It strikes from the darkness, purple leaves flaring as it launches its deadly stinger at your head... the new CG Triffids are definitely scarier than the old foam-rubber versions. But how does the BBC's Triffids remake stack up otherwise?
We've only seen the first episode out of two so far — we'll review both episodes fully tomorrow or Thursday — but so far, we're liking the new Day Of The Triffids pretty well. It was probably never going to be quite as horrifying or gut-wrenching as the 1981 version or John Windham's original novel, but it's more or less holding its own. The Triffids are used sparingly, and mostly loom in the darkness like great horrible venus flytraps.
The first 90 minutes moves at a fair clip — you have the infodump that explains how we used Triffids as a clean, renewable fuel source and averted global warming, but nobody realized how dangerous they really were. And then there's the miraculous light show in the sky (now converted into a kind of solar flare instead of a meteor shower) which blinds almost everyone on Earth. Soon the blind, shambling masses are nothing but a rich food supply for the rampaging Triffids.
Some of the additions to the story serve to cover over some of the slight inconsistencies in the original — like now, there's a "Triffid rights" activist who's responsible for Bill Masen getting blinded by a Triffid sting, and also for releasing the Triffids after everyone else goes blind. It makes a tad more sense that the Triffids would have male and female plants, and there would be elaborate precautions to control their breeding — it's one of the ways in which this version feels fairly thought out.
The obligatory scenes of blind people staggering around and clutching at the few sighted people who remain are gotten through fairly quickly, and they don't pack quite as much horror as the earlier TV version, which really dwelled on the horror of being besieged by too many blind people ever to help. Here's a clip of the horrific earlier version:
The 1981 producers may not have had the money for huge setpieces or super-convincing plant monsters, but they could marshal the real horror of being at the mercy of people you can't really help. In its place, we get lots of disaster-movie and apocalyptic standbys, like a plane crash and ambitious shots of traffic disasters. And then we move on to phase two of the post-apocalyptic recipe, which is various flavors of authoritarianism and crazy communities. (I bet there'll be a lot more of that in part two.)
Like I said, this version feels reasonably thought out, and I like Dougray Scott as Bill Masen, the only scientist who can deal with the Triffids. The scene where he and Jo (Joely Richardson) put on a little BBC broadcast, and struggle to keep in place their good old BBC presentation as everything's going down the tubes, is pretty amazing.
If there's a weak link so far, it's Eddie Izzard as the (seemingly) evil Torrance. He doesn't talk for the first hour, although he does get the weird "surviving a plane crash by cocooning yourself inside flotation devices" moment. (Would that really work?) And then he skulks around looking shifty and ominous, before making a weird random power grab. I wasn't sure if Izzard's role was just severely under-written, or if he was just underplaying it. Either way, he seemed a bit bored by the whole exercise, and it was hard to feel whatever menace we were supposed to get from him. But maybe part two will be better?
What did you think?