Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Forgotten Eighties Kids Classic... Biggles: Adventures in Time (1986)

Ah, to be 10 again. There were so many films I watched as kid that made an indelible impression on me. As a kid you judge films on such an innocent level – you're not held down by matters of taste, decency, acting ability, plot holes, budget, directing style or genre (which is probably why every kid will admit to watching all the Police Academy movies). Biggles: Adventures in Time is one of those films. The left half of brain knows that this awful low budget film with pretty hammy acting, plot holes you could fly a plane through, and a terrible concept of what World War I was like. I'll also openly admit I've never read any of the novels by Captain W E Johns and know this is a horrible bastardisation of the original concept but... damn, the right side of my brain just loves it.

Okay, so the bizarro plot has Jim, a catering salesman living in 1980s Manhattan. He's living a slightly unspectacular life until one night he's transported back to 1917 (yup, just like that) in France and helps a fighter pilot called Biggles escape from his crashed plane. He wakes up the next day, confused and thinking it must have been trippy dream, as you would, but then Peter Cushing turns up on his doorstep, warning him that what he experienced will happen again. Jim follows Cushing to London to get more answers where its revealed that he was Biggles superior officer, and Jim and Biggles are inextricably linked as 'time twins' and can travel back and forth in time to help each other out when they are in peril.

It feels at times that this film has been directed by a child. So little of it makes logical sense. Why does Peter Cushing live inside Tower Bridge? How come he looks 60ish when he's supposed to have been Biggles superior officer in 1917 making closer to 100? Why is Jon Anderson of Yes doing a synth-y power pop song as the theme tune? How does being a 'time twin' work? How can you hop from the past to the present? Should your actions alter the future? Where did the Germans get a sonic weapon in 1917?

Really none of this matters. Like the character of Jim, you're just propelled from past to present so fast you don't really think how stupid the film is until it's over. The only thing that really sticks out is the use of Beckton Gas Works - famously used in Full Metal Jacket as Vietnam, and in For Your Eyes Only as... well, an abandoned Gas Works. Here's it's used to represent a bombed out French village and all the concrete doesn't really work. There's only so far I can push my imagination.

The performances are all pretty good. Alex Hyde-White is fairly bland and inoffensive as Jim (he's no Marty McFly) but Neil Dickson's superb as Biggles, Peter Cushing's solid as Raymond and William Hootkins is great as Chuck, Jim's colleague and the comedy relief for the film. Hootkins is a excellent character actor who, sadly, is best remembered for being the fat X-Wing pilot Porkins in Star Wars and didn't get that many major roles, so it's nice to see him here.

As I said Jon Anderson does a pounded synth track for the film called 'Do You Want to Be a Hero' that really works with the schizophrenic nature of the film. He also did a great track for Ridley Scott's Legend called 'Loved by the Sun' – it's a shame he didn't do more 80s movie soundtracks.

So, that's it. If the thought of Biggles flying a helicopter and defeating the Germans in 1917 does convince you to watch this film, nothing will.

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