The idea to adapt Bong Joon-ho’s critically-acclaimed dystopian thriller Snowpiercer, itself based on the 1982 French graphic novel Le Transperceneige, was always a dicey proposition. The film was a blistering critique of capitalism and the seemingly never ending struggle with class warfare that plagues society. These lofty themes would need a deft hand, akin to that of Bong Joon-ho, to make the adaptation feel necessary, and the fact that the project was ordered by TNT did not put concerns to rest. The network has made many fun shows, but the two entities felt incongruous with one another. These fears were justified given the lengthy journey to get this project to air that was constantly hampered by creative disagreements and behind-the-scenes turnover. With the first season behind us and the sophomore season just beginning to air, we have a greater sense of how the film and the series work in relation to one another. In short, the television series will never hold a candle to the film, but taken on its own the series provides an increasingly interesting take on the material. 

The series eschews the events of the film and starts fresh in the present day, seven years after the world has ostensibly ended and become a vast frozen wasteland. It seems that the last remaining traces of humanity inhabit the perpetually-moving titular train that circles the globe every 133 days. This train was developed by the enigmatic billionaire Mr. Wilford and consists of 1001 cars (we are told this repeatedly) which were meant to house the richest and most essential citizens before the lower-class citizens rushed the train and claimed the tail section for themselves. The tensions between the groups are stark, as the rich live a life of luxury in the front of the train while the “tailies” struggle to survive in the back. Rather than try to recreate the magic of the film, the series carves its own path as, of all things, a police procedural – at first. When the inconceivable happens and a murder occurs in first class, Andre Layton (Daveed Diggs, Hamilton) is plucked from the tail and tapped to be the “train detective” due to the fact that he is the last homicide detective on Earth. 

This designation is kind of silly, but it gives the series a decent reason to have Andre exploring the train while secretly gathering information for a rebellion against the powers that be. Standing in his way will be the “voice of the train” and right-hand to Mr. Wilford, Melanie Cavill (Jennifer Connelly, Requiem for a Dream). Melanie is an immaculately put-together leader who keeps the train running smoothly while ensuring the most important passengers are cared for in the appropriate manner. In terms of making this series a successful endeavor, Diggs and Connelly are the most important factors at play. Connelly especially brings a gravitas to this woman who holds more than her fair share of secrets. Diggs occasionally creeps into over-acting territory at times, but he is a dynamic presence that serves the series well. If ever there was someone you wanted to see playing a gum-shoe on a ten-mile-long train, it would be Diggs. A special notice should also be given to the incredible Alison Wright (The Americans) who brings a simmering mania to the hospitality-driven Ruth. If Snowpiercer has done one thing right, it is to stock itself with fantastic performers. 

The first half of the season takes a bit to get going as we use the investigation as a pretext to get the lay of the land on the train. There are some decent twists and turns during this time, and the revelation of the perpetrator of the murders is pretty satisfying. Where the series really starts to find its footing is in the increasingly more-interesting second half. At this point, we start to abandon the procedural elements and tackle more of the overarching themes that made the movie such a hard-hitting piece of cinema. The series does not handle it quite as well, but it provides enough action and thrills to keep you satisfactorily entertained. By the time you reach the finale of the season, you will be surprised to find that you are left eagerly anticipating where this story might go next. I have not had the opportunity to discover if the second season premiere capitalizes on the momentum gained from the first season finale, but the series appears to be going in the right direction. If you divorce your memories of the film while watching this show, you will likely find yourself enjoying quite a bit of what it has to offer. 

Video Quality

Snowpiercer: The Complete First Season arrives on Blu-Ray with a gorgeous AVC encoded 1080p transfer in its original 1:78:1. This is a step up from the broadcast and streaming versions of the show, as the disc provides a more consistent and stable image. The color palette tends to be more cold and steely to match the dystopian setting, but certain locations in the upper-class cars display some magical instances of beautiful colors popping off the screen. The levels of detail this presentation is able to eek out is quite striking, as all of the subtle details in the production design are easily identifiable. Black levels are appropriately deep and give way to a nice amount of detail in shadows. The bright whites do not fall victim to any blooming in this presentation. Skin tones appear very natural across the entire cast. There are no egregious instances of aliasing or compression artifacts detectable here. The Blu-Ray is quite stunning as it showcases the cinematic feel of the season to great effect. 


Audio Quality

This Blu-Ray comes with a pleasingly active DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track that creates a fully fleshed-out world within this train. One of the standout aspects of this show is the amazing score from Bear McCreary. His work perfectly sets the tone for the story, and it creates a nicely enveloping soundscape that draws you further into the show. Dialogue always comes through crisp and clear without being stepped on by the score or any sound effects. More kinetic moments are given the appropriate power in the mix with a forceful showing in the low end. Ambient sounds are also precisely placed in the rear channels. The track handles panning effects around the room really well so that everything sounds natural to the world. The audio presentation here is fantastic on all levels.

Special Features

  • Overview: A three-minute promotional piece that functions like a trailer interspersed with interviews from the cast and crew discussing the world and themes of the series. 
  • Class Warfare: A three-minute featurette which takes a closer look at the class system aboard Snowpiercer and how that plays out throughout the series. Nothing too in-depth, but there are some decent insights from the participants. 
  • Jennifer & Daveed Behind-the-Scenes Interview: A two-minute interview with the stars of the show in which they briefly discuss their characters and their place within the show. 
  • The Train: A six-minute featurette that takes you through some of the various locations on the train from the engine room to the tail. This is one of the more interesting supplements in the package. 
  • Behind the Curtain – Art of the Frozen World: A four-minute look at the sets, physical effects, visual effects, the costumes and more elements that comprise this world. 

 

Final Thoughts

The idea of a Snowpiercer television show seemed like a poor decision when it was first announced, but the series has proven to be something of surprise with how much it has come to entertain. The first half of the season starts a bit rocky, but the series really starts to pick up in the latter half as it finds its identity. With a strong cast, inventive production design and stylish direction, the series brings a lot to the table to appreciate. Warner Bros. Home Entertainment has brought the first season to Blu-Ray with a top-notch A/V presentation and a few bite-sized special features. If you are willing to view the series as its own beast separate from the film, you should find it to be a pretty compelling narrative. Recommended 

Snowpiercer: The Complete First Season is currently available to purchase on Blu-Ray and DVD. 

Note: Images presented in this review are not reflective of the image quality of the Blu-Ray.

Disclaimer: Warner Bros. Home Entertainment has supplied a copy of this disc free of charge for review purposes. All opinions in this review are the honest reactions of the author.

 

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