"Snowpiercer," the long-awaited TV version of the cult classic book and film, makes its way to the TNT network on May 17.
In the new show Jennifer Connelly, 49, plays Melanie Cavill, a first-class passenger aboard a giant 1001 car train that is split between one-percenters with their private suites and poor people living in conditions so cramped the occupants are derisively called “tailies” by the better off.
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What does this sound like? The Titanic certainly comes to mind. The irony is that the first-class passengers may like to lord it over the poor below decks in steerage but they're all headed toward the same looming iceberg. That fact makes the show timely if nothing else.
As the voice of the train, Melanie makes the daily announcements to both rich and poor and although most of her peers are contemptuous of the lower class passengers, she is quietly fascinated by them.
The plot is simple enough. It's a "Hunger Games" meets "Murder On The Orient Express" mash-up. Some years after a climate catastrophe that has left the planet freezing cold and uninhabitable, the last remaining humans step onboard a giant train that must constantly circle the earth to maintain life onboard (I'm not too clear on why this is the case and the show doesn't particularly seem to want us to wonder either).
The real subject matter is segregation and class barriers and the real violence they do to all who participate in them. And when I say violence I mean violence. The TV version has quite a body count in the first episode and limbs get severed as the poor revolt against the rich.
What's interesting about this show is what a tortured path it took toward final production. First optioned in 2015 in the tailwind of the 2013 film, it was ordered to pilot in 2016 and a show-runner was announced, until “creative differences” with the TNT network saw him depart the project in 2018.
A year-long delay followed where the reshoots of the pilot were so extensive they caused a year-long delay in the show's premiere. In May 2019 it was finally announced that the show would debut in spring 2020 and that a second season has already been ordered.
Connelly is one of the most accomplished actors of her generation and she brings a complexity to her characterization that instantly makes her the most compelling person on this train. Is she good or bad, can we root for her or bet against her, it's impossible to tell from the outset.
Both beautiful and strangely forbidding in her Aer Lingus 2060 costume, her character is the shows most mysterious and it's clear from the beginning that solving her riddle will be one of the main journeys on this trip.
Slated to appear in the long-awaited (for some) sequel to Top Gun, Connelly will star opposite Tom Cruise who will reprise the role of Maverick, the man who's name is also his mission. Connelly plays Penny Benjamin, Cruise's single mom love interest who runs the bar he likes to frequent.
Meanwhile "Snowpiercer" first appeared in the early 1980s as a comic and it's origin shows in this new production. The poor people resemble characters plucked from Duran Duran's vintage Wild Boys era video, right down to their feral grunts and manly chest slapping before the battle. If the 21 century has moved on from toxic masculinity, then the glistening he-men aboard this endless train ride didn't get the memo.
Women of the lower classes are equally cartoon-like here, existing mostly to be menaced by the bad guys so that the good guys look nobler. You have seen this before many times and the directing is particularly heavy-handed here.
Connelly is the show's secret weapon, being a whip-smart hero or villain or both that you can't take your eyes off. As Melanie, she hires a “tailie” who was once a homicide detective to investigate the murder of a rich passenger on board, promising to upgrade him permanently if he can solve the mystery.
The theme of this show is how revolution can follow when the rich and powerful fail to protect the common people from a natural disaster, and with that theme being so current now you won't be able to stop yourself from seeing real-world parallels as this show and the world it portrays go flying off the rails.
Snowpiercer arrives on TNT on May 17.