I haven’t seen the new adaptation of The Day of the Triffids yet – the parts are lined up on my hard drive, ready for when I’ve fought my way through all the BAFTA screeners in time for the next round of voting – but this review on the Blowing my Thought Wad blog inspired me to a response that outgrew the comments section.
A while back I wrote of how I once worked on a TV adaptation of The Midwich Cuckoos with producer Marc Samuelson, who’d taken a block option on all the available Wyndham screen rights. The Day of the Triffids was excluded from the package, as the feature and TV rights had been signed away some years ago. The Midwich Cuckoos was available for TV only; MGM had owned the feature rights ever since The Village of the Damned and had exercised them again in the disappointing John Carpenter remake.
Marc had ambitious plans for the properties; when I came along he already had in hand Stephen Volk’s script for The Chrysalids. He’d commissioned coverage on all the material as the first step in assessing how well each book or story might lend itself to adaptation, and he asked me to cast an eye over it and share any thoughts.
I passed on The Kraken Wakes, citing the main big insoluble problem; the audience will be expecting a Kraken, and they’ll expect it to wake. The novel has neither.
Cuckoos was the one I most wanted to get my hands on, possibly because Village of the Damned had nailed it so well that I felt free to be as daring as was needed to make the concepts work in the here-and-now. I wrote a treatment. You know that feeling in your gut when the whole thing clicks and, like a solved equation, it works and it feels like music?
Marc was already in talks with the BBC and they seemed up for it. You’ll no doubt be astonished to hear that months passed into years and nothing ever happened. Finally the whole proposal disappeared into litigation, as the producers of the Carpenter remake attempted to launch a TV spinoff that infringed on Marc’s rights.
Triffids came up in a different context, further down the line; Life Line director Jamie Payne was pursuing an adaptation and asked if I’d be interested in scripting. I reread the novel and came to two conclusions; firstly, that the triffids played no central part in the story and were barely more than an added background threat, and secondly, that the book’s spine narrative had been lifted almost intact and refashioned as 28 Days Later.
The latter point pretty much squashed my interest, as I felt it left me with nowhere to go. As for the triffids themselves… my thought there was, what if they could run? Okay, they’re plants, but so was the creature in The Thing from Another World. What if they could uproot and move at speed for, say, thirty seconds, before having to smash open the ground beneath them and ram down the roots again for a recharge?
Never went any further than that. Perhaps just as well, you may say.