The White Mountains (The Tripods #1)

The White Mountains (The Tripods #1)

The Tripods first came to my attention a few years ago when I stumbled upon a picture of one of the titular crafts in some sort of memorabilia magazine; one that was full of garage model kits. As I recall, I had no idea that there was some sort of “sequel” to H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds, and wondered why I had never heard of it. I was, of course, mistaken as the concept of these three-legged walking crafts is merely inspired by those similar Martian crafts, and have no relation otherwise.

The Tripods was actually a series of “young adult” novels (way before they were a cultural phenomenon) penned by John Christopher in the late 1960’s to the early 1980’s. The series was a success and was eventually adapted into an awesome television show that I’ve seen the first season of. If this sounds fun, be sure to look for my reviews of that show on here. The production was a joint venture between the BBC and the Australian Seven network, and lasted two seasons. Sadly, a third season died before it went into production.

The White Mountains is immediately unsettling based solely on the realization that something is wrong. The book employs a great juxtaposition of little hints of lost technology and a primitive, medieval-ish, somewhat pastoral, setting. This sets up what I will be calling “The Reverse Shyamalan”- we have already seen the twist, something bad happened and this is a dystopian future – now let’s work backwards and find out why. Maybe it’s more like Memento? I’m sure I can figure out a better early 2000’s film reference to put here, but that’s beside the point.

Anyway…we know that something isn’t right: either these people are some sort of Anabaptist off-shoot that hates technology, or something bad has happened in the past. This is answered almost immediately as we meet the main characters on their way to a village celebration. It seems that Jack, a neighborhood boy, has reached the age at which everyone is considered an adult, and is to have his “capping ceremony”.

the-white-mountains-cover-art

Will (and later his cousin Henry) are disturbed by this practice as everyone that gets “capped” comes back different. Capped individuals seem to lose any sort of creativity, drive, and imagination that made them who they were. “Adults” become bland worker drones that want no other past time than work and sing the praise of their “masters”. These masters are of course gigantic three legged monstrosities called “Tripods” and the Capping Ceremony can be surmised as a way of them controlling humans. At this point we have no idea what these creatures are or what they want with the human race, but one can see that it isn’t good.

Will strikes up a conversation with an eccentric “vagrant” named Ozymandias that talks of a land of free men in the White Mountains, a land outside of the influence of the Tripods. Vagrants are those that are seen as harmless by the Tripods and regular capped townspeople, but are not allowed to mingle with everyone else. Usually it is accepted that these people were “driven mad” by the capping process and are better to be not spoken about. Will is amazed by what Ozymandias has to say, and plans to escape to the European mainland to find this utopia of freedom.

Then a whole lot of shenanigans ensue – a third character named Beanpole joins up, and grenades get hurled at stuff. I will let you read to find out the rest.

I was struck with how different this book is to the television series. First and foremost – Will and Henry almost hate each other. Even coming to blows a few times. The show also has a LOT of “fluff” padding the main part of the story. Honestly, the book flows better and is very tightly paced. This is ostensibly a young adult book or some equivalent thereof and can be read very quickly, if you enjoy science fiction I would greatly recommend it.


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TRIPODS-CLOTHESPicture From: The Tripods

 

 

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The Tripods: (1984) Chateau Ricordeau, France, July 2089

(A.K.A. Season 1 episode 5)

tripods-episode-5-will

The last scene of the fourth episode of The Tripods seemed to spell out certain doom for our rag-tag group of wandering runaways. Will was seriously injured in a run-in with Parisian vagrants, and was having trouble staying conscious. The boys narrowly escaped the situation, only to find themselves being surrounded by men on horseback while Will lay motionless in the mud. Considering all the trouble with The Blackguards (The Human Tripod enforcers) I immediately assumed that they had been tracked down and were in some serious trouble. This was of course a typical cliffhanger ending for this show, and things turned out better than expected.

Speaking of the cliffhangers, I mentioned that they were great in a previous review, but didn’t really elaborate why. Many shows do these sorts of endings, and it seems like BBC science fiction especially loved this trope. What really sets these apart, is that the characters are almost always in some sort of horrendous peril at the end of any given episode. Since my wife and I have been “marathoning” these episodes, it’s really hard for us to stop watching as we want to know what happens next.

tripods-episode-5-eloise

So anyway, Will wakes up with his wounds cleaned up and dressed in a comfortable bed. A French girl named Eloise explains that her family discovered the trio whilst hunting for wild boar on their land. Eloise’s family is definitely one of great wealth considering the size and grandeur of Chateau Ricordeau, the clothing worn by everyone, and the fact that they have servants. Will is initially horrified that he possibly blurted out their intentions on finding The White Mountains, or that they are wanted fugitives from a Blackguard prison. Thankfully this did not happen, and the French aristocrats all assume they are simply travelers. Beanpole points out that these are not “ordinary people” as they did not turn them in, in fact they seem to see value in young people having a sense of adventure, odd for ‘capped” citizens.

While the Duke and Duchess of the Chateau seem pretty decent in many ways, we are introduced to a real “winner” of a character named Duc De Sarlat. Much in the same way that King Joffrey is the most hated character in Game of Thrones, Duc De Sarlat is immediately a total A-hole. Robin Langford does a great job of portraying a character that seems not only pretentious, conniving, and backstabbing all at the same time, just by standing there making a sour face. He just has one of those faces, like he would be the guy at a party that likes to one-up everyone else, or drive a fake Ferrari covered in Axe body Spray. When told that everyone shall be speaking English to make the buys feel at home, D-bag De Sarlat basically throws a fit and makes himself look like some kind of man-baby. When he is put in his place, he acts even more ridiculously and tries to turn them in to the local authorities, and thus reveals that they are all uncapped. Truly a great minor antagonist, I wouldn’t say he’s truly a main villain, but pretty close.

tripods-episode-5-duke

The first real tension between the boys starts to spring up in this episode. It’s almost immediately evident that Will has fallen in love with Eloise, and has diverted his attention from the task at hand. Henry and Beanpole want to leave as soon as they can, but Will is reluctant. The Chateau is his chance of not only living the life of an aristocrat, but falling in love. He obviously has not thought out his plans, because staying here would result in his “capping” and Eloise has been betrothed to Duc De Sarlat.

Episode five isn’t the most action-packed of the episodes we’ve seen so far. In fact, it nearly lacks any shimmer of science fiction, and as such resembles a period drama. While it does lack in excitement, this episode does a solid job of moving the characters along. Will has always been an impulsive character; thinking with his heart rather than his brain. This episode really showcases this fact, and I loved the tension that ensued from his actions. And with the Duke and Duchess basically giving him the right to marry Eloise in return for a kind deed (saving her life), things are only going to get worse.

tripods-episode-5-duc-de-sarlat

Obligatory purchase links:

The Tripods: Series 1 & 2 [Regions 2 & 4]

The White Mountains

The City of Gold and Lead

The Pool of Fire

When the Tripods Came

tripods-episode-5-will-henry-beanpole

The Tripods: (1984) France, July 2089

(A.K.A. Season 1 episode 4)

tripods-s1e4-beanpole

Remember those last three episodes of Tripods where Will and Henry didn’t do a whole lot? They can almost be seen as an introduction to this episode – the one where the show really kicks into overdrive. When we last left the boys, they had escaped a Blackguard prison and were set to be capped as punishment for their crimes against the Tripod overlords. Having met a young Frenchman named Jean-Paul (now referred top as Bean Pole) they are now free to explore France on their quest to find the mysterious White Mountains where men are said to live free.

This is the part where I’m going to gush about the post-apocalyptic nature of this episode. For those that have followed my blog for a while, you know that I am utterly fascinated by that particular facet of science fiction and usually enjoy anything in the genre. All I need to see is a few deserted streets or a destroyed national monument,and I’m sold on whatever is going on nine times out of ten. For this particular episode, Paris is standing in as the ruined city in question and I feel that it is realized fairly well. Since most of this show is filmed outside, all one really needs are a few ratty buildings and some garbage on a deserted street to get a pretty solid effect, but the production team went the extra mile to CGI some torn up monuments in the mix.

tripods-s1e4-paris-eifel-tower

The special effects team did a great job of realizing the destroyed buildings and other scenes of urban decay. They obviously used some sort of Matte paintings for the effects, but the results are pretty awesome. In fact, they look far better than a lot of the special effects I’ve seen in other science fiction shows of the time, leading me to believe that this show had a decent enough budget or a really talented director.

The climax of the episode finds the boys exploring a deserted shopping center where they gather up supplies such as cooking equipment and weapons such as grenades. The boys are ignorant to the world that existed before the Tripods, so things like cars, guns and other weapons of war are a mystery to them. This nearly results in tragedy as they fire off an old machine gun and a grenade that they find, barely escaping the damage. Finding these “goose eggs” does prove to be fairly useful later in the show, but for now the boys question holding onto them as they seem far too dangerous to possess.

tripods-s1e4-paris-arc-de-triomphe

We get to see one of our first glimpses of Vagrants driven mad by the capping process, and how they live as insane barbarians out for blood. The group that Ozymandias, the man that taught them of the White Mountains, was part of seemed like a sad group of beggars, while this group is more like something out of a Mad Max movie. They also sort of look like extras from a post-punk music video of the time, I wouldn’t be surprised if A Flock of Seagulls were to make a cameo based on the make-up and hair used on the actors.

tripods-s1e4-paris-vagrants

One awesome scene in this episode is one where we learn a bit about they back-stories of the boys, namely that Bean Pole has been an orphan since he was an infant, something that he shares with Henry. Bean Pole grew up being taken care of by an Inn Keeper since his only remaining family, an aunt and uncle, could not care for him. He was fascinated at a young age by science, discovering via balloon that warm air rises and cold air sinks as a small boy. He then went on to become something of an inventor, creating his own homemade eyeglasses and other items as a result. He is most fascinated by steam, and since little technology exists in this world, machines made of steam would be amazing feats of engineering.

One of the more humorous things to happen in the episode occurs when they are gathering equipment up for their journey. When faced with a seemingly infinite stream of things that would be awesome to have on a long journey, the boys create new outfits from discarded clothing found all over the mall. This was filmed in the eighties, so this scene may not have been as preposterous then, but the outfits they create are a sight to behold. I’m not sure if Will’s amazing head wear or Henry’s shirt with garish letting that spells out “Oui” is better, but I know that I’m sad they don’t wear this stuff for the rest of the show.

tripods-s1e4-henry-will-beanpole

This was easily the best episode of The Tripods presented so far, mainly due to the action and real danger involved in the journey they boys took through Paris. As I stated before, this episode has great special effects considering the fact that it is from the 1980’s and has a BBC TV budget. Usually shows at this time had spaceships made of hair dryers and other cheap props all filmed in a tiny non-air conditioned set. This is almost in a similar scope to something on an American network at the time, just with grainier cameras.

 

Obligatory purchase links:

The Tripods: Series 1 & 2 [Regions 2 & 4]

The White Mountains

The City of Gold and Lead

The Pool of Fire

When the Tripods Came

tripods-s1e4-henry-will-beanpole-in-ruins

The Tripods (1984) England, July 2089 AD

tripods-title-card
(a.k.a Season 1 Episode 2, this show has bland episode names doesn’t it?)

When we last left Will and Henry, the boys were disgusted by a “capping ceremony” for a former friend named Jack. At a certain age, all boys are expected to give up frivolous things like creativity and adventure and submit to the life that the ominous Tripods have set out for them. This usually includes working in a hard labor camp, mine, factory or even helping the Tripods directly. The boys leave a goodbye note to their family and rush out to meet with Ozymandias, a supposed Vagrant they just met. He tells them of a path to a port city and a way to the European mainland. A man named Captain Curtis is known to freely transport runaways on their quest to the White Mountains, and is said to be just like Ozymandias in that he also has a false cap and can think for himself. Needless to say, things don’t go as planned and Captain Curtis isn’t the nice guy that they thought he’d be. He’s not evil or anything, he just doesn’t like the fact that two snot-nosed kids are on his ship expecting him to give them money and such.

I mentioned the nature of the Vagrants a bit in my last review, but did not elaborate on what makes Ozymandias stand out in comparison. In the books by John Christopher, it is revealed that “cappings” don’t always go well. This can be expected, seeing as they are placing a brain washing device directly on a person’s skull. Roughly five percent of people that get capped are driven insane, becoming Vagrants. The Tripods can even make someone into a Vagrant on purpose if it fits their needs in dealing with a potential “problem person.”  Vagrants range in intellect and self-sustainability, but usually lie somewhere between a really disturbed person unable to care for themselves and on lesser cases, a medieval village idiot. Ozymandias is nothing like this; the man is well spoken, seems to have all his mental faculties in place, and knows how to think for himself. He claims to have a false cap on his scalp, a precaution to fool everyone into thinking he’s just as idiotic as the other Vagrants. Running off with the man, seems like a terribly stupid idea to the boys, but they know it could be their last chance to avoid being capped, and to live free.

tripods-episode-2-tripod

I really love the theme of this show, as it is basically in a similar vein to other works that espouse a need to think for one’s self and reject norms that society puts in place. On an innocent level, The Tripods can be compared to Peter Pan, as bot Will and Henry are definitely resisting “growing up” in order to live free and have adventure in their lives. One can see that this whole set up is a reaction to what happens to most people when they move into adulthood. We all give up dreams of being astronauts and princesses, and submit to 9 to 5 jobs that many of us don’t enjoy. While I don’t think many have a fifty foot tall monster as a supervisor, the allusion still stands.

Like the first episode, the second is mostly more dialog and set-up, but has a tad more action as a whole. As the boys leave the village, they are embarking on a Tolkien-esque quest in no-mans-land; and just like a group of weary Hobbits, our boys have no experience dealing with the outside world. With search parties looking for them and Ozymandias getting severely injured, things start to unravel. Ozymandias laid out a “easy” quest for them, one that almost immediately goes wrong as they are seemingly “shanghaied” onto the wrong boat. This of course is just the first in many problems that plague these guys.

Once again The Tripods Delivers awesome sci-fi action that keeps you on the edge of your seat, and makes you wanting more due to the cliffhanger endings, a similar trope used in Doctor Who to great effect.

tripods-episode-2-boat-captain

How to watch this at your house:

For whatever reason, The Tripods was never released in the United States or Canada on home media. I assume that this boils down to Disney “squatting” on the rights to making a feature film based on the license. Disney has a habit of blocking DVD releases of things until it suits them monetarily (see Tron on DVD prior to the release of the second film). If they had been released, I could have recommended you guys just ordering this on Amazon, but a tad more creativity is needed if you want to watch this show over here. If you have a region-free DVD player, you could always import the show from the UK; make sure you read my guide to region-free DVD players for more info on importing home media to the U.S. If you’d rather not deal with things like international shipping, I did find a seller with the import in America, but one still needs the special player to run the disks”

The Tripods: Series 1 & 2 [Regions 2 & 4]

Of course there are  also “other means”, but I’ll leave that up to you guys! If books are more your speed, there are four in the Tripods series:

The White Mountains

The City of Gold and Lead

The Pool of Fire

When the Tripods Came

The Tripods (1984) – A village in England: July, 2089 AD

The Tripods first came to my attention a few years ago when I stumbled upon a picture of one of the titular crafts in some sort of memorabilia magazine full of garage model kits. As I recall, I had no idea that there was some sort of “sequel” to H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds, and wondered why I had never heard of it. I was, of course, mistaken as the concept of these three-legged walking crafts is merely inspired by those similar Martian crafts, and have no relation otherwise. The Tripods was actually a series of “young reader” novels penned by John Christopher in the late 1960’s to the early 1980’s. The series was a success and was eventually adapted into the very television show that we’re talking about today. The production was a joint venture between the BBC and the Australian Seven network, and lasted two seasons. Sadly a third season died before it went into production.

The Tripods is immediately unsettling based solely on the setting alone. The juxtaposition of the words “A village in England: July, 2089 AD” and the primitive, somewhat pastoral, village setting we see right from the get-go sets up what I will be calling “The Reverse Shyamalan”- we have already seen the twist, let’s find out why it happened. We know that something isn’t right: either these people are some sort of Anabaptist off-shoot that hates technology, or something bad has happened in the past. This is answered almost immediately as we meet the main characters on their way to a village celebration. It seems that a neighborhood boy has reached the age at which everyone is considered an adult, and is to have his “capping ceremony”.

tripods-episode-1-capping-ceremony-tripod

Will and his cousin Henry are disturbed by this practice as everyone that gets “capped” comes back different. Capped individuals seem to lose any sort of creativity, drive, and imagination that made them who they were . “Adults” become bland worker drones that want no other past time than work and singing the praise of their “masters”. These masters are of course gigantic three legged monstrosities called “Tripods” and the Capping Ceremony can be surmised as a way of them controlling humans. At this point we have no idea what these creatures are or what they want with the human race, but one can see that it isn’t good.

Will strikes up a conversation with an eccentric “vagrant” named Ozymandias that talks of a land of free men in the White Mountains, a land outside of the influence of the tripods. Vagrants are those that are seen as harmless by the Tripods and regular capped townspeople, but are not allowed to mingle with everyone else. Usually it is accepted that these people were “driven mad” by the capping process and are better to be not spoken about. Will is amazed by what Ozymandias has to say, and plans to escape to the European mainland to find this utopia of freedom.

tripods-episode-1-will-and-ozymandias

As with many BBC science fiction productions of the time, the special effects are dated to the eighties. The hairstyles, clothes, and even set designs are very much reminiscent of other TV productions I have seen from the time. This show does appear to have a better budget than something like classic Doctor Who, in that there are location shots, outdoor scenes, and other evidence that the whole thing wasn’t just locked into a dark studio in an industrial park somewhere. The tripods themselves are done with miniatures and puppets; these look great to me and would have been poorly done had contemporary computer generated effects come into play. I sometimes look at late eighties Doctor Who and cringe at some of the special effects. For me this eighties vibe adds to the charm, and there really isn’t anything that makes it so dated that it’s hard to watch – something that is hard to say about a handful of older U.S. productions that haven’t held up. I recall renting the TV series to the landmark miniseries V, and barely making it through the season. I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that the boys are walking around in a post-apocalyptic world that had a vaguely referenced bad thing happen in the past. If you see them find some blatantly eighties clothes in an abandoned storefront, as we see in a later episode it makes sense because humanity has regressed to something like pre-industrialized England or a reasonable facsimile thereof.

tripods-episode-1-capping-ceremony

One thing that immediately caught me was the musical score as done by Ken Freeman. He is notable for being behind the synthesizer parts of the legendary rock opera version of The War of the Worlds by Jeff Wayne.Freeman did a great job of creating a solid synthesizer-based soundtrack for the series; one that is neither overpowering nor too minimalist. I always had problems with eighties shows being accompanied by either disco music (which immediately dates it) or music that sounds like a cat running across a piano to emphasize action. Here is a video of the opening theme to give you an idea of the kind of music I’m talking about. While the show hasn’t had as much exposure, I liken this to equally catchy and iconic theme songs such as The A-Team, Airworlf, and Doctor Who.

The Tripods is a solid show, and has captivated both my wife and I all this week. Perhaps it is my love for these sort of post-apocalyptic stories that has led me to such enjoyment, but I feel any science fiction fan should enjoy it unless they are adverse to seeing the eighties. The Tripods is one of those shows that keeps you on the edge of your seat; whether it be the unraveling mystery of what happened before 2089, or the constant cliffhanger endings,I was always entertained.

tripods-episode-1-tripod-over-trees

How to watch this at your house:

For whatever reason, The Tripods was never released in the United States or Canada on home media. I assume that this boils down to Disney “squatting” on the rights to making a feature film based on the license. Disney has a habit of blocking DVD releases of things until it suits them monetarily (see Tron on DVD prior to the release of the second film). If they had been released, I could have recommended you guys just ordering this on Amazon, but a tad more creativity is needed if you want to watch this show over here. If you have a region-free DVD player, you could always import the show from the UK; make sure you read my guide to region-free DVD players for more info on importing home media to the U.S. If you’d rather not deal with things like international shipping, I did find a seller with the import in America, but one still needs the special player to run the disks”

The Tripods: Series 1 & 2 [Regions 2 & 4]

Of course there are  also “other means”, but I’ll leave that up to you guys! If books are more your speed, there are four in the Tripods series:

The White Mountains

The City of Gold and Lead

The Pool of Fire

When the Tripods Came