Only having seen photo stills of the original 1963 The Day of the Triffids movie as a kid, I was delighted when I later finally tracked down a copy of John Wyndham’s thrilling 1951 novel blending science fiction and horror. The very idea of walking and stalking ‘monster’ plants was on par with any of the Universal monsters or nuclear created giant insects that were the movies of my dreams. Better yet, the novel was everything I’d hoped it would be and more. This wasn’t a just fluffy alien invasion tale, but a well rounded story with a great added twist. When I finally managed to see that original movie it wasn’t too bad, although it certainly didn’t live up to the novel.
My interest peaked again in 1981 when the first BBC miniseries was created. When my TV guide indicated that it would be aired very late one night, the best I could do was set my trusty VCR to record it. I was treated to shock and horror the next day, but that wasn’t so much because of seeing terrifying triffids when I played the tape the next day. I was what I didn’t see. The entire tape clearly recorded the audio but the video was nothing more that scrambled static. So much for seeing that miniseries since I was very curious as to how they expanded the tale to more than a feature movie length given that the original movie itself, faithful to the novel, was so short they had to pad it with an new secondary plot. While I still have not seen that first miniseries, this review is for the more recent two part miniseries, evidently inferior to previous adaptations according to sources.
Combining two cataclysmic notions, an alien invasion of sorts combined with a meteorological event that blinds nearly the entire population of Earth overnight, The Day of the Triffids doubles up the terror that any one of the two would deliver on it’s own. Mankind suddenly finds itself with a population of pleading, groping, blind masses while at the same time triffids, towering crawling, gurgling plants lash out swirly stems and devour their easy human prey.
But there is a small contingent of people who have avoided the first cataclysm and remain sighted, and who are now trying to avoid the triffids while trying to stay alive in their version of a post-apocalyptical world.
Researcher Bill Masen (Dougray Scott) wakes up in a hospital after having been accidentally lashed by a triffid the day before at his workplace where captive triffids are bred for the oil they produce. Eyes bandaged overnight as the planet was subjected to a blinding space storm, he discovers that the entire hospital staff and all the patients are staggering blindly. The same eerie scene plays out on the streets of London. As he goes about trying to find out what happened he rescues Jo (Joely Richardson) a local TV reporter from a clinging mob trying to capture her so that she could become their ‘eyes’.
They find the remnants of the city’s seeing population holed up in a government building, but Bill has plans of his own to find his father, a triffid researcher who may have even been responsible for creating the mutant triffids years ago. While Bill makes the treacherous journey in search of his father, Torrence (Eddie Izzard) a spineless fraud slowly takes over what is left of the forces that are trying to reestablish society, all while pretending to be a benevolent pillar of salvation to Jo.
She eventually catches on and escapes to find Bill where he and his father (Brian Cox) are desperately working on a plan to overcome the triffids before they spore and all of mankind is lost for good. Will there be a happy ending, or is mankind doomed to become flora fodder?
While the series presents a marked deviation from the novel, there are some interesting additions including Bill and Jo having a brief stay at a church were the reigning Mother Superior (Vanessa Redgrave who happens to be Joely’s mother in real life) claims divine intervention is keeping the triffids at bay from the group. Another character that pops up now and then is a social activist (Jason Priestley) trying to help others, be they blind or sighted, and who seeks one last reputed bastion of unscathed humanity on the Isle of Wight.
A reasonable adaptation effort on an SF classic, but you may want to hold out for the more vaunted first miniseries. You know, the one I haven’t seen yet. But whatever you do… fear the flora!