Snowpiercer 1: The Escape
In advance of a star-studded adaptation due out in North America this spring, Titan Comics has launched a three volume series of hardcover black-and-white graphic novels which are the first-ever English language translation of the dystopic Snowpiercer saga. Set in an icy wasteland of eternal winter, the lumbering locomotive Snowpiercer cuts a swath through the ceaseless snowfall while aboard its one thousand carriages the last remnants of mankind continue to make war with one another. Like many fantasy genre titles from The Time Machine to Elysium and The Hunger Games, the future dystopia depicted in Snowpiercer takes an uncharitable view of the extreme inequities within society and transplants them into an imaginative new setting.
The Snowpiercer saga was originally conceived as Le Transperceneige by French author Jacques Lob and artist Alexis in the late-1970s but the work was left unfinished when Alexis died of an aneurysm in 1977. In 1982, Lob teamed with artist Jean-Marc Rochette to finally realize his vision for Snowpiercer as an eight-part serial in the pages of the Franco-Belgian comics magazine (À Suivre). Within France, Jacques Lob is best known for the comicbook Superdupont; a French-themed parody of Superman originally illustrated by Alexis.
In Snowpiercer 1: The Escape, we encounter a man named Proloff who manages to escape the subhuman conditions of the train’s third class section only to be captured and quarantined by Snowpiercer’s militaristic authorities. With the help of the privileged but socially-conscious Adeline, they force their way through the second and first class carriages discovering carefully-guarded horrors along the way. When Proloff finally reaches Snowpiercer’s sanctified perpetual motion engine, the graphic novel’s ending becomes abstract and ambiguous in the vein of 2001: A Space Odyssey – which we likely infuriate those hoping for a tidy conclusion.
In an interview with MTV News, Rochette explains his initial hesitation to expand on Lob’s narrative: “At first I thought that there shouldn’t be a sequel to the first volume. The Transperceneige was over. But after many years and after the death of Jacques Lob in 1990, the first volume was almost forgotten. The book had lost its audience. I could see it would fall into oblivion, which was a pity.”
Rochette also discussed how working on a sequel directly lead to a feature film adaptation directed by South Korean filmmaker Bong Joon-ho: “I knew my friend Benjamin Legrand worked on a first adaptation of Le Transperceneige for a movie, and I called him in order to do a sequel. For a long time I felt doubt, like it was treason. But it was a good choice. Without this decision, the book would not have been translated into Korean and Bong Joon-ho would not have read it. End of story.”
In mid-summer 2013, Bong Joon-ho’s cinematic adaptation of Snowpiercer was released in South Korea where it has since earned $60 million in US dollars at the box office. Filmed in the Czech Republic, Snowpiercer features some big-name talent from the West including Chris Evans, Tilda Swinton, Ed Harris, John Hurt, Alison Pill, Jamie Bell and Octavia Spencer.
Bong Joon-ho established his credibility in the science fiction genre with The Host (2006), a harrowing monster movie which plays with social anxieties about pollution and is also the highest-grossing South Korean film yet made.
Despite casting established Hollywood stars and garnering critical praise at home and on the festival circuit, Bong has encountered considerable difficulty getting Snowpiercer to theatres in North America. The film’s producers agreed to have Snowpiercer released by the Weinstein Company but the filmmakers objected when Harvey Weinstein decided to dub over non-English dialogue, add a voiceover and cut the film down by 20 minutes. After some test screenings in LA, the Weinstein Company has recently indicated that they plan to release the original version of Snowpiercer in select cities (possibily fewer than 2,000 cinemas) but have yet to set an exact date. Which unfortunately means that Bong Joon-ho’s bleak look into the future will have to do without a national release or the advertising campaign that goes with it.
Read the Pretty Clever Films Review of Snowpiercer (2013) by Jennifer Reynolds.