John Wyndham’s The Day of the Triffids has always been one of my favourite SF novels. It’s up there among the great “apocalypse” stories, with a well-thought-out scenario, good writing and character drama, not to mention superb “monsters”. The concept of animated plants that humanity can deal with in the normal course of events because of inherent limitations in their biology (no eyes) — until our competitive edge is removed via an unconnected accident (spectacular high-atmospheric cosmic lightshow that causes blindness) — is inspired.
If beginnings are the single most important aspect of a novel’s success, then The Day of the Triffids hits it right on the money, with one of the best opening lines in SF:
When a day you happen to know is Wednesday starts off by sounding like Sunday, there is something seriously wrong somewhere.
Mid-action, a mystery, pure unadulterated intrigue… Of course, it’s also where it goes from there that gives this sentence its power.
The Day of the Triffids has been filmed several times: once, in 1962, by Steve Sekely and Freddie Francis (the latter uncredited), starring Howard Keel and Janette Scott:
“And I really got hot / When I saw Janette Scott fight a triffid that spits poison and kills.” (Rocky Horror Show)
This version is entertaining, but it deviates from the book considerably, not least in its Janette Scott/Kieron Moore lighthouse subplot and the resultant “happy” ending.
Much more accurate and far scarier is the 1981 BBC-produced 6-part mini-series, with its eerily beautiful Triffids — not grotesque here, but flower-like. These are much more botanically “logical”, a take derived from real-life carnivorous plants. This series was scary in 1981. These days, on DVD, it’s still an excellent work, chilling and suspenseful, with effective if slightly dated effects.
Here is a prologue from it (pre-cosmic lightshow), concerning the Triffids:
Well, now the BBC has announced that there is to be a remake of The Day of the Triffids — this time as a two-part film. Scripted by ER and Law & Order writer Patrick Harbinson, this version will be set in 2011 [the year Skynet goes berserk, I notice*], postulating that the Triffids have been developed/farmed as an alternative source of fuel. When a huge cosmic storm erupts across the heavens, humanity is blinded and all hell breaks loose.
The Guardian reports BBC Wales head of drama, Julie Gardner, as saying: “The Day of the Triffids is a classic title. I’m excited that its powerful story is being remade for television. We’re hoping to attract a legion of fans as well as give nightmares to a new generation of viewers.”
I for one an eager to see this. The BBC has been on a bit of a roll lately, with the success of its Doctor Who revamp. Despite the remake status, I’m rather optimistic about how it will turn out.
Meanwhile, the following clip may not reflect the design or SFX of the new series — especially as it has nothing whatsoever to do with it — but it is an interesting CGI vision of the Triffids that I stumbled upon while looking for the YouTube clip from the 1981 series:
As a side note, The Guardian claims that there were BBC TV adaptations of the story before the well-known 1981 version, in 1971, 1973 and 1980. That claim I haven’t been able to verify yet.
* Terminator: the Sarah Connor Chronicles reference.