Reviewed by Gareth Jones
Starring Dougray Scott, Joely Richardson, Eddie Izzard, Jason Priestley
Directed by Nick Copus
Distributed by Showbox Home Entertainment
Originally aired on the BBC at the end of last year and released on DVD earlier this month, Nick Copus’ modern two-part retelling of John Wyndham’s classic novel The Day of the Triffids now hits the Blu-ray format. I’ll admit to not having read the original novel – only having knowledge of a detailed synopsis – and have very little recollection of the original 1981 mini-series, having been very young when viewing it. So, I’m afraid I won’t be making any damning or praising statements as to the quality of this new version in comparison to the old or the intricacies of the source material. Here, Patrick Harbinson’s screenplay seems to take the skeleton, and a little muscle, from Wyndham’s story and use it as the framework for a modified modern redesign.
The plot concerns a breed of self-mobile, carnivorous plant called the Triffid – capable of a nasty (and generally fatal) sting and producer of organic oil which has been harvested as a replacement for fossil fuels and solved the Global Warming crisis. Science has created a genetically modified version of the Triffid, capable of producing more oil at the cost of being more aggressive, making it necessary to farm them under strict conditions in captivity. Dougray Scott stars as Bill Mason, chief Triffid expert in charge of one of the farms. When a pro-Triffid activist breaks into the compound, Mason finds himself on the wrong end of a stinger and confined to hospital with his eyes wrapped in bandage.
This proves to be a fortuitous event for him, as the majority of the world’s population soon find themselves blinded by an unexpectedly bright flare during a much-publicized solar storm. Our obviously brain-dead hippy activist then sees this as the perfect opportunity to release the Triffids from their binds, and very soon the streets of England become a hunting ground for the man-eating vegetation.
Mason quickly joins forces with radio host Jo Playton (Joely Richardson) as they attempt to reach his father’s home in order to develop a way to defeat the Triffids. Along the path they encounter the manipulative and power-hungry Torrence (Eddie Izzard), compassionate Major Coker (Jason Priestly), and various other characters doing their best to survive.
Being a three-hour epic split in half (the Blu-ray is split into two parts, “Night One” and “Night Two”), there’s a hell of a lot that actually happens during the runtime – from the initial character introductions during the opening chaos and aftermath to multiple power-struggles, revelations, and action sequences. Production values are very high, giving the feel of a grandiose American flick (albeit on a smaller budget) – it’s nothing like you expect from a British television production, with the high-quality cast certainly helping matters there.
Dougray Scott makes a decent leading man, carrying everything along nicely even if he does come across as slightly flat (or even disinterested) in a couple of scenes. Priestley’s Major Coker is a likable, if idealistic, individual who easily accepts when he’s been wrong. Brian Cox even shows up for a short while in a turn as Mason’s father, imbuing the production with his usual top-class thespian skill.
It’s said that the most interesting character, the one the audience really wants to see, is the bad guy – and that’s definitely true when it comes to Izzard’s Torrence. He steals the show – a smarmy, arrogant yet suave and, in the beginning, oddly appealing character. We’re first introduced to him on an airplane as it hurtles out of the air, everyone else on board having been blinded. Torrence survives by stealing everyone’s inflatable life jackets and making his own padded room in the toilet with them!
The best section of The Day of the Triffids is the first half, detailing the chaos after blindness hits and society unravels. It’s these ideas that powered Wyndham’s original material, more interested in mankind’s own machinations while the Triffids act as a peripheral threat, spurring on the descent of social structure. In this version, once all of that is out of the way, we become more focused on showcasing the next CGI Triffid encounter. From what I know of the novel, the Triffids there were slow-moving and telegraphed themselves rather well – it was blindness that suddenly leveled the playing field and made them a legitimate threat. Here, the 9-odd-foot tall plants have snaking tendrils that can whip out and entrap even the most agile of sighted prey. This makes for a few tense attack scenes and a couple of effective jump scares, but isn’t capitalized on enough to make the killer plants an actual frightening presence. Very few scenes evoke genuine fear – it mostly just plays out in front of your eyes, albeit in an entertaining way.
The second half focuses more on Torrence’s descent into a despotic dictator and the inevitable Triffid-filled climax. The ending is almost ruined, though, by a completely unnecessary and far too on-the-nose voiceover by Scott, which throughout the flick serves no other purpose but to tell us what any viewer with half a brain cell has already deduced by what they’ve seen on screen.
There’s a very strong B-movie feel to the whole affair; yet, it’s an exercise in frustrating duality as the tone and production values desperately try to argue otherwise. Any philosophical musing on man’s treatment of one another when put under pressure is fleeting at best. Instead, there are incredulous events and plot holes galore (for example the aforementioned plane crash, and how the hell does Torrence so easily get his hands on a massive array of automatic weapons in the UK? From the back of an abandoned police van? I don’t think so…), but it’s an entertaining watch nonetheless if you can get over the delusions of grandeur (and possibly your own expectations of what The Day of the Triffids should be) and settle down for some monster movie action.
The script and presentation argue with each other over just what the film really wants to be, which keeps a slightly bitter taste prominent as the film proceeds. If the filmmakers had simply gone all-out B-movie, or dedicated the extra effort to make it a somber and intelligent handling on par with the original themes, it would have been a much stronger piece of work. As it stands, you’ll likely forget it very quickly, but you won’t regret getting comfortable for an evening and taking in a viewing.
The presentation on Showbox Home Entertainment’s Blu-ray release is excellent. The picture quality is superb – solid, crisp and deep. Sound is similarly impressive, if occasionally underutilized, with the crackling of fires and ticking noises of the Triffids engaging the soundstage nicely.
In terms of special features we have a “making of” featurette clocking in at around 34 minutes, which gives a few pieces of insight into the making of the flick, speaking with the director, actors, cinematographer, and more. A few of the scenes minus CGI are presented here, too. Alongside that we get five deleted scenes, all of which appear to be wisely removed for pacing reasons.
This is paired with a huge collection of cast and crew interviews – 18 in total. These are a mixed bag. Some are upbeat, insightful, and interesting while others are pretty bland. Visually it feels strange as most of them look soapy and unfocused – perhaps a side effect of viewing the three hours of hi-def material and then these! It’s not a bad package at all, everything considered, but lacks genuine substance in the extras department.
3 out of 5
2 1/2 out of 5
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