they’re run, and what kind of lives people live in a striated science fiction setting.
For what it’s worth, Deadline says the series would start “seven years after the world has become a frozen wasteland,” which would put it 10 years before the movie, assuming the show acknowledges the movie’s timeline at all. Which it might not: Friedman’s statement about the possible series (at The Hollywood Reporter) suggest he’s mostly interested in the movie’s setting and its political metaphor, rather than its specific characters or story elements. “It’s great the way the best sci-fi is great — thoughtful, political, funny, scary and sly,” he says. “And it’s on a train. A big f—ing train.”
That may sound a little meat-headed and overeager. But with Sarah Connor Chronicles, Friedman and his team did more with the Terminator franchise than the past three films combined. It was a stylish and enjoyable show that ended too soon. Friedman’s series instincts specifically suggest he knows how to respect the fundamentals of a long-running franchise without following them slavishly. (It’s a pity Fox didn’t pick up his pilot for Joe Hill’s stunning comics series Locke & Key back in 2011.) And unlike Weinstein — who reportedly wanted to cut Snowpiercer because he thought it was too weird and offbeat for American audiences — Friedman has written at length about his love of big, ambitious stories. From his defunct blog I Find Your Lack of Faith Disturbing:
The stories I love often involve world-building. But most people working in the tv business are terrified of building worlds. They want shows that are relatable and recognizable. They want real worlds with real people that will under no condition make viewers uncomfortable or remind them of anything remotely strange and unknown… But much of our most successful and daring television is, if looked at broadly, Fantastic with a capital F.
Granted, that quote is part of Friedman’s lengthy, must-read story about having his identity stolen by an impostor who was using Friedman’s office to solicit sex workers, then sneak out on payment. But the point stands: Snowpiercer the movie is fantastic up to a point, but it could stand to do a lot more with its premise. By taking the same story to series, Friedman has the opportunity to fix the movie’s ending, more thoroughly explore its themes, and make a little more sense of its world. He also has the chance to show Weinstein that American audiences can not only handle a little weird with their world-building, but that in a Game of Thrones age, they’re willing to stick with a good story, no matter how long it takes to tell it.