Tuesday, January 4, 2011



I picked this to do for this month’s book vs. movie column. Why, I’m not entirely sure. I remembered liking it, when I saw it sixteen years ago. Mind you, I also remember liking the “Livin’ on a Prayer” era Bon Jovi.

This 1995 remake of the 1960 film (itself being based on the novel) has the same basic premise: all childbearing age women in a small town all mysteriously become pregnant at the same time. All the kids are born on the same day and grow into creepy bleach-blond children with telepathic powers who set out to destroy the town. Don’t get me wrong—I think it’s a fantastic premise that could become a fantastic movie. But what we have here is a steaming pile of wasted potential.

This could have been a great character study. What in the world could be going through the minds of the women who get pregnant through immaculate conception? What about that teenage virgin? They showed her looking confused for about ten seconds, and then never reexamined. Or the older woman who looked much past the age where she could naturally conceive? All we ever find out about her is that her Lamaze partner was the town priest. Even during the most dramatic death scenes, I didn’t care a bit, because I had no idea who the characters were beyond, “The Blonde”, “The Doctor” or “The Government Agent”.

It could have been a great philosophical examination. Does a separate race of beings become superior because of a higher intelligence? How about their lack of emotion? Would that knock them down a level on the cosmic food chain, or are human emotions a handicap? The closest they come to delving into this topic is a minute long conversation between the lead child and the doctor where says they are superior, and he screams that they aren’t because they can’t feel. Then on to the next sequence.

Hell, Village of the Damned could have been a great horror movie. Sadly, this version wasn’t. It went from a short set up of the pregnancies and birth, to a very brief moment of a three-year-old version of Creepy Kid making her mother kill herself to being the army of ten-year-old Creepy Kids. We don’t see their development into the fearsome horde that they became, or the growing terror of the townsfolk as, instead of piecing together the mystery of the children, the enigma that is their existence grows. Hell, they don’t even really question the pregnancies. All these events happen in the movie and nobody is given a chance to react to them. I understand needing to keep a film under a certain time limit. But, guys, please, if you have to cut out all but the basest plot points to fit in the time restraints, maybe this isn’t a movie you should be making in the first place.

I’m trying to figure out what it is that I remember liking about Village of the Damned when I first saw it, and came up with two theories. The first is the star, Christopher Reeve. I like the guy. I think he was a great actor, and in this one he did as much with the script as he could. The second is, in 1995 I would have been 21 or 22, depending on what month it hit the theatres. It’s entirely possible I had indulged in some sort of beverage refreshment before viewing. I’m leaning toward the second explanation.


BOOK: The Midwich Cuckoos by John Wyndham

I used the fourth printing, 1972 Ballantine version of this book for review purposes. Not that it makes much difference textually from other editions – other than the Americanization of some words there are no changes with which I’m familiar – but the cover for this edition is wonderful. It shows what may be a piece of authentic Eastern art or what may have been produced with Hindu stylings in mind, and at first glance it has nothing at all to do with the book.
At first glance.
I chose a string of titles from superlative authors for review this month. Thankfully Jen’s decision to hand me The Midwich Cuckoos kept that streak alive. This may be Wyndham’s most famous novel because of the movies; if not, it runs a close second to another filmed favorite The Day of the Triffids. There’s something sad about that, because the movies really aren’t that good, at least not compared to the books.
Wyndham had a flair for taking an existing science fiction topic and examining it with a truly analytical eye, considering not merely the immediate ramifications but those of situations which would naturally follow. In this case, it was the struggle of man vs. an arriving superman.
The book deals expertly with mundane matters by treating them as simple facts, there and gone; the recitation of the dead following Midwich’s day of unconsciousness lends believability to the story but otherwise does not hinder the narrative flow. Characters are developed to different levels of complexity, just as would seem the case to any casual observer of any group. Analyses of the Children are performed by the town’s lone quasi-celebrity, an author of collegiate texts on Philosophy and Sociology who is recruited by them as their instructor.
Unlike the movies, the Children here have affection, fear and concerns. They also have advanced mental capacities and a gestalt knowledge which is shared amongst all Children of a particular gender simultaneously. This is the reason for the deaths; it is only when the Children are threatened or hurt that they strike back. As they mature, however, they recognize that humanity will be subjugated by their superior will and power and expect humanity to attempt to strike back.
There is no explicit evil in this book. All of the actions of the Children are taken in response to threats both direct and rationally extrapolated. In their views, it is merely self-defense. Wyndham takes us through periods in their growth in the same way that Dickens took us through periods of Scrooge’s life; there is the time of impregnation when Midwich falls silent; there is the time of birth; there is the time of youth; and there is the time of adolescence. By the time he reaches the multi-page political philosophy end of the chapter entitled “Impasse” at the end of the book we have learned how a variety of characters react to the children and why.
Those multiple pages, however, helped to define the novel for me. By their very nature they clarify what Wyndham’s thought process was like when creating the novel, and he was not taking his duties as an author lightly. He considers the dangers of a partisan political system, of religious extremism, of self-aggrandizement. And along the way he created a great novel.

Five stars out of five.