Day of the Triffids, The (UK - DVD R2)
Our Scott McKenzie checks out this recent BBC science fiction remake...
In years gone by, the use of oil produced by man-eating plants called Triffids has reduced the Earth’s reliance on fossil fuels and solved the global warming problem. Dr Bill Masen (Dougray Scott) works for Triffoil, but is haunted by thoughts of his mother’s death at the hands (or creepers) of the Triffids. When a cosmic event turns most of the human race blind, essential systems fail, including the security surrounding the labs where Triffids are grown for their oil. After the Triffids escape, Bill and newsreader Jo Playton (Joely Richardson) are faced with a battle against groups of power-hungry humans as well as the killer plants.
I missed this BBC adaptation of John Wyndham’s original novel when it was broadcast between Christmas and New Year so I jumped at the chance to take a look at it now that it’s out on DVD. Following the success of the new Doctor Who and Torchwood, the BBC aren’t doing too badly with small screen sci-fi, so I was hoping for a rip-roaring one-off special. I’ve never seen any of the previous adaptations or read the novel, but as soon as I started watching it I could see why it would appeal to the BBC production department. The setup is exactly like an episode of Doctor Who, but because it’s not set in a world where Timelords are taken for granted, I also had trouble getting into it.
The emotional investment of the viewer in science fiction relies on great leaps in logic or suspension of disbelief. With The Day of the Triffids I found that I was being asked to suspend disbelief twice in the opening scenes. First of all, we’re asked to believe in killer plants. Okay, no problem—I’ve picked up a DVD called The Day of the Triffids so I’m half way there already. Then we’re asked to believe in an event happening to the sun that blinds almost everyone on the planet. Wait a minute... what now? I know this isn’t a new device to the story of the Triffids, but asking me to believe in a world where man-eating plants exist and everyone in the world goes blind is a bit of a stretch. Mind you, if David Tennant had turned waving his sonic screwdriver around, I would probably have rolled with it.
Even without the two leaps of faith, there are problems with the story that I found it difficult to get over. Most important of all, the main bad guy (played by Eddie Izzard) has no background whatsoever. All we know about him is that he was on a plane that crashed in London and he survived. We don’t even know his name because he takes it from a street sign, and there’s no explanation about why he’s a bad guy. What does he want? Why does he want it? We receive no answers to these questions and this lack of focus of who the antagonists are supposed to be (the Triffids or this guy?) leads to a general lack of direction in the story.
The Day of the Triffids is not completely without merit though. It’s always good to see appearances from Brian Cox and Vanessa Redgrave, who give weight to their light cameo roles. The design of the Triffids themselves is interesting, with their tall flowering bits making them look like floral hoodies. However, the scenes where you know they’re ‘out there somewhere’ are more suspenseful than the moments when they actually show up and kill people. There are decent moments throughout The Day of the Triffids, but the overall experience is a bit of a let-down and it feels like a missed opportunity.
Presented in the broadcast ratio of 1.78:1, The Day of the Triffids definitely has ‘the look’ of a TV miniseries with a decent budget. There’s plenty of nice CGI—especially early on—and the whole feature is very colourful, although this is where I have one complaint. I always find it difficult to buy into TV movies (especially science fiction) more than movies that were made for the big screen. One of the main reasons for this is in evidence here by the use of colour and bright light sources all the time, even when the scene is supposed to be dark. I assume this is to make it more visually interesting to casual viewers or channel-hoppers but for someone who made a point of sitting down to watch the whole thing, it took me out of the story at times.
There are two audio options for the main feature—stereo and 5.1 surround. Note that I mentioned the stereo option first—this is because it’s the default option on the disc, which tells you all you need to know about the sound production. The Day of the Triffids may well have been shown on the BBC HD channel, but ninety-nine percent of the public who watched it when it was broadcast on TV would have received the broadcast in standard definition, with a stereo audio track. Therefore I was not surprised at the lack of surround channel use on the 5.1 audio track. Overall, there is nothing to complain about; the effects and dialogue all sound fine, however the ‘emotional’ music that plays in the background a lot does start to get a bit grating.
Ooh, a two disc set—there must be loads of varied and interesting extras, right? Well, not exactly. The only extra features to be found on disc one are six deleted scenes, which unfortunately don’t come with a Play All option. It’s pretty obvious that they were all cut for timing and pacing because the back story or true meaning of the characters is portrayed in similar ways throughout the main feature.
I’m certain that something better could have been done with the content on disc two, but in reality it’s just a dumping ground. First of all we have a ‘Making of’ featurette that is mostly made up of interviews with the cast and crew. Various people discuss their views on the original novel, movie and TV series and their place in the production. There are a couple of interesting moments, like understanding how to coordinate a crowd of people pretending to be blind and the appearance of Brian Cox wearing a cravat, but the look and editing all feels a bit amateurish and it’s certainly not something that would have gone out on any of the BBC channels.
Finally we have the Interview Gallery, which gives us eleven interviews (also with no Play All option) with members of the cast. Some and short (seven minutes for Brian Cox) and some are considerably longer—namely Eddie Izzard’s, which clocks in at thirty minutes and is probably the best watch just for his personality more than the content.
If The Day of the Triffids gets a repeat on TV, I can think of much worse ways of passing three hours of your life. Even if you find this release going cheap, it might be worth picking up. However, within the first few weeks of release, I can’t recommend running out and picking up this set right away. The extras aren’t worth bothering with and fans of the show itself won’t get much value out of them, even though there’s a lot in there. All in all, I’d say that I’m happy for my licence fee to go towards occasional big productions like this but I wouldn’t want to hand any more money over to watch this one on DVD.
Review by Scott McKenzie
Suitable only for persons of 15 years and over
Release Date: 1st February 2010
Disc Type: Single side, dual layer
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 English, Dolby Digital 2.0 English
Extras: Deleted Scenes, Making Of, Interview Gallery
Easter Egg: No
Director: Nick Copus
Cast: Dougray Scott, Joely Richardson, Eddie Izzard, Brian Cox, Vanessa Redgrave, Jason Priestley, Ewen Bremner
Genre: Adventure and Sci-Fi
Length: 180 minutes
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