Le Transperceneige (Snowpiercer): Book 1 Review - The Best Twilight Zone Episode you'll ever read.
A few years ago I was cruising Netflix and ran across Snowpiercer. My immediate impression was it was a great movie with one of the most unique dystopian settings I'd ever encountered in science fiction.
The movie is old, the Graphic Novel is even older at this point. A brief synopsis is that after an experiment goes wrong the world freezes over. Most life on the planet has died and the last vestige of humanity is confined within a train, the Snowpiercer.
The movie adaptation stars Chris Evans (Captain America), Jamie Bell (Fantastic Four) and is a truly excellent cinematic experience. If you can catch it on Netflix or Blu Ray I highly recommend the film.
I wish it was the 90's again because Snowpiercer would easily translate into a Konami Beat em up a la Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
This review will focus in on the Graphic Novel. The novel shares the same setting but that's pretty much where the similarities end. I'm reading Book 1. Snowpiercer's book 2 and 3 may tie closer to the film, we'll see as the reviews are made.
What remains the same is the dystopian setting and the caste system that has emerged within the train. The poor live in utter squalor in the tail of the train and conditions improve the closer we get to the train's engine.
The story follows our lead, Proloff who is captured after escaping the tail of the train and briefly surviving the Sub-Zero temperatures. While Proloff is being interrogated, a woman (Adeline Belleau) advocating for the rear passenger catches wind of Proloff's arrest. She investigates the matter and is told that there is nothing to the rumor.
Not believing the story, she seeks and finds Proloff which leads to her arrest and subsequent quarantine. Because of the rumored conditions found in the tail of the train Proloff, it treated as a leaper that may be contaminated.
It's revealed later that the politicians running the train are planning to disconnect the rear cabins in in order to stop it from slowing down due to the weight and stresses being put on the machine.
What happens next is an escape and mad dash to the front of this change. This is the part of the Graphic Novel that most resembles the film, although the motivations here are almost completely different.
I enjoyed Le Transperceneige A.K.A. Snowpiercer. One of the things I learned while reading was that the graphic novel is older than me. I've been reading comics my entire life and never even heard of it. It was very surprising since I've almost always considered myself a hardcore comic fan.
I will also admit that I do like the movie better than the book. That's not to say the book is bad. The pacing of the film and the charisma of the cast, including Chris Evans and Ed Harris, just make an impression that you simply can't shake. The film is simply tighter than the comic
Comparatively speaking, the world of the Graphic Novel feels bigger. The narrative also feels more complex. The train also feels more diverse when it comes to locales within the train and the people encountered.
In the movie, we see various gangs. In the book we see groups of characters that feel real. I'd love to see a Snowpiercer video game but the reason why I think a beat em up would work so well is that the gangs encountered in the film are all one dimensional and serve as obstacles rather than people residing in a lived-in setting.
I also appreciate the constant shots of the world outside of the train. Jean-Marc Rochette doesn't have any standout splash pages anywhere in the book, but he's an excellent storyteller. It's pretty clear that the world outside of the train is dead but, there are hints throughout the book that humanity may be able to survive. Because of the tight focus on the characters and their struggles to get to the front of the train we aren't given a definitive answer one way or another. It's a mystery for another time.
Everyone looks distinct and the characters all have an air of humanity that carries through. I never got the impression that anyone in the Graphic Novel was evil for the sake of. The human elements of the story, good and bad keep the story engrossing. Nothing feels black and white and even the conflicts between the front and rear of the train feel like something that would be a real issue if the setting was real.
The one knock that I have to levy against the book is the inconsistent behavior of Proloff. He's our lead character and has some sort of honor code that he abides by but then he turns around and makes some really dumb decisions throughout the book. The last being one that forced me to give up my suspension of disbelief.
Snowpiercer: Book 1 clocks in at 123 pages. You're not gonna finish reading it in one sitting. This makes the book a nice value proposition especially if you're a fan of the genre. The book is broken into chapters and usually opens with an exterior shot of the train as it barrels through the barren world. There is also usually an anecdote about the Snowpiercer and its place in the world.
These moments are brief and were my favorite segments of the book. No matter what happens if the engine fails its game over for humanity. This makes the Snowpiercer itself the Graphic Novels most important character.
Despite some weird character moments, I think that fans of the film owe it to themselves to check out the graphic novel. I also think the book is a great read if you're of fans of Scifi or stories set in a dystopia. It's a unique angle and one that will keep you intrigued from beginning to end.