“Snowpiercer is the enthralling and thought-provoking post-apocalyptic graphic novel that inspired the critically acclaimed movie starring Chris Evans (Captain America, Fantastic Four).
In a harsh, uncompromisingly cold future where Earth has succumbed to treacherously low temperatures, the last remaining members of humanity travel on a train while the outside world remains encased in ice.
The surviving community are not without a social hierarchy; those that travel at the front of the train live in relative luxury whilst those unfortunate enough to be at the rear remain clustered like cattle in claustrophobic darkness. Yet, things are about to change aboard the train as passengers become disgruntled…” (Goodreads)
I think I experienced with Snowpiercer the dreaded “Movie ruined the book for me” thing that all readers experience at least once in their lives. I am a h u g e fan of the film. Aside from the fact that one of my favourite actors, Chris Evans, is in it, it also has an amazing premise: the last scraps of humanity travel around the world non-stop on a train, while the world outside is a frozen wasteland. Inside the train it’s all about class – residents at the front of the train want for nothing, while those at the tail barely have enough room to move. There’s rebellion and plenty of reasons to hate humans. Also, it has Tilda Swinton in it. And she looks like this:
As usual, she’s amazing. But the entire film is full of incredible characters, portrayed to perfection by a cast of truly talented actors. Some characters you’ll hate, some you’ll love, some you won’t be able to decide either way, and one in particular is so awesome that his story would be perfect for a whole other film (if you’ve seen the film, you’ll know I’m talking about Grey).
Naturally when I discovered that the film was based on a book, I had to read it. Then I discovered that book was actually a graphic novel and got even more excited as I’d never read a graphic novel before. I decided that Snowpiercer was to be my very first graphic novel and if the experience was enjoyable, then it would be the first of many.
You’ll be pleased to hear that the experience was pretty great, and I will definitely be reading more graphic novels. The illustrations in Snowpiercer are all black and white, which was I loved as it really suited the bleak tone of the story and made it easy to imagine the characters living in a world devoid of colour, as it is blanketed in white. Visually it’s very striking and the lack of colour also meant that I didn’t get too distracted by the pictures. I’m no aficionado, but I can confidently say that the artwork is amazing and made reading just that bit more enjoyable.
I really enjoyed the story as well. There are some weird and fantastic things like Mama, the slab of synthetic meat that’s alive and the more you cut off it the more it grows back, while the religious fanatics who worship ‘Saint Loco’ were incredibly unsettling for reasons I can’t quite put my finger on. It’s almost completely different from the film (basically the only similarities are the snow, the train, and the class system) so I was kept guessing until the end and it was exciting to see how things would play out. But unfortunately the one thing that made the film so great was sorely lacking in the novel.
That thing was the characters. In the novel we are essentially given two characters to follow, neither of whom I found overly engaging. The main character, Proloff, did little to encourage me as a reader to root for him. As one of the downtrodden tail enders I feel that I should have been wanting him to succeed in whatever it was he was doing, but instead I spent a lot of the time waiting for him to do something. He was very passive. The other character, Adeline Belleau, I found a little more interesting and much less passive – she had clear motives from the start and from the instant we meet her she is taking action.
I wanted to feel invested in the fates of the characters, and I didn’t feel that way at all. Maybe I’m just too used to seeing a motivated hero who wants to make things fair for all, something that Snowpiercer does not have. In Proloff, we see this type of character all but discarded. In any case, it’s easy to see why the creators of the film took artistic license.
There is no denying that the concept initially conceived for the purpose of the novel is an interesting one, and both the novel and the film do an excellent job of conveying humanity at its worst. In current society there are those at the front of the metaphorical train, and the downtrodden at the tail, and it is a source of constant conversation in politics and the media. But speaking in terms of pure entertainment, for me the film is definitely superior and it’s all down to those who carry the story (sorry to devoted fans of the novel).
Would I feel differently if I hadn’t watched the film first? I’m not certain. What I do know is that they should be considered completely separate from one another. While I didn’t love Volume I of Snowpiercer, I will be reading #2: ‘The Explorers’ in the near future, and also #3 which I believe is due for release next year. Fingers crossed I get characters I can cheer for!