Bong's film is cherished among indie film fans and science-fiction geeks for its portrayal of an apocalyptic future in which the last of humanity is on board a really, really, really long train that circumnavigates the world because the planet is frozen from a miscalculated effort by scientists to battle global warming. It's two hours of madness, barely harnessed by Bong's creative vision.
Two hours isn't enough for TNT. Its adaptation of Snowpiercer will run at least 20 hours because two seasons have been ordered before the series even premieres. Naturally, turning a movie into a TV show is going to require several changes, and boy howdy are there some big changes. Let's go over them.
THE TRAIN JUST LEFT THE STATION (RELATIVELY)
In the film, the action picks up almost 17 years after Snowpiercer has departed. In the series, it hasn't even been seven years, shortening the time frame and bringing the pre-snowball world closer to the post-snowball world. That means the show's hero, Andre Layton (Daveed Diggs), is part of a messy triangle between his lover from before Snowpiercer and a new woman he met on the train. But aside from Layton's love triangle, the decade difference doesn't appear to have that big of an impact other than many of the children onboard can still remember how the planet used to be.
MR. WILFORD IS AN ENTIRELY NEW MYSTERY
One of the biggest mysteries in the film is who Mr. Wilford -- the mysterious, hermetic creator of the train -- is. We eventually meet the Wizard of Oz-ish figure at the end of the film; he's played by Ed Harris and goes on and on about balance (gotta kill some of those people in the back of the train!). There's a much bigger twist surrounding Mr. Wilford in the series, who communicates to his passengers through head of hospitality Melanie Cavill (Jennifer Connelly). Spilling that secret would ruin things for you, but just know that the twist is revealed early on... and then twisted again by the time the season ends.
THE REVOLUTION IS PUT ON HOLD FOR... TRAIN DETECTIVE
One of the defining pieces of Snowpiercer the film is the continuous push of Curtis' (Chris Evans) people from the squalor of the back of the train through the upper-class passengers toward the front of the train. It represents the theme of class struggle underlying the entire movie, while also offering up violent, visceral thrills. Not so fast, says the TV show, which in its efforts to pad hours onto the movie's plot to make it TV-friendly, turns a large part of the show into a murder mystery. Layton happens to be the last surviving homicide detective in the world, so he's called upon by Melanie to help solve some murders after two passengers are killed, upsetting the delicate balance between the rich and the poor. Yep, this Snowpiercer has a guy solving murders in what had to be the first idea that came to them. The good news is that the revolution is boiling underneath the murder investigation, and in the second half of the series, it comes to fruition. But not until Layton nabs his man or woman or whoever.
DUDE, WHERE'S MY BONG?
Snowpiercer the movie was pretty ridiculous, but director Bong Joon Ho feeds off silliness and knows how to turn it into art. His stamp was all over the film, from the actors' work (Tilda Swinton turned in a legendary performance) to the heightened violence. But the Bong-ness isn't present in TNT's version. He's listed as an executive producer in the show, but TNT's take is more in the mold of a standard basic cable series that is playing it safe. Think of TNT's other genre shows, add a train, and boom, Snowpiercer.
THIS TRAIN WILL NOT STOP
Snowpiercer ends with a few survivors spotting a polar bear in the distance, a hopeful symbol that life can go on after Snowpiercer derails. It's the perfect ending: The crazy Snowpiercer experiment is over and the audience gets to fill in the rest of the story. That's obviously not going to happen in the television series, which has already received a second season and therefore won't end just because the lower class won its revolution. TNT finds a way to keep the show going, and it's utterly bonkers... but also kind of cool? In fact, once the murder mystery wraps up at the season's midpoint, the series gets a lot better, particularly the last three episodes. You could probably get away with jumping in at Episode 8 and not bat an eye. Just don't tell TNT I said that.
Snowpiercer airs Sundays at 9/8c on TNT.