LORCAN MAGUIRE takes a look at the Day of the Triffids 1981 release on Blu-ray, which he calls a faithful adaption of the John Wyndham classic
John Wyndham’s 1951 classic about homicidal plants getting the upper hand over mankind has been adapted a number of times in film (1962), radio (1957, 1968 and 2001) and television (1981 and 2009). This review looks at the recently released BBC Blu-ray of their 1981 adaptation.
Day of the Triffids 1981 was my first exposure to Wyndham, widely promoted as a ‘prestige’ BBC production, with the budget split between them, ABC in Australia and American cable TV. Parental mithering soon secured a copy of the Penguin tie-in release, with a picture of the main protagonists, Bill Masen and Jo Playton looking suitably menaced by one of the eponymous walking plants on the cover. In the mid eighties I actually found a copy of one of the original fifties orange Penguin paperbacks in a second-hand bookshop, paying the princely sum of thirty pence for it.
Day of the Triffids 1981 is an effective and fairly faithful adaptation of Wyndham’s original, although some plot points are removed or simplified, but it’s difficult to argue anything is lost. The more philosophical musings about how the post-apocalyptic society shown here have to go by the wayside in comparison to the novel, but that would have made for a very talky series only watched by a few.
John Duttine plays Bill as Everyman – thrust into the situation by an industrial accident, he’s left able to see in a London – indeed a world, that has been blinded. From the slow, paranoia-building opening in his hospital room we follow him onto the streets of the stricken city and through his encounters with the survivors – some sighted, some not. This culminated in him meeting Emma Relph’s Jo and seeking some sort of a future for them in an England overrun by the carnivorous triffids.
‘Good, solid story-telling’
It’s good, solid storytelling, the kind the BBC used to do well (contrast this with the near-incoherence of their 2009 adaptation to see what I mean). Although the levels of violence shown are nothing like contemporary audiences are used to, in rewatching it now I was slightly amazed that this was originally shown pre-watershed, as there are some scenes I’m sure now would definitely not make the grade. The pre-CGI triffids themselves are well realised and an effective, credible menace.
The presentation itself is terrific. Although you have the inevitable differences in quality between the scenes shot on video and those on film, as you might expect for a production from this time, the filmed sequences look excellent. The sound and picture for a series of this era are probably as good as it’s going to be. Some reviewers have quibbled about the video sequences, but they were always going to look poor compared to well restored film stock. The sound throughout is very clear and audible.
Day of the Triffids 1981 Blu-ray release features
And then we come to the special features… or lack of them. The front of the sleeve trumpets ‘John Wyndham’s classic story’ with an accompanying ‘on Blu-ray for the first time!’ but apart from the ‘collectors’ booklet’ which is fairly informative, but barely a dozen pages and a ‘restoration featurette’ presenting before and after sequences, that’s it. No commentary, no interviews, nothing. No trailers or links.
Compared with their ‘Quatermass And The Pit’ Blu-ray release and its wealth of extras, it comes across as shoddy. Inevitably, with the passing of time some of the people involved have passed away, but as of writing, both Duttine, Relph and scriptwriter Douglas Livingstone are still with us and I’m sure would have some recollections of filming this worth sharing. As a result, you can only think this is a wasted opportunity by the BBC and restoration or not, a bit of a slap in the face to the fans.
Feature production – 5/5
Extras – what extras? 0.5/5
Overall – 3/5
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