Out of the Unknown (1965) No Place like Earth

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Anthology TV shows used to be fairly common, my personal favorite being a show called Tales from the Darkside (mostly due to its amazing theme song). While there aren’t many today, one can definitely see that the 1960’s were the golden age for these sorts of programs. In America, there were shows like The Outer Limits and The Twilight Zone, and in the UK shows like Journey to The Unknown and the lesser known Out of the Unknown were big business during the UK science fiction golden age. Out of the Unknown is relatively unheard of outside of hardcore science fiction fandom due to the poor archival status of the show. It’s one of those shows that fell victim to the BBC’s “junking” policy for old footage. Of the original four seasons and nearly fifty episodes of the show produced, only around twenty exist today. What remains is pretty solid TV and consists of short stories adapted from existing work with a few exceptions made for the show. I actually heard about this show doing a Wikipedia search for John Wyndham (of Day of the Triffids fame) and found out that he had a story made into an episode. Which story? Well this one right here!

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No Place like Earth is a new take on the old Thomas Wolfe coined phrase “you can’t go home again”. Set fifteen years in an indeterminate future, a man named Bert Foster (Terence Morgan) wanders the canals of Mars thinking of simpler times he had on Earth. It seems Earth collapsed in a nuclear holocaust leaving all the survivors to find refuge on nearby planets. Bert is essentially homeless and travels around doing the work of a handyman to make ends meet. While trying to be the best hermit he can be, Bert draws attention from a Martian woman named Annike that is eyeing him for her daughter Zeyla. Before the story veers into sappy love story territory, a rocket from Venus shows up. The crew tells of a “New Earth” on Venus, and Bert jumps at the chance to regain his former glory. Bert’s heart breaks when he realizes Venus is nothing more than a slave colony with wealthy overlords preying on gullible fools like him. Looks like Mars wasn’t so bad was it Bert?

Some might look at No Place like Earth and think how silly the setting is. Wyndham painted a picture of a Mars that exists in pure fantasy; a planet full of crazy mountains and canals full of fresh water. I had to watch this on a popular video sharing website (since the episodes are nearly impossible to find otherwise) and noticed a bunch of unimaginative people mocking the “old notions of what Mars was like”. Those folks are missing the point, and are most likely the same people that crapped on John Carter, despite it being a really good summer movie. The original story for No Place like Earth was written in the spring of 1951, and by that time we definitely knew that there were no canals of rushing water on Mars. We knew there were not livable cities all over the place. Outside of the occasional ancient alien theorist espousing new theories on how Mars has a face on it, we had about the same level of Martian knowledge then that had when we started sending robots up there. To really enjoy this episode one has suspend disbelief just enough to see what story is trying to be conveyed rather than harping on how unscientific the whole thing is. And that’s the end of my rant for the day.

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No Place like Earth is definitely a low budget affair, and is only really saved on an artistic standpoint by being filmed in black and white. The costuming looks decent, if not a bit on the camp side; although I can imagine that everything was painted in garish colors. In this way, I feel a lack of said color is a blessing in disguise. Effect shots are very few and far between, and aside from a slew of decent matte paintings and other background special effects, the whole affair is essentially done as a stage play rather than something filmed especially for Television. One thing that could have been done a bit better was the acting in certain places. Since I can assume that most of the actors involved were stage actors, they seem to be massively overacting when in front of the camera. The way they wistfully look around, their body posture and the way they move all scream THEATRE! I can let this pass in older TV shows and films, because the medium was in its infancy, but I’ve seen much older shows with way more subdued acting.

Aside from those few quibbles, I enjoyed No Place like Earth quite a bit. I think it’s my love for older science fiction short stories from the era, but stories like this have a weird sense of wonder and adventure that is mostly absent from a lot of modern science fiction. If you like these sorts of shows and want to see stories from some fairly prominent science fiction writers of the time, I’d say check this show out.

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Day of the Triffids (1981) – Episode 2

Egads! It has it been a while since I looked at this series, and I know that I should do more seeing that it brings the most traffic to my blog than any other topic! I had previously stated how thrilled I was that Netflix was carrying the show, and that they had a big selection of such material. I guess the people who make sure we don’t have any fun saw my glowing praise and the show was gone immediately from their digital service. All kidding aside, I had wondered if I should go ahead and just buy the film from Amazon, which was until I noticed that it was on Amazon Prime for free. It seems that in the wake of “Flixtergate”, the debacle wherein Netflix announced that they were splitting into two companies and raised prices – killing their reputation, many of these great UK shows have moved to both Hulu Plus and Amazon prime. Most of these aren’t science fiction shows, but I know that I’ll be getting some new material for this blog from this none-the-less. Now I hope that this very article will not trigger another calamity such as the show being lost forever, but I think I can take the chance, if only to share with you all this great drama.

When we last left Bill Mason, he was lying in a hospital bed thinking back at the series of events that ultimately led to him being there. His blindness seemingly gone, Mason yanked his bandages off only to find everything in disarray. As far as he can tell not many people have the ability to see anymore, and even worse – the world has gone to hell. Dead bodies lay everywhere, Triffids are crawling all over the place, and human society has ultimately crumbled. Some of the post-apocalyptic scenes we are presented with are truly disturbing; one of the earliest shots in this episode sees a man committing suicide nearby a field full of people wandering around without the use of their eyes. It’s always a cheap tactic to use endangered kids against the viewer to illicit certain emotions, but hearing small children yell “Mummy where are you?!” was a shock.

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We are also introduced to another main character of this program, Josella Payton as played by Emma Relph, the eventual love interest of Mason. Being another person that hasn’t gone blind, Jo finds out first hand that the world isn’t such a nice place anymore as she is assaulted by a haggard looking man with a beard. Desperate people want to take advantage of anyone that still has their vision, and this man is the worst kind of accident survivor there is. Jo isn’t in danger long, and eventually meets up with Bill when he saves her from this creep. Her interest in Bill seems sort of forced, as if she is only tagging along because she feels helpless by herself, but it’s cool for such a nerdy guy to get with such an attractive lady. Then again this was a time of the “weak female assistant” as seen in Doctor Who and other shows; all they do is get in trouble and act emotional as the strong man character does all the work.

I think I really like this show based on the simple fact that Bill Mason, as portrayed by John Duttine, doesn’t look or act like your typical action hero. He’s a normal looking guy with a beard and a tweed jacket, not a square-jawed badass that you would normally see in Hollywood action shows. Bill feels the need to help people in the situation, but feels bad that his size and ability gives him no upper-hand in altercations with bands of marauding football hooligans. If there is one thing he’s awesome at, it’s killing triffids – we see him destroy one with a pitchfork towards the end of this episode in a manner that would make Neptune himself blush with envy.

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My last review of episode one was pretty sparse, as it was like the third entry for this blog, so hopefully I’ve improved here. Episode 2 of Day of the Triffids was awesome, and keeps me coming back for more. Slowly but surely through this and the 2009 miniseries, I am becoming a big fan of the property, and plan to seek out more if I can.  Since I can definitely watch this on Amazon prime, I will try to get through this fairly quickly so that I could possibly read the books as well. Onward we go to episode three, where Mason is hopefully on his way to get some firepower in order to battle the triffids.

The Day of the Triffids (2009) – Part One

Having enjoyed the 1981 BBC miniseries for The Day of the Triffids (review of that here),I jumped at the prospect of watching a newer take on the story. At some point I really need to get the books and dig into the original stories; but with my limited time as of late I have to settle for movies. The 1981 TV miniseries was fairly iconic, in that parts of it were used an inspiration for the film 28 days Later, especially the opening hospital scene. The one thing that really drew me to this show was the inclusion of a handful of actors that I really like – Eddie Izzard, Dougray Scott, and Brian Cox. These guys are usually in larger productions, and it was cool to see them here. Izzard and Scott are especially awesome actors in this film, basically carrying the production. With a bigger budget, a great cast, and modern special effects, one would hope that a new take on the story would be truly exciting and a feast for the eyes; luckily it is for about half the time.

Despite a few changes for the sake of modernity, and adding a more “cinematic” feel, a lot of the story in part one stays largely the same. Bill Masen (Dougray Scott) is a scientist that studies Triffids on a Triffid farm – an area where an odd species of plant is harvested to make a type of fuel that has made fossil fuels obsolete. This comes at a cost, however, as Triffids are very dangerous to work with. Bill knows this all too well, as we see the death of his mother at the leafy hands of these creatures in the opening moments of the film. Bill is stung early on by one of these guys, and spends a while in the hospital with his eyes taped up. Luckily for him (as his eyes are covered), a crazy solar storm happens that knocks out power and makes much of the populace blind (those who were watching the storm), and helps cause a post-apocalyptic Triffid-running-amok scenario. He is joined by a BBC television reporter named Jo (Joely Richarson), a con-man (Eddie Izzard), and a few others as they try to survive the ordeal.

In the original, the bright lights that blinded everyone were the result of a meteor shower, so changing it wasn’t too much of a change at all and somehow seems more realistic. This inclusion also helps tap into the zany 2012 theorist wet-dream that we are going to be hit with a large EMP/solar wave that will destroy the Earth this year.

While I feel that our films and other media are largely getting over-saturated with zombie apocalypse stuff, Day of the Triffids puts a new spin on this trope. Instead of the horror of mindless masses of flesh eating monsters running around, we have a situation where most of the world has been rendered blind resulting in a writhing mass of humanity trying to stay alive when the more predatory folks out there try to take advantage of the situation. These people aren’t zombies, but are fueled by pure hysteria and helplessness. In many instances, when someone finds out that someone else can still see, they try to harm them or force them into a situation where they are now these people’s eyes. The hysteria causes many a massacre with policemen firing on civilians trying to get to safety, people getting trampled, and the weak (children and elderly) getting lost in the shuffle.

With everyone on Earth subdued, suddenly we are at the bottom of the totem pole with Triffids suddenly at the top. There are ten million of them out there on various farms, and they are hungry for human flesh. This is especially made more shocking when we find out that these monsters are most-likely intelligent and seem to communicate to each other.

My main concern going into this film was that the production staff would somehow mess up the design of the Triffids themselves. Granted, the 1981 series depicted them as slow bell-shaped pitcher plants made out of fiberglass. Since these guys could “walk” the 80’s take would scoot around on the ground ever so slowly. It seemed that as long as people could take them out within about three feet or so, and keep from being over-run, everything might be cool. This time around, the Triffids have long tentacle-like appendages that can go great distances and sting anyone capable of doing them harm. Rather than a three foot radius, these new stingers are truly terrifying and could come out of nowhere. In the first part we gradually see the Triffids, but in very small doses. They stay in the shadows for the majority of the film, making them a bit scarier despite the silly premise of the creature (sentient walking plants). When we do finally see them, they are pretty well done special effects-wise.

After all the praise for story and acting, there has got to be a few bad apples in the bushel. Some of the CGI effects in this movie are questionable at best. Towards the beginning of part one, we see a multitude of news reports rolling in, talking about an impending solar storm hitting the Earth. For some reason we see these news reporters standing in front of obvious green screen backdrops of swirly sun energy in the sky, the effect it so bad that I cringed a bit. In an era where one can see even the cheapest of TV shows implement some sort of competent computer effects, it makes this stand out even more. This isn’t to say that it all looks bad; some of the cinematography and effect shots are quite impressive for a TV miniseries –bordering on Hollywood caliber. Scenes like one in which an airplane crashes into a busy city-scape after the EMP hits are quite scary and very well-done. One can definitely see where the money went, I just wish there was more consistency.

In the first of two parts, we also see the ugliness of heavy-handed preachy dialog starting to roll in. Bill talks about global warming, fuel consumption, and other ills that we are currently dealing with at this time. I’m really worried that the production will suddenly turn into a PSA for the environment or something that wasn’t intended in the original story. This sort of thing makes sense in a film like The Lorax, which was based on a book about the ailing environment. Subtlety can be great with messages in movies, but when overdone you can end up with something like October Baby, which was more message than film.

Aside from a few wonky solar flares, I really enjoyed part one of Day of The Triffids, and am confused by all the bad press this movie got. Looking at Amazon.com’s listing for this DVD, one comes away with the impression that Ed Wood had directed it. Maybe I’m easy to please, or maybe the whole thing goes awry in part two; all I know is that this first episode is well worth a watch for fans of the original 1981 miniseries and sci-fi fans as a whole.

TV Review – Day of the Triffids (1981) Episode 1

I was perusing Netflix’s streaming tab one day, and noticed a few new shows added to my “you might like this” tab.  One show in question was one that I had heard of, but had never seen called “The Day of the Triffids”.  Since then I have researched it a bit more, and discovered that a 2009 remake was made, and a few theatrical movies exist of the story, all of which was originally a book by John Wyndham.  I hope Netflix keeps this up, as I’d love to see some more stuff that I can review for this site.

The opening credits are creepy

As the episode opens, we see a man named Bill Mason, who is laying in a hospital bed with bandages covering the majority of his face.  We learn, through various flashbacks, that Triffids were some sort of plant, whose oil could be used as a new source of energy.  It appears that some sort of energy crisis is afoot, and the new Triffid oil is the best around.  The problem is that apparently Triffids seem to be either sentient, or at least move around to feed, as Bill knows the best of all.  He was the first to officially be “attacked” by a Triffid as a child, as one was able to sting him pretty badly.  He gained expertise in the subject, and later went to work on a Triffid farm of all places.  His injury, that as of yet was a mystery, seems to come from another Triffid sting, that left him temporarily blind.  As Bill lay in bed, the world bears witness to a beautiful meteor shower, one that will change mankind forever.

A Triffid on the attack

The story in itself is a breath of fresh air for a person like me, who has seen just about any science fiction plotline used umpteen times.  To be honest, I really can’t say that I’ve seen a show about walking killer plants.  The budget for The Day of the Triffids is obviously pretty small, but doesn’t seem to suffer from the budget shortcomings of shows like Doctor Who and Blakes 7, probably having to do with the short duration of the miniseries.  The special effects are pretty good, but sparse, and the only real heavy amount of them you see are the Triffids themselves, which look like a huge Amazonian carnivorous pitcher plant, mixed with some kind of houseplant.

I will definitely keep watching this show, and now plan to check out the other versions of this story, as I love post-apocalyptic stories, which I assume is where this goes, and weird stuff in general.

The intro

My rating: 4 out of 5