Tuesday, May 26, 2015

FilmLight - The Tripods: Where is John Christopher's movie series now?

Article author: Alwyn Ash
"At the right time, in the right light, everything is extraordinary"

Tripods Image

Isn't it just frustrating when news of a movie based on a popular series of novels seemingly dies out and no one, not one single person, knows why?

For years there had been rumours of a transition from book to screen for 1967 novel The Tripods: The White Mountains, written by John Christopher (pseudonym for Samuel Youd). Only as far back as 2009 several websites had reported that Australian filmmaker Alex Proyas (The Crow, Dark City, I, Robot) was linked to a possible adaptation. It had been suggested that the character of Beanpole would be a girl, and that the Tripod machines themselves could climb the Eiffel Tower.

So was Proyas really serious about working with writer Stuart Hazeldine on the film project? Were the reports even true? Just where are the updates now?

Of course, there had once been a televised version of The Tripods, jointly produced by the BBC in the United Kingdom and the Seven Network in Australia, with music supplied by Ken Freeman. It was to be a landmark in special effects design and superb model work. However, even this failed to keep the flame burning: the first two books - The White Mountains and The City of Gold and Lead (the latter originally published in 1968) - were transferred to our television screens; the third instalment, sadly, never made it, due to a rather ridiculous decision to cancel the show following end of filming of the second series, which concluded with those famous last words spoke by young Will Parker after discovering the hideout of the uncapped to be in ruin, "Has it all been for nothing?"

And so fans were left with a cliffhanger that would never be resolved - at least, not on screen.

It was certainly a plus that the original books were republished by Puffin Books in 1984 thanks to the television series (individually and as a single paperback trilogy), and with the reprinting of The Tripods: The Pool of Fire (also originally published in 1968) viewers finally got to read the final part of the trilogy to discover the fate of the three lead antagonists: Will, Henry and Beanpole.

If you don't know anything about the trilogy, let me explain: the Tripods were vast three-legged machines that controlled the minds of the adult human population by way of a Cap fitted to the skull to suppress emotion, creativity and curiosity. At the age of fourteen you are Capped, to become a man, or young woman. Will (played by actor John Shackley in the BBC production) encounters a Vagrant, Ozymandias - from this point on the teenager is curious about the Tripods, and is told of free men living far away, those who refuse to be subservient to the mysterious creatures that rule the world. Joined by his cousin Henry, and later Beanpole (a French boy whose real name is Jean-Paul), Will ventures into unfamiliar territory on a quest to locate the White Mountains, where these free people dwell. Though quite clearly a story for a young audience, The Tripods is gripping and exciting, and paved the way for a prequel novel: When the Tripods Came (1988), to feature new characters during the early days of invasion.

So what about the movie? Considering the quality of the original story, a trilogy series would be highly successful - think The Lord of The Rings except with a sci-fi rather than a fantasy element!

There is no doubt that John Christopher's Tripod legacy will be adapted, at some point. And when it does, how will it compare to the original novels? Will Beanpole really be a girl? In an interview with horror website Dread Central, in 2010, writer Hazeldine commented, "Tripods… again, we’re trying to find a studio home for that. We developed that at Paramount and it was put into turnaround. It was originally developed at Disney through many different writers and many different directors. I’d been offered it twice when it was based at Disney, but both times I just couldn’t do it. I’d always really wanted to do it because I adored Tripods as a kid. I read all of the books, watched the BBC show, and I loved it. I used to go sit on the North Downs in Surrey and look out across the English countryside and imagine Tripods walking across the horizon, you know?"

His comment that "We’ve been close a couple of times in the last few months, but we’re still trying to find a studio to do it" should bring hope, though as the years pass, still no sign of those colossal Tripods striding with menace through Mankind's hopes and dreams...

I should also mention, perfect timing, that another of the prolific author's books landed on my doorstep a while back: Empty World. Originally published in 1977, the story focuses on a disease, called the Calcutta Plague (any guesses as to why it is so called?), that inflicts an ageing acceleration on its victims thus killing them. "World" takes a look at life during and after the event, as survivor Neil Miller (a fifteen year old boy) attempts to come to terms with the changing world around him, and the loss that he encounters along the way.

It is good to know that many of John Christipher's works are being republished for a newer audience, including The Tripods, by Simon & Schuster's imprint label Aladdin, though I'm sure older fans will enjoy collecting fresher copies for their bookshelves! Empty World, in particular, is as relevant today as it was when first published, what with the continuing threat of global terrorism, Swine influenza etc.

As for Sam Youd, who passed away in February 2012, thank you for all that you have done - happy memories are the photographs in which we revisit from time to time; and my photograph album is all the richer for the work you have shared.

Further reading: The Guardian Obituary

Image source courtesy of bbc.co.uk/cult/classic/tripods. Article © Alwyn Ash 2015.
Quotes (if applicable) used for publicity purposes only; no infringement of copyright is intended.