Tuesday, 5 January 2010

The Day of the Triffids & back-story

This is a sort of sequel to my last post, 'The Lost Room & depth.' When watching the BBC's 2009 adaptation of The Day of the Triffids last week, it occurred to me that seeing as this was a mostly-loyal adaptation, you could view it as a rewrite of the original text.

Some parts were changed to contemporise it, such as the Cold War subtext and the 'cosy catastrophe' feel. Some parts were altered to breathe a little new life into the well-know story - the character of Torrence was expanded without really fleshing out his character and the ending included some nonsensical and unbelievable escape plan that involved funnelling Triffid poison into the eyes using a tribal mask. Quite.

There was one change that made sense, however; most of the back-story was thinned out. In the novel we get an entire chapter of exposition that gives us far more than we need to get through the text. This scene was kept in the 1981 TV adaptation, but removed entirely in the 2009 series. The back-story we do get in the latter is revealed in small amount gradually through the show.

Though I do have some fondness for the novel's approach, there's no denying that that exposition chapter slows the pace terribly. The 2009 TV show, much more at the mercy of pacing, skips over it. Okay, a lot of the depth has been removed, and I'm a sucker for depth, but the show zips on at a far better pace.

It has made me yet again consider when and how to leak out exposition. I love John Wyndham's writing but I admit that info-dumping can be a pretty clumsy and pace-slowing, if informative and elucidating, way of giving the back-story. Of course novels can get away with slower sections easier than TV and film, and we even expect them. Then again, and I refer once more to Cube, if done right, you can get by with absolutely minimal to no back-story and create something altogether more powerful.

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